Yianni Chryssomalis set a Greek national swimming record in the 50-meter freestyle when he was not quite 14, on the same day he ate a giant breakfast of milk, bread, butter and marmalade. The victory stunned him, and not only because of his unwise meal. He had only trained in the sea near his home in the southern Greek town of Kalamata, not in the heated Olympic pools in Athens, where the meet was. He was not supposed to win, and yet he did.
Yianni is now Yanni, a genre-blending, first-name-only composer and musician who has sold millions of albums and performed sold-out concerts in more than 20 countries. The story of the unlikely champion from Kalamata now sounds a little prophetic.
He left Kalamata at 18 to study psychology at the University of Minnesota, and then left graduate studies there to play in a rock band called Chameleon. By the late 1980s, he was solo and on his way to worldwide fame. By 1991, he was in a high-profile relationship with "Dynasty" actress Linda Evans. (The couple have since parted ways).
Non-fans chalk up his success to good marketing of his luscious dark mane, Harlequin handsomeness and feel-good sound. Yanni says the criticism doesn't bother him. He works hard to make music his way.
"When I do a piece of music, I realize right away that there will be some people who enjoy it, and some people who will not," he says. "I don't want to go into the studio and say, 'You know, last time I did this everybody hated it, so maybe I shouldn't do this anymore.' I want to be completely free."
Personal and professional burnout in 1998 kept Yanni away from the studio for more than a year. He returned to Greece for several months to stay with his parents, who live in the Peloponnesian fishing village of Akrogiali. He traveled to Asia and wrote an autobiography, "Yanni in Words," published in early 2003. The same year, he released his 13th album, "Ethnicity," and embarked on a world tour that brings him to Raleigh next weekend.
In a telephone interview, he talked about his music and his world.
Q - Do you think ethnicity is used to divide, especially in the post-Sept. 11 world?
A - You can be part of the world community and still be part of your heritage. I do not see ethnicity as a divisive thing. My whole career has been based on bringing people together.
I do believe music communicates across borders. The album has quite a lot of blending in it -- everything from Greek to Eastern and Middle Eastern to North African to South American. My orchestra nowadays is reflective of this blending. There are 16 countries represented in my orchestra. I did not go out to deliberately create a mini-United Nations. I only wanted the best musicians around.
Q - So do you consider yourself an American, a Greek or both? Can you identify with two cultures in today's world?
A - That question has been asked many times of me. The answer is: I'm a human being. Our ancestors [the ancient Greeks] considered themselves citizens of the world, and that's how I feel.
Q - What made you burn out and walk away?
A - I don't have any easy answer to that. In 1998, I hit the brick wall pretty hard, and it was very, very painful. It was not an easy time. So I escaped. I went back to Greece. I climbed the walls, of course, because my career has been going steady for years and years. But I just needed to take life in. I did everything except music and my career.
Q - How did you know it was time to come back to the studio?
A - It took more than a year. I walked into the studio then, and it was a scary moment because I was wondering what I was going to find. Had [music] deserted me or was it still there? And the answer was very obviously that it was always there and it was never going to leave anyway. I've been doing this since I was 6 years old, and I'm 49 now. I've spent all of my adult life in the creative process.
Q - You didn't get respect from music critics for years. Did that bother you?
A - When I was in my late 20s, yes, it bothered me. But then I learned early on that I was able to deal with it because I wanted creative freedom. You know, you have to understand that once you become an artist you will be criticized. So that's part of the job, part of the deal. I don't take it personal.
Staff writer Joanna Kakissis can be reached at 829-4622 or email@example.com.
Thanks so much YMM for sharing that with us.I was in the audience in Raleigh,N.C and what a thrill it was to see yanni and all of the musician's again.I think that I danced through it all especially when NIKI NANA came on.You are so great to share everything with us. A friend in yanni, mbkiser