Alekos Galas

Interview with Susan Frances, Yahoo!

What is a Bouzouki, you might ask? One might say it is what the dobro is to the musicians in Nashville, what the lute is to the musicians in Dublin, and what the sitar is to the musicians of India. Like these instruments, the Bouzouki is a type of guitar whose origins are found in Ancient Greece, and as you may presume, the number of Bouzouki players in Greece is as plentiful as the number of bagpipers in Scotland. Outside of Greece, though, Bouzouki players are few and seen as often as a bold eagle in New York City. Bouzouki player Alekos Galas is an exception to this generalization having broadened the perception of the instrument to be more than a folkloric instrument but one which fashions world music precepts and pervades global appeal.
Proving the instrument's worldly appeal, Galas was given the opportunity to play the Bouzouki on the recording of producer/composer Steve Wood's score which he made for the IMAX film "Greece: Secrets of the Past". The soundtrack won the GSCA Award for best film score of 2006 as Galas expresses, " All of the music soundtrack was written by Steve Wood, and it was one of my favorite projects for which I played the Bouzouki. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to play throughout the whole soundtrack, in addition to some special improvisations I was asked by Steve to play... What a wonderful musical production with a huge cast of great musicians and singers."
Presently, Galas has released a new solo album Mediterranean Breeze which he tells, "is a recording project I wanted to do for a long time. I have always been inspired to compose pieces for the Bouzouki in the World Music genre, and to create music that would be considered a fusion of my songs with Smooth Jazz, as well as mixing Mediterranean and Latin sounds. I wanted to compose a variety of different music ideas, and at the same time make the music all fit together, taking the listener on a musical journey starting with "Bouzouki Spice" and ending with "Hidden Love".
Galas reveals, " All of the pieces were composed by me, and I did have all my music arrangements and song structures ready before I went into the studio. I did direct the musicians on how I wanted them to play.


Steve Wood was a great help to me as an engineer and musician who contributed additional ideas. However, I believe that there is nothing more valuable, helpful, and quite frankly more enjoyable as a musician, to share and exchange musical thoughts. What a joy and honor it was to play with such great musicians who played with their souls and hearts. Of course I listened to any musical suggestion by the musicians involved in this project and was always open minded. I wanted to listen to any additional suggestions by any musician, and there were ideas that I welcomed and used. I especially loved it when Abraham Laboriel, Marc Russo, Alex Acuna, and Steve Wood made any suggestions. I considered their musical inputs and ideas true gems!"

He explains, "To start my project, I first went to my good friend Steve Wood who played keyboards and piano on many of the tracks. Steve, among his many credits and musical achievements, was the musical director for Kenny Loggins and was on the road with the band for several years that included sax great Marc Russo. Steve connected me with Marc. I was fortunate to have recorded on an album for Smooth Jazz pianist Dan Siegal ("FABLES-THE DAN SIEGAL PROJECT") that consisted of many great musicians, including legendary bass player Abraham Laboriel. It was Dan Siegal who connected me with Abe. I asked Abe to connect me with his long time friend, percussionist legend Alex Acuna. All the other musicians on the CD are friends that I have collaborated with through the years; I believed that these were the group of guys I wanted for this project."

The track "Bouzouki Spice" from Mediterranean Breeze features violinist Yervand Kalajian which Galas extols, "Yervand is a fabulous violinist who plays with so much passion and feeling. I liked the fact that his Armenian heritage brought out a musical sound in his solo that mixed well with the Bouzouki. In addition, I wanted Yervand to play a violin solo on this track because I believed his playing style brought additional life to the song, and a sort of intro or segue to the Bouzouki improvisation that follows. Yervand's violin solo proved to be very powerful and full of life; a very important sound and contribution to this opening piece of the album. "

Galas discloses that the musicians who have influenced his style of writing music and playing is wide and crosses into many genres. He admits, "I'm constantly listening to musicians and players of all instruments besides Bouzouki players, as well as listening to all genres of music. I always learn something from the endless list of great musicians on this planet, and there's always musical ideas derived. I've always been influenced by any good musician of any instrument."
Remembering that he was fascinated by the Bouzouki when he discovered the instrument in his uncle's closet while stumbling upon it in the middle of game of "Hide and Seek", Galas recalls how it all began, "I started to play the Bouzouki when I was 8 years old and until I was 12, I was learning myself by ear. I did take lessons from a famous Bouzouki player in my early teens. I also played guitar and a little piano in my early years, which further helped me understand music. The best 'teacher' for me was the stage; this is where I learned so much and continue to learn."
He describes, "Bouzoukis are handmade instruments and there are several noted makers in Greece. The Bouzouki can be very plain in looks, or it can be made with very fancy inlays. Most Bouzoukis have inlayed mother -of - pearl designs, and depending on how elaborate the design, they can be rather expensive, costing as much as $6,000."

Usually perceived as a traditional instrument, Galas has parlayed the Bouzouki's tones to fit into easy listening formats and adult contemporary programs. He opines, "Well, I don't know if the Bouzouki fits in rock music, but yes, I believe that the possibilities of the Bouzouki are endless and can fit in any style of music. Although I like to see the Bouzouki exposed much more in the world of music, it has been used through the years in many different music genres. For example, Cat Stevens used the Bouzouki in some of his early recordings (song, "Ruby My Love") The Bouzouki is a beautiful and very versatile instrument. Its tuning is the first four strings of the guitar but tuned one tone lower (D-A-F-C) making it an instrument that can play many styles of music, whether it's sophisticated or commercial."

He confers, "I would consider it a great success in my musical career to have Mediterranean Breeze reach audiences anywhere in the world. It's a great joy for me to have an audience appreciate my music and playing. Nothing is more rewarding than a person coming up to me and saying how much they like and enjoy listening to my CD. As for further aspirations I'll tell you, it would surely be a wonderful thing to have this album played on the radio around the entire U.S. and to have even just one hit song. "
Born and raised in San Francisco, Galas elates, "I have been blessed with receptive audiences everywhere I've performed through the years. I think this is because when I play the Bouzouki, the love I have for this instrument shows and amplifies my performance."
He highlights, " I recently performed at Katerina's jazz club in Chicago, Illinois. I played several of my songs from the CD including, 'Bouzouki Spice', 'Cielo' and 'The Road Home'.

The audience loved the music and wonderful comments were given. I look forward to my life's continue to perform my music on stage, playing the Bouzouki with all my heart and soul."
The Bouzouki is one of those instruments which can be considered both traditional and contemporary sounding, and Alekos Galas manages to shed light on both sides of the Bouzouki. With tracks written and produced by Galas, Mediterranean Breeze is one of those albums that reveals the smooth sounds found in Greece's heartland and shows that some secrets should be shared.