Musical travels with a view of the sea
It was back in 1992 that I first got wind, from Tasos Michaelidis, of some incredible musical goings-on; a truly intoxicating combination of starry nights and jazz music taking place on the first of Halkidiki’s famous three legs, an event destined to grow in stature in the years to come.
The spark of an idea came while Stavros and Niki Andreadi were attending the famous jazz festival in Catania, Italy, and was brought to life on the historic hill of Sani.
With a tireless bunch of jazz devotees at their side and a set of performers willing to take that step into the unknown, they started a festival in an area without any previous track record of such artistic endeavour.
In the summer of ‘92, the hill of Sani gave cart blanche to a musical concoction of wondrous envelope-pushing sounds in the first jazz festival ever to be staged there. Ever since, festival-goers have come to expect a ravishing blend of high summer magic and avant-garde melodies wafting on the warm night breeze. Captivating as Halkidiki already is, this explosive extravaganza of jazz sounds adds the finishing touches to the delights of this wonderful destination.
The following summer of ’93 saw the event considerably enriched, acquiring Tasos Michaelidis as its fully-fledged artistic director and exploring a much wider range of musical horizons, setting a new benchmark for excellence amongst the country’s many other festivals.
In unison with the rhapsody of the waves and the summer breeze, and against the backdrop of the exotic landscape of Halkidiki, Sani festival impresses with its unique selection and exclusive international line-up: Roy Hargrove Quintet, Cedar Walton Trio, Piero Odorici Trio and Marc Cary Quartet.
The history of any festival is in the stories of its memorable nights and show-stopping performances. Sani is no exception; many a virtuoso has engulfed the hill in the passion of their music and soulfulness with which it is delivered.
Its secret lies in its continually evolving musical landscap
There are many moments to choose from: Norwegian saxophonist, Jan Garbarek, blowing up a storm; Dimitris Papaioannou wooing the crowd, long before his tour-de- force choreography for the 2004 Olympiad launched him into the stratosphere; the emotional 50th birthday celebrations of Dionysis Savvopoulos, complete with trademark braces and grandiose decent from the Halkidiki heavens in a hot air balloon. And what of those tiny snapshots of humanity which, looking back, bring that extra little bit of colour to the proceedings?
The lost luggage containing Ray Brown’s musical instruments in 2000 or Ahmad Jamal’s in 1997; the swarm of mosquitoes that had the audacity to delay Cassandra Wilson’s entry to the stage; the power cut that left 3,200 festival-goers, unperturbed and waiting patiently to listen to Tito Puente; Cesaria Evora singing barefoot in the midday sun under an umbrella.
As the time has passed, Nikos Theodorakis, and more recently, Olga Tampouri have succeeded Tasos Michaelidis at the helm of the festival. And the Sani festival has gone from strength to strength.
Its secret lies in its continually evolving musical landscape, its willingness to embrace the new and to take music forward to uncharted waters with the help of a swathe of international performers, who further enrich the experience of all present on those dreamy, surreal summer evenings.
“I like the fact that the inhabitants of Halkidiki can attend the festival free of charge, the fact that we are doing something towards cultural decentralization, that we have embraced the festival with so much love. And the stakes are high now. Our challenge is to manage to preserve the quality of what we do and love”, Stavros Andreadis states.
I only need to close my eyes in order to see the ambassadors of our beloved jazz leaving the Sani festival, impressed by the landscape, the audience, the organization.
And to listen once more to the sweet call of the owl, hidden in the tower on the hill, bidding us all adieu for another year and reminding us to return for more surprises next summer.