Journeys of Mind and Body

Magda Giannikou has always craved and embraced the unknown.

About Magda Giannikou

Trained in film scoring, arranging and music production at Berklee, Greek-born singer, film scorer, and composer Magda Giannikou has collaborated with everyone from Kronos Quartet (she was commissioned by and performed with the quartet at Lincoln Center 2013) to Louis CK (she wrote and sang a duet with CK for the comedian’s TV show) and Snarky Puppy (participated in their Grammy Award Winning Family Dinner Vol.1).

In almost every facet of the music industry, Giannikou may be best known through her world music ensemble/collective, Banda Magda, founded in 2011.

Banda Magda moves from samba to French chanson, from Greek folk tunes to Colombian cumbia and Afro-Peruvian Lando. Their songs capture the best of mid-century pop ballads and cinematic arranging, drawing on the band’s global background and unchained musicality.

This group of close musical friends turn Giannikou’s songs into engaging romps that have won them a spot with Carnegie Hall Musical Explorers Series, as well as performances at discerning venues  and festivals such as Webster Hall, Irving Plaza, The Kennedy Center, The Jefferson Center, Celebrate Brooklyn, Jazz al Parque, St. Moritz Festival Da Jazz, the Chicago World Music Festival, Atlanta Jazz Festival and WOMAD.

After the success of their brilliantly colorful albums, "Amour, t’es là?" (Top 10 Billboard World Music Charts, NPR’s All Songs Considered, First Listen, NPR’s 10 favorite World Music Albums 2013), and "Yerakina" (co-produced by GRAMMY Award-winners Michael League and Fab Dupont), the Banda is in pre-production of their 3rd opus, the vibrant, technicolor TIGRE.

Connect with Magda Giannikou


Transcript

Magda Giannikou spends her life wandering the world but sees it differently from you or me, thanks to a condition called grapheme-color synesthesia which makes her associate words with colors and sounds.

Magda Giannikou: I see a song before I write it.

This acute sensitivity is why Banda Magda's 2017 album, Tigre, took three years to complete.

Giannikou: Whenever the instrumentation or the arrangement wandered off the color, the color would become gray. So in the mixing session, if you lowered an instrument, the color changes for me. Crazy, but true. So every note has a color, and every chord has a color. C major chord is red, and D is pink.

AJC: And is middle C also red?

Giannikou: It's also red, but the viola C is a little darker and the cello C is a little darker, so it has fluctuations.

AJC: Do you feel like vomiting when you hear an orchestra tuning?

Giannikou: (laughs)

Magda makes multilingual music that reflects her wide-ranging interests, borrowing elements from, among others, South American cumbia, Greek folk, and French chansons. It all began when her parents kicked her out and sent her to Berklee.

Giannikou: They kind of, like, "Go away. You go do this now." They knew that this, that there was a certain kind of calling, and I had a little crisis at that age—21, 22, 23—and I was seriously thinking about doing something more, either teaching or, like, getting a musical job that didn't have as much kind of, like, ambition. I wasn't very motivated. I wasn't very inspired. And then at that point my parents, they forced me to go to Berklee. They're awesome. They knew, they knew.

AJC: They knew. And what do they think now?

Giannikou: I mean, after a week of being there, I just discovered myself. I completely found the place where I belong.

At Berklee, she would study classical piano and film composition, and she was good, becoming a Sundance Fellow in 2009. But the urge to lead a band would soon become irresistible.

Giannikou: We would go and see gigs of, like, friends and at school, like playing in restaurants and bars, and I was like, "Oh, I dunno, this is fun. This should be so much fun." And so, I needed to find a way to do it. So, I mean, I was a classical pianist at Berklee, so it was hard to really play because I didn't have those jazz chops as much, even though I tried. So at some point, I went back home and I found the accordion of my grandmother who was a teacher. I was like, "Ah, I'm just gonna bring it back to school and see what happens." And I was the only one. So musicians saw this and it was a new sound. Nobody was using it. So I started learning and suddenly everybody wanted me to be in their project or play in their band. I kind of sneaked in the live music scene through the accordion. And then at some point I was like, "Maybe I wanna write some songs," and I had never written a song ever. So I took a lyric-writing class. And because I was so shy about my lyrics, I was afraid of the embarrassment, or, you know, 'cause it's different. In music, you can interpret it. A lyric is just... It has to be really good, you know?

Greek by birth and a polyglot by choice, today, Magda sings in six languages. But don't ask her to write a dissertation in all of them.

Giannikou: There are some languages that I'm fluent, like French, for example, and Spanish, I can communicate. And then there are some languages where I can hang, and that's Japanese and Portuguese. Portuguese, I can talk with songs.

Her first song in Portuguese was a co-effort with a native speaker.

Giannikou: The song is called “Coração” which means "heart," and it talks about the fluctuations of the heart, and particularly mine because it does that a lot. I'm a very emotional person. My mood can change quite fast and I can be sunny, and then I will be, not dark, but it just changes all the time. Whatever the environment feeds me, I just take it in and it changes me. And for some people, some people that are part of my life, this appears to be a problem. It doesn't affect them as much, but they just worry about it and they think that it's something that should be fixed. And that's a song that says that I don't agree with you. I don't think I should fix it. I think that's what makes me me.

Magda's world is a vibrant swirl of color, music, and motion, but though wanderlust has served her creatively, she says she's now looking forward to settling down.

Giannikou: I would like to have a companion at some point. I mean, the alone life of traveling and being on the road all the time, and having this dedication and passion for my work, it's all good but I want a home too.

In the meantime, Magda will continue creating home wherever she goes.

For the full experience, watch the video at the top of the page.