The biggest female pop star in Greece, singer Anna Vissi rose to fame in the 1980s, captivating listeners with her mesmerizing voice and her powerful stage presence. She released her first album in 1984 and reached the peak of her talents in the 1990s, turning out hits with her collaborator and former husband, songwriter and producer Nicos Karvelas. In 1997 the Cyprus-born beauty swept the Greek Music Awards. Recorded on her gold, platinum, and triple-platinum-selling albums are pop hits, love ballads, and even the occasional rock opera. Although she sings most passionately in her native Greek, Vissi has recorded songs in English, and in the early 2000s made her first attempts to become an international star with “crossover” appeal. In 2001 she released Everything I Am, which critics lauded as a first step toward worldwide renown for the Greek pop chanteuse.
Born in Cyprus on December 20, 1957, Vissi, one of three daughters, had an early sense of her calling to a life in music. “[W]hen you feel it when you are a child, it is going to happen,” she told Susan Chenery of the Australian. “When I was five years old, I had visions.” Aware of her child’s budding talent, Vissi’s mother enrolled her at the Cyprus Conservatory when Vissi was only six years old. At age 12, lying about her age to enter a singing contest for teenagers, she won first prize, attracting the attention of local talent scouts. Within two years, Vissi’s mother decided to relocate the family to Athens, Greece, where her daughter would be able to find more opportunities.
Vissi signed a contract with Sony Music at age 14, making her recording debut on a Greek singers’ compilation album. She sang a song by the renowned songwriter and pop star Nicos Karvelas. The pair worked together throughout Vissi’s teens, and their collaboration blossomed into a romance chronicled in detail by the Greek media. The couple wed in 1983, when Vissi was 26.
In addition to penning hit songs for Vissi, Karvelas also wrote Greece’s first rock opera, Demons, for his wife. While their professional relationship would last, their marriage would not, however. After seven years, and the birth of a daughter, Sofia, the pair divorced. To the confusion of fans, Vissi and Karvelas continued to live together for the sake of their musical collaboration. “When you’re a wife to somebody there are sometimes problems, you know, and you’re not able to see the person fairly,” Vissi told Graham Simpson of Sydney, Australia’s Sunday Telegraph Magazine. “We respect each other more now, I would say. Working with Nicos is a joy and we remain good partners and best friends.”
Vissi’s 1996 album Klima Tropiko was a runaway success in Greece, rising to platinum status in a few months. On the heels of this album, the singer’s tour of Greece led to a new club built expressly for Vissi. She presented a series of three-hour shows at the club—all of them sell-outs. On New Year’s Eve, the mayor of Athens invited Vissi to perform in celebrations at Parliament Square, which drew a crowd of some 20,000. And in February of 1997, Vissi swept the Greek Music Awards, taking all of the major honors, including Best Female Singer.
In 1997 Vissi released Travma (Wound), which reached triple-platinum status. The same year, the Greek superstar released her first English-language single, “Forgive Me This,” recorded with producer Rie Wake, of Celine Dion fame. Although it was a hit in Europe, the song did not fare as well in a more international market. Vissi blamed its limited success on her lack of expressiveness in a non-native tongue. “It was a different experience and I found it a bit difficult to be the same singer as I am singing in Greek,” she told Freya Grant of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. “Singing in English, I find that I can’t have that same passion. People who know me really well immediately notice that.”
Vissi kept at it, however, looking to infuse her English-lyric music with the same Hellenic passion. It was not a disregard for English music that was holding her back. Indeed, American singers Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin were early inspirations for the Greek songstress. Later, Vissi looked to Madonna as a style icon, incorporating that megastar’s ability to constantly reinvent herself with a new image and a new physical appearance. “I wasn’t trying to mime Madonna,” Vissi told Chenery of the Australian, “but I respected her energy. She gave me a lot of courage.”
In early 1999—following her popular 1998 release Antidoto (Antidote)—Vissi performed two sold-out shows
Born Anna Vissi on December 20, 1957, in Cyprus, Greece; daughter of Nestor and Sophia Vissi; married Nicos Karvelas (a music producer and songwriter), 1983; divorced, 1990; children: Sofia.
Enrolled in the Cyprus Conservatory, age six; won first prize in local singing contest, age 12; moved with her family to Athens, signed with Sony, made her recording debut on a Greek singers’ compilation album, age 14; began collaborating with songwriter Nicos Karvelas, 1980s; released breakthrough album Klima Tropiko (Tropical Climate), 1996; conducted first full tour of Greece to sell-out crowds, 1996; released first English-language single, “Forgive Me This,” 1997; released first English-language album, Everything I Am, 2001.
Awards: Greek Music Awards, Best Female Singer, Best Interpretation, and Biggest Airplay Song on the Radio, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Sony Music Entertainment (U.K.) Head Office/European Regional Office, 10 Great Marlborough Street, London, W1F 7LP, England. Website—Anna Vissi Official Website: http://www.annavissi.net
in London, and held her first mini-tour in the United States, with shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and other cities. American audiences took notice of her charisma, and music critics lauded her magnetic stage presence. “With raised arms and delicately stepping feet, she was no unapproachable, packaged pop diva, but an irrepressible entertainer,” noted the New York Times, at quoted by Sony Music online.
Also in the late 1990s, Vissi set out to record her first English-language album, Everything I Am. She spent two years abroad—in London, Los Angeles, and Nashville—recording and producing the songs with various collaborators. The result was a classic pop album that mixed high-energy dance tracks (“On a Night Like This,” “Everything I Am”) and moody, bluesy ballads (“Way Out,” “No More the Fool,” “No Tomorrow”). What made the album unique was its incorporation of Hellenic sounds—some songs included the bouzouki, a popular string Greek instrument—and its characteristically Greek passion and flair.
Upon Everything’s 2001 release, Vissi performed “On a Night Like This” at the Miss Universe pageant in Cyprus, before a television audience that numbered in the millions. The song wowed listeners, especially in Australia, where the popular singer Kylie Minogue included her own version of it in the album Light Years. Meanwhile, music critics around the world looked to Vissi as perhaps the next big “crossover” star.
Klima Tropiko, Sony, 1996.
Travma, Sony, 1997.
Antidoto, Sony, 1998.
Live!, Sony, 1998.
Everything I Am, Sony, 2001.
Mala, Sony, 2001.
Anna Vissi, Sony, 2001.
X, Sony, 2002.
Australian, May 24, 2002, p. 16.
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), May 20, 2002, p. 60.
Sunday Mail (Queensland, Australia), April 7, 2002, p. 57.
Sunday Telegraph Magazine (Sydney, Australia), May 19, 2002, p. 6.
“Anna Vissi,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 4, 2002).
“Anna Vissi,” Ask Men.com, http://www.askmen.com/women/singer_60/82_anna_vissi.html (November 4, 2002).
“Anna Vissi,” Sony Music UK, http://www.sonymusic.co.uk/uk/bio.php?id=35859&lang=eng&ze=saa (November 6, 2002).
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