Back in January, international recording artist Nana Mouskouri kicked off a 30-city tour that takes her through Europe, the United States, and Canada. She celebrates her latest recording Forever Young and lives up to its title.
Next week, she returns to San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts on April 27 before heading down to Los Angeles’ Saban Theater on April 29, then back up to Seattle’s Moore Theatre on May 1 and on to Canada for 13 more performances. Her final performance is slated for Germany in August.
I caught up with her by phone over the weekend before she heads to San Francisco. “It’s a wonderful experience to come back,” she shared. “Forever Young” is also the title of the Bob Dylan featured song on the CD which includes 15 songs devoted to the artists she’s met through the years. “I’m singing songs of certain friends that I’ve listened to all of my life.”
She will perform several of these songs, tipping her hat to Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Charles Aznavour, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Marlene Dietrich, Leonard Cohen, Emmylou Harris, Kevin Costner, Paul McCartney, Diana Krall, Harry Belafonte, and more, including some Greek folk songs.
“I’m very emotional in choosing songs,” she said. “It’s a kind of optimism that I like to find. They are sad songs sometimes but they have a nostalgic way and at the end we are happy to remember for it.”
Born in Chania, Crete, Greece, Nana’s family moved to Athens when she was a toddler. It was there that she eventually studied at the Athens Conservatory but it was her interest in jazz and American standards that inspired her. She released her first record in 1958 and took Europe by storm with her song “The White Rose of Athens” in the early 60s. She has since won countless awards as well as 300 gold and platinum discs, and sold 350 million albums. She celebrates her 60th year in music and Forever Young is her 134th album, of which have included 42 albums in French, 33 in English, and 26 in German. Possessing a gift of languages, she has recorded in Greek, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Mandarine, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Hebrew, Corsican, Latin, Gaelic, Irish, Catalan, and Maori.
“Greek songs become the basis of me, the identity,” she shared. “Every singer, whatever your identity is, I think it’s very important to have one. Even if you sing other styles of music, still you remain with your identity, and you bring a different sentiment in. Every culture has its personality and its expression. This is my personality. I sing my Greek songs but then I visited the countries.”
In the United States, she teamed up with Quincy Jones in the 60s and recorded with Harry Belafonte. Her YouTube segment with Belafonte singing on the Danny Kaye Show has been a viral sensation. “A lot of people discovered me on the YouTube,” she laughed. She still has the enthusiasm, the spirit, and the will to continue to perform. What is her secret?
“I don’t have a recipe,” she said, “but I go back to Bob Dylan’s song. If you read the lyrics, he said, ‘may you learn to be restless, learn to do for others, and let the others do for you. Wishes to come true and also hands always be busy and your feet be swift.’ Be ready for all changes.”
Now in her early 80’s, she has also become philosophical in reflecting the past and the present. “I come from the second World War. I remember the 60s, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Bob Kennedy, all of those really great people. Those cruel assassinations also, it’s part of our soul that made us grow and search for peace and love. This is what keeps us going.”
She left Greece when she was offered to go to Germany and France. “I left with the feeling am I going to forget about the war and find love and find also peace somewhere? You see peace and love, they are not something material that you can put it in the pocket and just say, okay, I’ve got you now so you stay forever. Both sadness and happiness are two exceptional values that they have a story. One hurts you. The other makes you happy, but both have an end. You cannot always be happy and not always sad. You have to work to find the peace all the time, to be peaceful.”
She thought she’d try retiring from the stage 10 years ago but after three or four years, it saddened her. “I couldn’t go on being like that. I had no taste for life anymore because I’m used to singing. I love to sing. I’m learning. I’m singing in the world as the world grows further.”
Back to the stage she went where her world and ours are more peaceful because of it. You can catch Nana Moukouri’s intimate concert at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, April 27 at 8 p.m. (1-800-745-3000 or at ticketmaster.com), at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills (Los Angeles), April 29 at 8 p.m. (1-888-645-5006 or at wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com), and at The Moore Theatre in Seattle on May 1 at 7:30 p.m. (1-800-982-2787 or at www.stgpresents.org).
Email the author: Frosene Phillips