Christos Karantais is among the first students earning his degree in Berklee Online’s new Voice Performance program. Hailing from Thessaloniki, Greece, he has traveled the world as a performer, and in 2022 he settled into Boston to start his music studies at Berklee Online. He says his goal is to become an ambassador of Greek music in the United States, in a similar way that Greek musicians brought jazz back from the US in the twentieth century, and put their own spin on it.
“A lot of musicians would go to the US and perform with the musicians here and would learn jazz and blues,” he says. “But it wasn’t really popular in Greece at the time … It’s the kind of music that is missed out on. … And I really want to share this type of music with people.”
Christos started his musical journey thanks to his grandfather, who was a cantor for his local Greek Orthodox church in Thessaloniki.
“At least every Sunday we were listening to his divine melodies of Byzantine music,” he says. “He used to sing great old songs and he had a good voice.”
After discovering a cassette player at his grandparents’ house, he started focusing on music, paying special attention to the lyrics, which he would memorize and sing back. He discovered and drew inspiration from the music of Manos Hatzidakis, who similarly moved from Greece to the US, where he wrote and recorded some of his most popular works.
“He [Manos Hatzidakis] shaped me to become the person I am today and I’m really grateful for his music,” says Christos. “It’s music that really makes you feel and that’s what I focus on when connecting to the people as a singer; I think about how I can make them feel.”
The transition from singing at home to singing professionally in front of an audience started out casually. At the age of 17 Christos was hanging out in a bar with a friend who happened to have a guitar, and they started playing and singing together.
“Everyone joined our informal performance,” he recalls. “It was exciting, because I never sang in front of an audience before.”
That one performance eventually led to several musical projects, including the band Notas del Alma, where Christos sang in Greek, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and French. He was also the founder of the Gents, a five-member band that played Greek jazz, Bossa nova, Spanish classics, and standard jazz. And through these projects he began to develop into a band leader.
“As a frontman I want to express myself,” he says. “It’s completely different when you have a big band: It gives you a different boost. A singer has to have reached the point to release themselves and become one with a crowd.”
After a year in the Voice Performance program, Christos says he has found the experience both humbling and electrifying.
“I really enjoy my private lessons, because they make me realize that I don’t really know anything,” he says. “I have a feeling that these classes are going to enhance my personality, because I feel like all of this is giving me the opportunity to become more of myself.”