Satti has always been surrounded by cultural duality, as his mother is of Cretan descent and his father is Sudanese. He started playing music as a child and later graduated in modern songwriting from the highly prestigious Berklee in Boston. In addition to Greek folk, he is greatly influenced by the Balkans, the Northern Mediterranean and the Arab world. In addition to his solo career, he also leads two choirs.
He has conquered Greece with his unique world of sound, and now he is going on tour again, the first stop of which is Hungary. Satti will give a concert at the Hungarian House of Music on May 7, and we were lucky enough to have a little chat with the singer.
Its sound world is extremely special. What inspires you when you write music?
Of course, I am very influenced by traditional music, but not only from Greece, but also from the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. I had a teacher from whom I learned a lot about these music. He showed me how many similarities there are between Greek, Turkish, Arabic and Balkan music. At first I didn’t understand why the music is so similar in these regions. My teacher said to this that these regions belonged to a common, vast empire centuries ago, and music is older than national borders.
If you listen to music from Turkey, the Arab world, Azerbaijan, and the Balkans, you hear that they practically speak a common musical language, only in a different dialect.
This helped me understand why I felt a strong attachment to the music in those areas. So that’s why traditional music from these countries inspires. Moreover, not only the music but also the traditions and the countryside. I really like going out into the countryside to the little villages to be with the people there, listening to their music with them, dancing with them, and completely surrendering to this way of life. As I wrote my new album and got closer and closer to this inspiration, I traveled a great deal. I went to the most secluded parts of Greece and was with the musicians there for weeks. This is one of my biggest inspirations. I think the real tradition is when people get together, coexist, and leave something together for posterity.
On the other hand, I grew up in a generation in the big city where we all wore cool branded clothes, American lifestyle ingrained in our culture, and there was MTV and pop and hip hop music. In addition to traditionality, that’s why it’s also in my music.
When did you decide to combine traditional and pop music?
I grew up in Crete, where I listened to a lot of Greek music, while learning classical and jazz music, but listening to pop and hip-hop music. At present, in our society, our own national cultures and influences from the West are completely intertwined. At home with us, it came out even more, as there was Arab culture on my father’s side and Greek on my mother’s side. So as I grew up, it was hard to find my own identity. That’s why my music was born. Out of the need to find myself.
She also worked as an actress, mostly in musicals. Thinking of going back to the theater line?
The most important things I have learned can all be tied to groups. It could be my own vocal team, the choir I lead, and the theater company I was in. However, I have no plans to go back. I don’t feel like an actress, and acting is no longer moving. Regardless, that period was one of the most important in my life because I learned how to tell a story. In theater, practically everything happens to be able to tell a story to people, and we use everything for that. Our bodies, our voices, our lights, our music, and more. I try to do the same in my own music projects. Music is only a part of it all, and I love being able to experience my visual creativity as well.
My most striking memories are from the theater when the national company played the great Greek tragedies in an ancient building where the theater practically began. These experiences affect me very strongly to this day.
The first performance, called YALLA, was toured at a Greek gender equality festival. Is this topic close to you? What do you think about judging female performers in their own genre?
I would like to believe that we are constantly moving towards full acceptance and inclusion. I grew up in two different cultures. My mother married a black man in Greece, which was not common at the time. My father is one of the first generations to go from Africa to Greece. It’s an interesting story that my grandmother, my mother’s mom, didn’t see a man of colored skin at all in front of my father. So, of course, the topic of equality is very important to me. To give space to everyone, all kinds of people. As it feels in my music, there are no limits to me. Society tries to dictate who you are, what you are, what you look like, but you have to tell who you really are.
Fortunately, equality is becoming more popular, in a good way. It even shows up in fashion, as now we don’t just see very, very thin models on the catwalks. Hopefully we can finally see not only one mandatory body image dictated by trends, but everyone can feel represented as well.
We are moving towards that
we will no longer be separated by where we come from, what god we believe in, whether we are in love with a woman or a man, what color our skin is, or how big our clothes are.
I’m a child of a love without borders, so I feel like I couldn’t even think differently about it.
His first major album, YENNA, will be released in May this year. What can we expect on the album?
Creative processes are always adventurous for me. As I said before, I traveled the countryside, observed the landscape and the people, and lived with the folk musicians. We recorded a lot of music with traditional instruments in northern Greece. Meanwhile, we wrote a song with Saske, a well-known rapper here in Greece. It was amazing, but meanwhile, soul-destroying to discover and experiment with these different sounds. The singing teacher I mentioned told me, “Marina, I’ve known you for years, and that’s exactly what happens when someone wants to bring something new into the world.” This is a painful process. I could also say that it is like childbirth and every childbirth is painful. That’s why the album’s title became YELLA, which means birth / birth. I used all my inspiration to tell the story of the creation and birth of something new. It can even be a rebirth of yourself.
The album is like writing a diary to me. I wrote an album about what kind of album to write.
What I really like lately is the art that is greater than human existence. Both the visuals and the cover of the album were inspired by Byzantine art. We went to church a lot when I was a kid, so this art has always been around me. I was used to it, that was normal for me. Ornaments, hearts, paintings and colors. I feel like it’s somehow beyond man, and not just because of religion. That’s why I love Byzantine art so much.
On the album cover is the Tama, which is usually given as an offering to the saints. That is why man is blessed. That’s why it appears on the cover to “bless” my music and album.
What can the audience expect at their concert at the Hungarian House of Music?
For the first time, I’m going to play songs from my upcoming album. As the Hungarian station is the first on my spring-summer tour, the emotions I received during the making of the album are still fresh in me. I look forward to what it will be like.
(Cover photo: Marina Satti (b) July 8, 2021. Photo: Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)