Oh, that unmistakable sound ... that hybrid of traditional Greek, flamenco, Latin, and Balkan flavours laced with contemporary pop.
Pavlo Simtikidis returns to the Arden Theatre on Wednesday, April 20, after more than a decade’s absence from performing his unique blend of Mediterranean guitar music. In spreading his wings after the COVID-cocoon, Pavlo as he is known to fans, is on a 33-stop North American tour that includes six Canadian cities.
“Before the pandemic, I’d travel 150 to 200 cities in a year. I was barely home. But the pandemic was a shocker. At first, 65 solo concerts were cancelled on the spot and hundreds later. I got to know my house. I played tennis, walked the dog, and went to the grocery store. I lost 30 pounds, but the pandemic went on so long I put 30 pounds back on,” laughed Pavlo, poking a fun at himself.
The veteran virtuoso has enjoyed a prolific career of more than 30 years recording 16 albums, filming four PBS TV concert specials, and playing venues across Europe, Asia, and North America. He is touring the continent to promote Live in Santorini, his latest PBS special and current album.
Due to his three-decade longevity in the music industry, his electronic Rolodex is stuffed with a who’s who, including José Feliciano, Jon Secada, Olivia Newton-John, The Tenors, George Veras, Oscar Lopez, Rik Emmett, and Paco de Lucia. And although he now lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, he still manages to hang on to his modest Toronto roots.
“Coming out of the pandemic, it’s a privilege to still be invited to play for people. After all these years, I’m still humbled that people want to see me play guitar,” Pavlo said.
“I turned professional in 1998, but I still feel I’m a work-in-progress. But I’ve improved my technique and I feel much better about playing music.”
Pavlo is the ultimate showman, and his music instinctively urges listeners to clap or get up and dance. His energy on stage is simply infectious.
Of Greek heritage, Toronto-born Pavlo was interestingly the first artist to bring a Santorini-based musical special to American television.
“I couldn’t believe I was the first. Santorini is one of the most sought-after locations on the planet. But it has no concert venue. We had to use a helipad. We had to create our own concert venue and we had to be very creative. It took seven years and two mayors. It was a nightmare, but the show was spectacular.”
A concert stage was set up on one of the island’s stunning rocky outcrops facing the Aegean Sea as a backdrop. While the sun gently dipped below the horizon, couples sat at cabaret-style tables sipping wine as Pavlo and his guests serenaded them throughout the evening.
Filmed in two segments on Aug. 6 and 7, 2021, they were edited into one cohesive showcase which aired Nov. 27. Since then, Pavlo said Live in Santorini has aired across 300 PBS stations in North America.
Much of the special’s success can be attributed to Santorini’s stunning scenery. However, the guest list brings together some of the world’s most talented artists.
“I had to pinch myself. Daniel Emmet, a finalist on America’s Got Talent, was there. He’s an incredible singer. He was handpicked by David Foster. He’s going to be big. I was honoured to have him as my guest.”
Another guest that excited followers was Benise, an American guitarist dubbed "the prince of Spanish guitar" who added his signature touch of Latin styles underscored by African rhythms. The program also included Toronto’s flashy violinist Grenville Pinto, international accordionist Zoe Tiganouria, and vocalist Eva Manta.
Pavlo’s next special will be filmed at Athen’s Acropolis. But when asked what his favourite Greek island was, Pavlo zigged away from the landscape to people.
“Greece is so beautiful from top to bottom. Everyone always talks about the clear blue water. But I always go back to the people. They are very hospitable. In some ways they’re not advanced, but they’re wonderful and I appreciate how genuine they are.”
On the tour, Pavlo is accompanied by his long-time backing band: percussionist Gino Mirizio; bass guitarist Curtis Freeman; and Manolis Zachiou on bouzouki, guitar, and sazi.
“When I perform live, I like to mix and match my songs. The shows are very spontaneous. In a lot of ways my concerts feel very old-fashioned, not that I am old,” he laughs. “It’s just there’s no backtrack. Every song is authentic, and every show is different. You will never catch me playing a backtrack.”
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $65, available at www.stalbert.ca/exp/arden/events/ or by calling 780-459-1542.