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Using the guitar to change lives for the better

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Cyprus is incomparable says one successful guitarist who teaches people of all ages from around the world. JOHN IOANNOU meets him

Cyprus often punches above its weight in terms of high achievers, and Montreal-based professional musician, composer and master guitar teacher, Artist JAYE – a.k.a. Jaye Jaoude – is no exception, having strong roots here.

diaspora2Inspired to pick up the guitar as a child after watching Carlos Santana on an old black and white TV in a working-class suburb of Limassol, he has overcome the adversity of war to become a virtuoso in the guitar world, earning multiple accolades and awards while devising a ground-breaking method of coaching that enables students to grasp the art of guitar-playing in record time.

Jaye’s long and deep history with Cyprus goes back to the 1970s as his family shuttled back and forth to the island to take refuge during various flare-ups in the Lebanese civil war. He relocated permanently at the age of seven during the intense hostilities of 1981. “We lost everything in the space of two hours,” he remembers, “many of our beloved neighbours, our home, our possessions, our livelihood… all gone. My parents and I ran through bombs, rubble, and explosions to escape the city. We were among the lucky few who made it out of our neighbourhood alive”. He never visited Lebanon again, growing up in Cyprus and finding refuge in music during those turbulent early years.

“After the horrors of war, Cyprus was a sanctuary, a happy place, where I developed many lifelong friendships. Outside of school my time was spent playing guitar and basketball”. He vividly remembers summer evenings shooting pool with friends in Limassol’s bustling tourist area and playing guitar at one of the town’s many beach parties.

Throughout his teenage years Jaye stayed well-grounded with strong role models. His grandfather, a French national, was originally of Greek heritage and spoke Greek with Jaye. A former competitive swimmer, he was active in many academic institutions as a coach, even finding time to train several Mr Universe contenders in the 60s. “My grandfather had a huge influence on me,” says Jaye. “He was 40 years ahead of his time, always exploring new and innovative ways to train the body and mind. I must have inherited this trait as I take the same approach to teaching guitar”.

The time spent in Cyprus, where he also played basketball with Limassol team AEL, made a lasting impression and even 30 years later, Jaye still considers the island his true home. Together with English, French, Arabic and Spanish, he speaks fluent Greek and can switch easily into the Cypriot dialect, passing undetected as a foreigner. Unsurprisingly, he feels entirely Cypriot as it is the only culture he ever grew up in, and had things been different he never would have left. But his non-citizen status meant he was not allowed to work on the island, and by his late teens he needed to think about his future.

“We ended up relocating to Canada. We were also looking at Australia and South Africa, but Canada was first to open its doors, for which we were grateful. The bilingual nature of the country (English and French), and, the fact that we had family members already there, were advantages. The education system was also first rate, with university fees being a fraction of other countries”.

Despite these benefits, settling in was difficult. The freezing Canadian winters were far from the warm days of the Mediterranean, and music once again became a refuge. After completing a Bachelor of Commerce, he developed a successful career working in the corporate world while giving musical performances and teaching guitar in the evenings, but soon decided that music and coaching guitar full-time was where his heart really lay.

It was a good decision to pursue my passion for music full-time” says Jaye, who over the last 25 years has become a leader in the field of guitar education and has taught over 12,000 people. “The passion I feel for what I do is stronger today than it has ever been. I love to coach people of all levels, from 5 to 82 years old because learning guitar the right way is a multi-dimensional experience that changes lives for the better…”.

Jaye has also been a pioneer in breaking down stereotypes within the guitar world. “In the past, the industry was dominated by men. Guys would look up to guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and wanted to learn to play solos with fiery intensity, whereas female guitarists would be taught to gently strum as a form of light accompaniment to their singing. I’ve always made it a point to teach all my students the entire spectrum of guitar playing. Everyone should feel empowered when picking up the guitar”.

Coaching guitar also became a vehicle to give back, and in 2013 Jaye founded the non-profit Sharing Music Unites Us, a mentoring-through-learning-to-play-music programme that empowers children facing grave life challenges such as war, abandonment, poverty or loss of their parents. His team works mainly with academic institutions across Canada but has also supported children as far afield as Nepal and Africa.

“I believe that if someone has a gift and doesn’t use it to be of service to others, it is a wasted life. The terror I experienced as a child during the war made me realise that life is short and that we must spread joy and support wherever we can. Music and guitar playing enriched my life deeply; it gave me peace and self-development. I do my best to give children and adults the same opportunity”.

Despite these considerable achievements, the pull of home is strong, and while he has built a productive life and successful career in Canada, Jaye’s dream has always been to return and live permanently in the place he considers his true home. “Cyprus is my patrida (my nation), ime Kypreos (i’m Cypriot) is my standard answer when asked where I am from. I love the warmth of our people, the hospitality, and our genuine sense of duty towards each other and our communities. I’ve travelled and performed around the world and can say that Cyprus is incomparable”.

Cyprus may be courting digital nomads these days, but Jaye feels very much unlike a nomad and more like a local. “In Canada, when I tell people I’m from Cyprus, the follow up question is always: so are you Turkish or Greek, to which I reply, I’m a Cypriot. Cyprus is neither Turkish nor Greek, it’s for the Cypriot people, of which I am one… and though I do not have Cypriot nationality, I would like to return one day, to be able to collaborate with my Cypriot brothers and sisters, to give back to the island that has given to me in so many ways, and to finally feel like I am home again”.

More information on Sharing Music Unites Us can be found at: www.artistjaye.com/sharing-music-unites-us

 

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