Even though I do not remember the first time I heard a song by Nana Mouskouri, or which one it was for that matter, her folksy tunes have been traveling with me throughout my life – from way back when I was in primary school in the 70s, to my boarding school days in the 80s, to college in the early 90s and presently in my car CD collection touring Istanbul. Her multi-languaged repertoire has hence surpassed just being a name on album covers to becoming sountracks reminiscent of my life episodes, bringing into my mind a remark by the French poet Jean Cocteau “All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it.”
Once again I will associate her name with an inaugral experience. Nana Mouskouri’s “happy birthday tour” concert will be synonymous with the first performance I will have attended at Zorlu, Istanbul’s brand new performance center cradled amongst a complex incuding luxurious residences, a huge shopping center carrying myriad brands and office spaces perched on the European side just by the Bosphorus bridge. Absent from the musical arena for a while I was elated to buy tickets to the “birthday bash” of this once upon a time Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, unaware that this tour was actually celebrating her 80th.
Bestowed by a velvety voice which I read she has, through hard work and discipline, trained to develop an international repertoire to appeal to a wide audience. Not that it matters much, it is at times difficult to discern which language she is singing in, moving between lyrics and languages so effortlessly, transforming demanding lyrics into easy listening. That evening was no different. Nana Mouskouri elated her fans in Istanbul who were more than thrilled to join in when when she sang a very old Turkish folk song, “uskudara gideriken” in Turkish. There is such a simplistic allure to her, she is not showy on stage, perhaps its her calmness that holds us.
Although her visual trademarks are her dark shoulder-length hair parted in the middle and the dark-rimmed squre glasses, I regard her disguised trademark as neither her hair, nor those spectacles which have been with us forever, but rather her grace and refinement without being self-deprecating.
Her genuineness shone through a very heartwarming anectode she shared that evening- which I believe was also was a real icebreaker to connect with the audience . It was Harry Belafone who introduced Nana Mouskouri to the United States in the mid-sixties to whom Nana Mouskouri referred to with much fondness many times during the concert. Apparently Nana Mouskouri has always been a reserved and shy person. When she had confided in him about how her timidity had sometimes been a setback for the first few songs on stage, the 1927 born Bellafonte replied…”do not worry the first 80 years is always like that, it gets easier after that”… Artifice definitely seems to have definitely passed by this alluring lady with the rich voice, making her a very “reachable and touchable diva”
Perhaps it is her deep respect for her fans which has made her one of the most revered and internationally acclaimed singers on the musical arena – always trying to offer her cherished audience a musical feast for the soul by staying on stage for at least two hours non-stop. That evening was no exception with the additional surprise appearence of her daughter Lénou. Accompanied by four outstanding French musicians, the evening was indeed very festive. Relaying that sharing the same stage with her daughter Lénou, was a dream come true, the evening unfolded with solo performances by Nana Mouskouri, some solo performaces by her daugher to allow her mother some rest, some duets, both switching from one language to another, making the songs seem so effortless, appealing to the most simple and basic emotions of her devotees.
On the way back from the concert listening to the Nana & Friends album I purchased after the concert it occurred to me that perhaps my fondness for Nana Mouskouri also stems from her resemblance to my beloved mum when she was in her 40s. My mum also used to wear her hair short, parted in the middle, pitch black, her eyes smiling behind black square rimmed glasses. You may be right Mr Cocteau, all good music resembles something, stirring up basic emotions.