JAN VAN de Engel : The Other Yiannis

by Lidia Mavraeidopoulou

Yiannis Angelopoulos grew up in Salamina, an island just off the coast of Athens. At an early age his love for music brought him to the drums, and he later moved to the Netherlands to study music, satisfying his restless musical spirit with new experiences and knowledge.

When he returned to Greece, along with his luggage he brought back his artistic nickname, and by extension the name of his band, ‘JAN VAN De Engel,’ bestowed on him by fellow students in the Netherlands.

JAN VAN De Engel came onto the scene in 2010, with a modern jazz record with English lyrics, entitled ‘Misspent.’ The single ‘Ladokolla’ followed, in which JAN VAN first demonstrated his interest in the Greek musical tradition. The band’s new project ‘Yian Van’ became available in digital form, cassette and vinyl in the summer of 2015. Yiannis Angelopoulos and his musicians created something not just ‘listenable’ but really a masterpiece. ‘Yian Van’ is a record that naturally and skillfully mixes languages, peoples, customs and traditions. Modern music meets the traditional, and Afro-Latin culture meets Greek verse and folk songs.

Music by Yiannis Angelopoulos and Lyrics by Euthymis Philippou

Below, I satisfied my own curiosity for the mysterious and multi-talented Mr JAN VAN, and tried to get to know him a little better..

Nostalgia for Rock and Roll? What musical genres have influenced and inspired your music?

Nostalgia.. A sweet trap, but no thank you! All the music that has ever reached my ears, for better or worse, has influenced and affected me, even music that I don’t like. Yian Van emerged from the power the Greek folk tradition exerts on me, which I got to know in some ways by chance.

Lyrics, melody, rhythm? When you hear a new piece, where does your attention land first, what elements first transfix you?

Probably the sum of everything. There is no question, something can touch me or click with me for different reasons. As a listener I want to be as unprejudiced as possible, without expectations, to surrender and let the flow take me. The farther the music takes me the more powerful it is.

What do you like and dislike about musical composition and the global industry today?

I like that through SoundCloud I am able to listen to the work of people I don’t know, that on YouTube I can find records from the 70s, from wherever I could imagine. There is a huge database out there, all accessible through a smart phone. I don’t like hearing ‘more of the same,’ especially from artists that the industry has been ‘generous’ with. On the other hand, if you make the best pizza in the neighbourhood, inevitably you’ll have to continue in that direction, with no way out. Oh, I forgot, in a democracy it’s impossible to get stuck in one direction. It has cost us, but we’ve learned our lesson.

Music unites… people, cultures, eras. As a creator today, what are you hoping to achieve with your music?

I hear from all kinds of people that they like my music, but I can’t know its dynamic potential or what it has in store for us in the future. In the meantime, I want to be able to live off my music, for Yian Van to be a self-supporting organism, to be able to perform live and record our albums without any us struggling financially. We are very close to this point! If we could find a company of like-minded people, even better. As nice as it is to create something wonderful, when you’re able to share it, it becomes something else entirely.

At some point you decided to leave Greece. Would you leave again now, considering that things are even more difficult?

I wouldn’t leave again for anything, but that is a purely personal response. Of course, practical necessity is the most important thing, and if I can’t live with dignity here I would have to look further away.

" May they enjoy our positive qualities and share with us theirs "

In today’s Greece of multiculturalism and refugees, what do you believe could help the people who choose our country to live and create to better integrate?

The migration crisis is a huge socio-political problem, and as a country we have a disproportionately large share of responsibility to deal with it. On a personal level, I believe that it will help us – and them – if we understand that historically people have always been moving, always uprooted and always open-hearted and welcoming. Now that life has brought us closer, I welcome them. May they enjoy our positive qualities and share with us theirs. At some point we have all found ourselves in a ‘bad’ neighborhood. let us have that in our minds as an example to avoid.

After the fall comes the transformation. How do you hope to see our society in the future? I emphasize ‘hope’..

I hope our society will be more open. We have to coexist, and not impose our opinions on one another. Every choice is political, we need to be conscious and aware, of the smallest things to the most complex. Now that we have seen that the robes don’t make the priest, let us apply that understanding here too. Everything is here in the moment, let’s free ourselves from the traps that are surrounding us.


Reading Yiannis’ final comments before I send this piece for publication – one phrase comes to mind. ‘Freedom to all, come out of hiding! Grab hold of your own circumstances and don’t expect any ready solutions. Both the beautiful and the ugly are here to inspire us, and to transform us into something fresh, new and better.

Experience JAN VAN’s work by clicking here!

Written by Lidia Mavraeidopoulou | Translated by Katherine Poseidon

photo credits: JAN VAN & Aigli Drakou


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