Pavlo: Mediterranean Nights
There is one common ‘language’ that has the power to emotionally connect every human being on the planet, regardless of their race, culture or living conditions. It is the language of music – especially instrumental ‘feel-good’ music. The universal melodies can speak intimately to people of widely diverse backgrounds in a similar manner, causing spontaneous reminiscences, moving a person to tears, be they of despair or joy, and they can compel a person to leap up and gyrate their body excitedly in jubilant, celebratory dance.
The Early Years
In the aftermath of World War II, over half-a-million Europeans left their war-torn countries and emigrated to Canada, specifically to the Greater Toronto area. By 1960, a third of Toronto’s population were newcomers, including an estimated 12,500 Greek immigrants.
By the 70s, the Greek population had grown to 30,000, and a section of town called ‘the Danforth’ was dubbed, ‘Little Athens.’ Among the early influx of immigrants were George and Freda Simtikidis, originally from Kastoria, Greece.
Pavlo Simtikidis was born in 1969 into this warm and embracing enclave of Greek ethos.
Influenced by the culture’s love for music and dance, Pavlo was handed a guitar at the age of ten. His cousin taught him the opening riff to the Beatles hit song, ‘Day Tripper,’ and the magic was instantaneous.
Pavlo and his guitar became one. To borrow from the Beatles lyrics, he took his ‘one way ticket’ and went ‘day trippin’ into the world of music never to return. He’s been playing glorious ‘one night stands’ for more than three decades since.
A World-Class Talent Developing
With his passion for playing the guitar evident, and his talent emerging, young Pavlo declared that making music would be his life’s calling. Most parents would have steered their child in a different, more financially secure direction. Luckily, his parents were both loving and wise, instead encouraging him to follow his dreams.
“Do the thing that makes you the most happy,” his father told him. “Have the courage to do what you love, and the drive to do it to the very best of your ability.” He further advised his young son to “have a strong work ethic and never lose the passion to continue moving forward in your chosen path.”
Pavlo’s father did more than encourage his son with words. He brought him to Canada’s most prestigious theatre, Toronto’s renowned Massey Hall, to watch legendary guitarists such as Paco De Lucia and Jose Feliciano. The son soaked it all in while taking lessons and studying musical genres ranging from classical and flamenco to rock and pop.
By thirteen, he was composing songs and performing live for .25 cents per ticket. Even considering the rate of inflation, that’s called “a bargain.” He performed in rock bands, wedding bands, and even a Rush tribute band.
As Pavlo was absorbing each of these experiences, he was hard at work developing his own musical expression which has been called, “a mix of the folkloric styles of Greek, Spanish and Latin music, with pop sensibilities.” He summed it up simply as ‘Mediterranean Music,’ and a star and his brand were in the making.
A Star Builds His Brand
In 1998, Pavlo wrote his first self-titled album, but record label executives turned it down, saying, “There’s no market for this kind of music, it’s too ethnic.” They even said derisively, “get rid of the bouzouki.” This refers to the Greek lute, a popular string instrument resembling a mandolin.
To get a sense of this decisive moment in Pavlo’s life, we refer you to the award-winning 2018 movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, and the scene where the arrogant, greedy music executive rejects Freddie Mercury and Queen’s vision of their groundbreaking album, ‘A Night at the Opera.’ As we know, Freddie and Queen didn’t take “no” for an answer, and neither did Pavlo.
While always a musician, it was Pavlo’s entrepreneurial spirit that kept his dream alive. After experiencing so potentially deflating a rejection, it didn’t even occur to him to give up. His father’s early words of encouragement resounded in his heart, “Do what you love with courage and a drive to do your very best. Have a strong work ethic and never lose your passion as you move forward on your chosen path.”
Pavlo believed fervently in his talent and vision, so he decided to create his own record label and market himself. Working tirelessly to promote his music, he appeared anywhere an audience would listen, including arts and crafts events, cafes, festivals, and even in department store lingerie sections.
We’re not sure if the lingerie section gig was his launching point, but he does remember it as one of his favorites. He would soon be leaving these smaller venues behind though, as through sheer self-belief and hard work he was successfully building his brand and developing a passionate following.
The word ‘fantasia’ means a musical composition with a free-flowing form, often an improvisational style. The word surely brings to mind Disney’s classic animated film of the same name. From our modern day perch, it’s hard to believe that iconic Mickey Mouse was ever at risk of fading into obscurity. But that was the case in 1940 when Walt Disney made his revolutionary decision to use a classical music score to reintroduce Mickey to a mass audience. After some difficult early years, the long-term result has simply been magical and Fantasia is now considered an all-time classic film.
As the world was welcoming in our newest century, Pavlo’s risk of fading into obscurity was equally palpable. Like Walt Disney six decades before, he knew it was his time to go all in, so he invested his last remaining dollar to release his second album called, Fantasia.
It was an immediate hit, quickly climbing the Billboard charts into the Top 10 and becoming a ‘Gold’ album. In 2001, Fantasia earned Pavlo his first Juno Nomination, which is Canada’s Grammy equivalent. This pioneering soundtrack endures as one of his greatest accomplishments, and a new age classic.
Pavlo’s star had risen and was beaming brightly now. Having attained worldwide recognition for the first time, the ‘feel-good’ musician and dynamic entrepreneur was only beginning his journey.
The Rising Global Star
While touring the country in support of his breakthrough album, he received a request for a command performance before Prince Charles. In the context of gaining notoriety, this is surely near the pinnacle. In the decade to follow, he was as industrious as ever, releasing a new collection of music nearly every year and touring endlessly in support of each.
This included his heralded 2007 return to the same Massey Hall in Toronto where the father and son once experienced their guitar heroes and dreamed of what could be. We suspect reality exceeded their most fantastic dreams when Pavlo sold out the theater twice and entertained over 5000 fans, including none other than Canadian folk legend, Gordon Lightfoot.
A live album of his Massey performances was released, followed in the next two years by another live album, Mediterranean Nights, and an eighty city, three month tour of the U.S. It proved to be a grand success, broadening his appeal markedly.
Following in the footsteps of Greek composer and musician, Yanni, he then appeared in his first PBS special titled, Pavlo: Mediterranean Nights.
If that’s not enough, his long-held idea for an all Canadian guitar trio collaboration manifested in 2009, producing the album, Trifecta, a sold out tour, and his second Juno nomination.
By the end of the new century’s first decade, Pavlo had become an internationally acclaimed star. And he was still only getting warmed up.
The Ascension Continues
In the context of releasing new music, it appears Pavlo went relatively quiet for a period of four years. Perhaps he was catching up on some sleep? We weren’t able to verify this, but we’re certain that another spate of creativity began in earnest in 2015 with the release of his second collaborative effort, Guitarradas, this time with Remigio Pereira of The Tenors.
This was followed by perhaps his most rewarding career highlight to date. With wife, Sandra, and his parents proudly sitting in the audience (in pretty good seats, we understand), Pavlo returned to the place where the family story originated, the intimate community of Kastoria in the north of Greece. He put on a show for the ages, resulting in the 2015 release of Pavlo: Live in Kastoria and his second PBS special which aired across North America in 2018.
As Pavlo fast approaches his own half-century mark, he continues to tour assiduously to enthusiastic, sold-out audiences throughout the world, including Europe and Asia. In addition, we can expect a new concert event to be broadcast soon from Guadalajara, Mexico, where he recently performed accompanied by a 93 piece orchestra.
On the business end, the relentless entrepreneur and his team, headlined by his wife and publicist, Sandra Charamba, now market a line of acoustic guitars called the ‘Pavlo Signature Series.’ They’ve also developed a reserve Meritage (red wine blend) produced at Mastronardi Vineyards in Kingsville, Ontario, near Lake Erie’s north shore. As you may have guessed, the wine is simply named, ‘Pavlo.’
Over the past two plus decades, this master guitarist has diligently worked and played his way north from wedding and lingerie department gigs to the rare and lofty status of ‘global superstar.’
Yet, while Pavlo continues to use his incredible talent to positively impact the world, he dreams of an even bigger and brighter future.
The Heart of the Matter
As we mature, if we’re wise, we strive to better understand the meaning of our lives – what is often called our ‘why.’ Such as – why were we even born, and what are we supposed to be doing?
Our answers come in bits and pieces over a lifetime, as former Navy SEAL and motivational speaker, Alden Mills, recently taught Throomers readers. As we gain more clarity, we tend to focus the majority of our attention on fewer things that matter the most. This is the process of reaching for the upper echelon of Maslow’s immutable ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ pyramid – our highest self.
Once our basic human needs have been satisfied, our search for meaning typically brings us closer to our origins. We experience an even deeper appreciation for our family and loved ones, we rediscover and celebrate our heritage, and we desire to express profound gratitude for our many blessings.
To do the latter, we turn our attention outward to the troubled world condition, the millions of unfortunate people struggling to survive, even starving and dying. We see all the suffering and commit to take action, however small or large. We come to understand that impacting another life for the better is our best route to achieving a sense of true joy and contentment – our own life’s purpose realized.
The Ultimate Encore from Pavlo’s Heart
We see him ever more deeply connected to his family and inherent culture. One of his unrealized dreams is to travel back to Greece once again, this time to attempt the nearly impossible by broadcasting a grand concert from the volcanic island of Santorini. No one should bet against him.
We see Pavlo express his gratitude by giving the guitar just used to entertain his audience to a grateful fan, one who will forever hold dear both the guitar and the memory. He performs this small act of generosity after every show, 150 times a year or more. This can be called the “ultimate encore.”
We see Pavlo express his gratitude through community outreach, notably his relationship with Public Broadcasting (PBS) where his vast talent aids their critical fundraising efforts. With the dwindling government support for the arts, including the irreplaceable PBS, his effort is more valuable than ever.
And we see Pavlo’s prominent role as the North American spokesperson for Batten Disease, a rare and fatal degenerative brain disease that brutally affects children to the acute detriment of their families, loved ones and local communities. To those who are in this unfortunate constituency, Pavlo is a terribly needed light in their dark world, and the truest definition of a hero.
In all, Pavlo’s unmatched artistry with the guitar is the greatest gift he brings to a world so desperately in need of feeling good.
He inspires us to quiet our minds, listen, reflect, and feel the full range of our emotions. To feel is to be alive – from sadness and despair to joy and delight – and Pavlo’s music triggers all of that. And every now and then, regardless of our challenges, he compels us to leap up and gyrate our body excitedly in jubilant, celebratory dance.
Those who’ve been listening are in effect connected to one another as an extended family – a vital connection across the entire planet. For all of this, we express our profound gratitude to this benevolent king of the Mediterranean. Click here for our interview with Pavlo.