Guide to SKOPJE

Interview with Kostas Theodorou – Discovering life through music


“Borders are just visual reality. If you fly, from an airplane you don’t see those borders. We make them and build them inside of us.”

kostas333Musician and composer Kostas Theodorou aka Dine Doneff is one of those artists whose unrelenting passion for following his muse has served him well. His uncompromising attitude and approach towards music has granted him an ever expanding audience and respect from his colleagues. His nomadic lifestyle and musical activities offer considerable evidence of the success of his own philosophies. That is why he has been a sought after collaborator and a regular member of many bands, most notably Savina Yanatou and her band Primavera en Salonico, or has worked with high profile artists from Greece and abroad. He has also been a part of many all-star bands with musicians from the Balkan, most notably with Balkan Horses and Balkan Winds.. The sum of Theodorou’s vast experiences and philosophies are presented in the focus and uncompromising approach on his output that crisscrosses the sounds of jazz music with influences of folk music from the Balkans as well as classical music.kostas222
Your early musical history is shrouded in mystery as there is so little data to be found on the Internet about you. Please talk about your beginnings in music.

I started playing music when I was 15, but it was very occasional. My mother brought home a cheap guitar and I began singing. A year later, I left school and with it, all formal education. At the same time I left home, so I was never able to go to any music school because I had to earn my living by doing any kind of job to survive… When I was 22 I started travelling around the world, playing even on the street and making recordings. I liked the adventure of travelling and discovering life through music. It felt like music was as a tool, a kind of language to express my thoughts and feelings from life experience, a way to discover the world.
What was the kind of music that influenced you and has taken you to the place where you are now as a musician?

For me, as a native of the Balkans, there were lots of different influences in music due to the strong traditions that remained or just passed through these lands through the years. One would experience a cultural shock by living in the Balkans. You can be simultaneously into Eastern music, the sound of the Maqams, and at the same time to listen to the Western European’s well tempered sound. This has influenced various languages and songs in the region. In the area where I grew up, the musicians played those typical macedonian rhythms and melodies with trumpet, trombone, clarinet, accordion and tapan. So I got used to dancing to those “strange” rhythms since I was a small kid.

My village is situated very close to the border, in between Edessa and Florina. I used to listen to that music a lot. It was when I was 12 that I saw an electric guitar for the first time. That was a cultural shock, I must say (laughing). Later, as many people of that age, I used to listen to a lot of rock stuff, and when I was 17, I was lucky to meet someone from Athens, a musician, who was serving the army at my place. He was a very good piano player, he was 8 years older than me, and we shared a small room for more than a year. His choice of music to listen to at that time was Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans etc. and I could never have imagined that these things existed. I started listening to Charlie Haden. I was pretty much surprised at the sound of the double bass. That’s how I started listening to a lot of jazz music, ECM stuff, Blue Note, and at the same time a lot of traditional Macedonian music, as well as Greek, Bulgarian, Turkish, Arabic, African music, music from various corners of this world.  Somehow all this music came very close to my heart.

kostas555At that point you chose to embark on a voyage and lead a nomadic lifestyle, by playing and living around the world.

When I was, let’s say, old enough, I started travelling around western Europe. I bought an old van that I had transformed into a house on wheels, and travelled through various countries, earning my living by playing music, and just travelling to the next village or town. I did that for a long time. Gradually, from the streets I began playing in theatres, clubs, doing recordings, and so on. Later, I got back to Thessaloniki, and formed my first band with which  I was trying to play the music I composed on the way… It was then and there that I started working also as an arranger, as I was writing arrangements for various recordings. I worked behind the albums of several important and well known composers.

Tell us more about your work on the Greek music scene.

During that period starting from 1993 I worked as a session player. I’m credited for playing on more than 80 albums, and I produced and arranged several others. From 93’ until 99’ I worked a lot. After that, it started to become very boring for me. And that was the reason I stopped collaborating with all those big stars.

So, how did your music career begin?

In 1995 I recorded my first album “Nostos” and I released it four years later. Around the same time I formed a quintet with some of my friends and since then we have played all around. In 2004 I recorded my second album “Rousilvo” which is the second part of a trilogy that started with “Nostos”. “Rousilvo” was released in 2010 (laughing). I kept it in my archive for six years. It has been always difficult for me to release something. There are so many releases around the world and I wanted to be sure it is the right one.
How did you start working with Savina Yanatou as part of her band Primavera en Salonico. You even played as part of the band in Skopje at the Offest 2009.

I began working with Savina very soon after I decided to change my direction in music. At that time I met Savina because I had to stand in for the bass player of the band for two concerts. Some of the musicians were already my friends. After a while, the percussionist could not be play with the band anymore, so they asked me to replace him too. That’s how I started playing percussion with this band and I’ve been a permanent member since 2002. We did two recordings for ECM, “Sumiglia” in 2004 and “Songs of an Other” in 2008. And we have toured all around the world with this music.

How important is the aspect of collaborating for you?

For me the most important thing in music as well as in life in general is to be able to share. When I sense that someone has this gift which is an important thing, then good music, or whatever, comes naturally as a result.

In the last 15 years you had your share of collaborations with many musicians from the Balkans, starting from Balkan Horses. How do those collaborations with musicians from the Balkans work?

Balkan Horses was an interesting project. I met Theodosi Spasov, Vlatko Stefanovski, Sanja Ilic, and the others in the year 2000. We did a concert in Sofia and then we did a Balkan tour. I think we played in Skopje in 2002. At that time I even played at the Skopje Jazz Festival with Theodosii and Haig Yazdjian from Armenia, when Glen Velez cancelled at the last minute and I had to replace him at short notice. It was an adventurous thing to do and it turned out well. Then I met Toni Kitanovski, Zoran Madzirov, Jordan Kostov and some other good musicians and I still play with them these days…

You are one of the rare people from Greece that actually collaborates with musicians from Macedonia. In your opinion, to what extent musicians from Greece or people interested in music know what is happening here musically?

intervju kostas (4)

Kostas and Nenad 🙂

In general, the people in Greece know what is happening for example in Los Angeles or in London, but they don’t know much about what is happening in Albania, Bulgaria or Republic of Macedonia. The media in Greece is such that they don’t really show what is happening around. There is some kind of a big taboo and it is related to politics. That kind of always ruins the community in the Balkans and we are deprived from news from our immediate surroundings.

Are there any other musicians in Greece that are willing to collaborate with other musicians from the Balkan like you do?

That has started happening more in recent times. In the past there were only a few musicians willing to do that. We, the artists should think in a different way about political issues than our politicians. We should be dialectical about what reality gives us. Borders are just visual reality. If you fly, from an airplane you don’t see those borders. We make them and build them inside of us.

Can you foresee the disappearance of those borders between nations and cultures?

As I mentioned previously, there aren’t any real borders but the ones we make. We have many things to share. It is just another point of view to see what people can share with each other and not what to divide. It’s like with the example with the glass of water – you can say it is half full or half empty. If you say it is half full then you opt for the sharing and vice versa. But we tend to divide things.  Real artists make you see those divisions, and inspire you to share. Maybe it will take two or ten generations for people to realize it, but I’m sure that eventually they will, and then we will be free.

Author: Nenad Georgievski
Photos: Hüsamettin Gina and Viktor Sokolovski