Magda Giannikou grew up speaking Greek, spoke English in college and sometimes dreams in Spanish.
She can write songs and sing in all three languages, as well as Portuguese and Italian.
“I just think it’s such a beautiful thing to open your mind to different languages, different music, different cultures,” said Giannikou, 36, singer and accordionist for the group Banda Magda. “We’re all on the same planet, and I think music can help people understand that.”
When Banda Magda performs at Port City Music Hall in Portland on Thursday, the audience will be treated to “an emotional adventure” ranging from frenetic Brazilian samba dance music to heartwarming ballads from rural Mexico. The group also performs Greek folk music, original music that Giannikou writes in French and other languages and European pop tunes from Italy and South America. The band’s instruments include accordion, guitar, bass and a host of drums and other percussion implements. The performance Thursday is being co-presented with Portland Ovations.
Founded in New York in 2010, Banda Magda includes musicians from Argentina and Japan. They met at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Giannikou was studying film scoring and music arranging. The band has put out three albums, including “Tigre” which came out in September.
The songs on “Tigre” are sung in several languages and draw upon the cultures and musical heritage of Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, France, Mali and Zimbabwe. The album includes classical instrumentalists and vocalists, besides the core members of Banda Magda.
When the band performs live, Giannikou talks before each song. If it’s a folk song or pop song, she’ll tell the story behind it, including what it means to the people of a particular country. If it’s a song she wrote, she’ll talk about what motivated her or why she picked a certain language to write it in.
“I think music is just an extension of who we are. I love diversity and learning languages, and every one I can write a song in is another part of me,” said Giannikou.
Giannikou grew up in Athens, Greece, and her parents listened to music from all over the world. Her mother was a music teacher, and Giannikou started out, as a youngster, playing classical music on the piano.
When she went to Berklee, she learned English. She had a relationship with someone who spoke French, so she learned that language too. Several of her bandmates are from South America, so she learned Spanish. She’s also studied some Italian.
She has done some film scoring but says that Banda Magda’s touring schedule makes it hard. She is currently focused on the band’s performances and its schedule of educational workshops and residencies aimed at teaching appreciation for other cultures and languages through music.
“Where people come from or what their religion is shouldn’t matter; it shouldn’t divide us,” said Giannikou. “I grew up with a curiosity and respect for other people, and I realize that as a musician I can help spread that to others.”