Yiannis (John) Rousos is one of only a dozen or so musicians in the United States that plays the Greek Santouri. He first fell in love with the instrument in 1970, when his girlfriend, Georgia, joined him in Athens. She brought him to see the virtuoso Santouri master, Aristides Moschos, rehearsing with a small band for the Lykeion Greek performing dance troupe.
Yianni career as a musician spans nearly half a century, and he continues to perform, teach, and share his love of the Santouri. His credits include performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Penn Museum of Anthropology and Archeology, and the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Yianni started learning the santouri in 1972. One evening, while playing a few songs on the santouri at the Middle East Restaurant in Philadelphia, Dr. Nikos Metallinos heard him and immediately recruited Yianni to lead a folk music band (later called Panegyri), which would subsequently provide live music for Dr. Metallinos’ new performing dance troupe, the Terpsichoreans.
Up to the time Yianni began performing on the santouri, he had played some guitar back up, and some bouzouki, but the learning experiences with Panegyri and the Terpsichoreans brought Santouri playing to the forefront of Yianni’s musical career. This led to many other performances, in addition to the prestigious venues mentioned above, such as Longwood Gardens and the International House.
Also, in those early years, Yianni was recruited by the Ethnic Folk Arts in New York to perform with the Halkias Family Orchestra for numerous events in New York City. He has also performed in many of the local Greek restaurants in the Philadelphia area, including at the original Onassis on 17th Street and later at Sansom Street, at numerous Greek dances, baptisms, weddings, engagements, birthday parties, concerts, festivals, and camp workshops throughout the northeast United States, with many different musicians and musical groups.
He has performed at the National Folk Festivals at Johnstown, Pennsylvania and twice at Lowell, Maryland. Yianni collaborated in the CD recording, “Return To Our Roots,” produced by Dimitri (Jim) Stoyanoff, and in the CD recording, “Greek Legacy,” produced by Sofia Bilides. During the last fourteen years, Yianni appeared at Zesty’s Restaurant in Manayunk, and at Estia Restaurant in Philadelphia.
In addition to performing on the Santouri, and other instruments, and teaching, Yianni has hand-crafted many Santouris and there are now over twenty being played in the United States today, many professionally.
Yianni’s love of the Santouri and for Greek music, has helped to rekindle interest and appreciation for the intriguing sound of the Greek Santouri for both Greeks and Americans in the United States. He feels deeply that the sweet sound of this instrument reflects the wonderful beauty of the Aegean Sea and the islands and mountains of Greece.
Originally published on Cosmos Philly by Eleftherios Kostans. Video by Vasilis Keisoglou.