Gheorghe Zamfir: The new sound of the world will rise from the Balkans

Gheorghe Zamfir: The new sound of the world will rise from the Balkans

Zaman Gazetesi, Turkey

December 30, 2008

The most significant music of the world is in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Romania, and thus the new sound of world music will rise from the Balkans, says Gheorghe Zamfir, the “master of the pan flute.”The Romanian musician, whose name is synonymous with the pan flute that he has played all his life, was in İstanbul over the weekend for a New Year’s Gala concert on Saturday night at the Türker İnanoğlu Maslak (TİM) Show Center.
The 67-year-old virtuoso, who has played in over 200 albums and CDs and sold over 120 million records worldwide, is known for the innovations he has introduced to the traditional Romanian pan flute. By increasing the number of pipes from 20 to 30, Zamfir has expanded the instrument’s range, obtaining up to nine notes from each pipe.

Ahead of his İstanbul concert, where he was accompanied by the İstanbul Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Romanian maestro Ilarion Ionescu-Galati, Zamfir shared his perceptions about world music and talked about his musical career in an interview with Today’s Zaman.

You first wanted to play the accordion. What made you decide to play the pan flute?

I used to play the accordion when I was 10 years old. I used to work at a music store in Bucharest with my father when I was 14 years old, and it was during that time that I discovered the pan flute -- for the beauty of its sound -- very pure, full of life, a splendid sound. You can’t compare the sound of accordion with that of the pan flute. The color of its sound was what impressed me the most. I think I made a very good choice.

How did you manage to place such a “local” instrument in every musical style, particularly in symphonic music?

I [came up with] this idea when I was in Lausanne, in 1970. I had a dream. I woke up and I told it to my manager. I said, “I had a wonderful dream tonight; I played the pan flute together with an organ.” And after three hours of reflection, my manager said this was a fantastic idea. I made a reservation in a church near Lausanne for the following evening. We played some Romanian melodies. We listened to the recording afterwards and we discovered that the combination of the pan flute and the organ was amazing. We worked more seriously on our repertoire from that moment on, and we made the first record [of pan flute and organ] in 1972. This record was a revolution. I can’t tell you how huge the success was. In Germany, in half a year they sold half a million. In France it was something crazy, in Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands [it was also mad]. In two years, by 1974, all of Europe was listening and then Australia, Canada and then the US. I became very popular everywhere in the world with the style of the organ and the pan flute. In the following years I developed other ideas. In 1977, I introduced the pan flute to symphonic orchestras and to pop stars. I was working with Philips Records at that time [to distribute my music], and it was the biggest company at the time. I was playing Romanian folk music, pop and symphonic and after 1980, I developed my career very seriously in symphonic music. I played with the London Symphony Orchestra.

You contributed a lot to making this instrument popular throughout the world. How did you do this?

It was very easy for me because everybody was asking for more. Zamfir was number one everywhere. From 1975-1985 I was a superstar in the world. For example, in Canada they asked me if I could do a new record every month. “How can I do it? It is so fast.” [They used to say,] “It does not matter, we need it. People are asking more and more all the time.” Every year I worked like a bulldozer. I had no time to compose and play music. All the time I had flight ticket after flight ticket after flight ticket, just like Superman. My whole life passed in flights, hotels and concert halls.

Which kind of emotions drive in your music? What inspires you the most?

I have discovered how to pray for a peaceful world full of love and harmony. Playing in a church and especially in a cathedral is my favorite style. [The combination of] pan flute and organ is something unique. I pray for animals, rivers, forests, for everything. I like animals and nature so much; I am extremely sensitive about them.

In the context of traditional music, what do you think the place of Balkan music in world music is?

I think it is the first in the world. I am absolutely sure that I am not wrong when I say that. It is my style, it is my life, it is my favorite, Romanian folksongs and Balkan music in general. I am sure that today the most important area in the world is the Balkans in terms of music; the most powerful music is here in Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Romania. These five [countries’ folk music] are very strong and extremely important. In the near future, the new sound for the world will rise from here because the music in the US is finished now, it is also finished in the Occident. They do not have any more music. German music finished after classicism, French music finished after impressionism. The Italians did things in the middle of the last century, but it was popular music, light music; no opera, no symphonies, nothing. The music in Germany, in France is totally catastrophic.

During your musical career of more than 50 years, you have sold more than 120 million albums across the world. To what do you owe your success?

When I was in Switzerland, I was number two on the world chart after Michael Jackson. Number three was Elvis Presley and number four was the Beatles. You would expect that I would be a billionaire but I am not. I am a poor artist because they took all my money. It is a very long story, I have had to deal with [the most terrible difficulties] because I was born under the communist system. In terms of success, I can say that I believe that I have an inborn talent.

You have given new interpretations of artists such as Elton John, Lionel Richie and Billy Joel. With what emotions did you give these new arrangements?

I never had the idea of playing the repertoire of another singer. It was only the proposition of my record company. They asked me if I wanted to play some works from the repertoires of those people and I asked who they were. Because as far as I’m concerned, music is only classical, operatic or folk and there is also church music played on the organ. After I discovered who they were, I played [their songs], and it was very nice. It was a different color.

The movie soundtracks you have featured in have also become very famous. Do you have more projects in the works?

The soundtrack business is mafia-like, and you cannot break that system. It is a completely different world. I was featured on the soundtracks of movies such as “Once upon a Time in America,” “The Karate Kid” and so on. I am free for any kind of collaborations.

You are quite well loved in Turkey. What do you think about Turkish music? Can we hope for an album of traditional Turkish music from you in the future?

I first came to Turkey in 1988. I was here 20 years ago and I am still here. I think Turkish music is so wonderful. For many, many years I have had a project to make a record uniquely in the Turkish style with several bands from here, but I don’t know if I will have the chance. But this year I had a very nice experience with the Fire of Anatolia [dance company]. [The company’s founder and artistic director] Mustafa Erdoğan asked me to put my music in his new show “Troya,” and I came to İstanbul for a few days to make a recording. I played the pan flute for 20 minutes in “Troya.” I think it was a very good collaboration. It was a fantastic experience for me.




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