Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Interview 7: Vassilis Mentzelopoulos-God is a DJ

Vassilis Mentzelopoulos (VM) is the next interview of the DUBAI PROFILE NEWS Blog. After passing from different industries such as Radio Producer, Civil Engineer and Event Organizer, both in Greece and United Arab Emirates he has settled down AMUSE EVENTS (www.amuse.gr) in Athens, Greece. A trip from Athens, to Abu Dhabi-Dubai and back in Athens. Sparkling events is his life. Let’s share some of his light!

DPN: Vassilis, you started your career as a civil engineer, you moved into radio production and you ended up in the events industry. Which of all the above marked your life?

 VM: I believe that entering the magic world of media through the radio production really marked my life and showed me the path that I would want to follow for the rest of my business life.

DPN: A life trip from Athens to Abu Dhabi and from Abu Dhabi to Dubai and back in Athens. Describe us what role each city played for you in your life.

VM:  Athens is the city I was born at and the place of my friends and family. Abu Dhabi was my first working abroad experience and it happened to me when I was already 42 years old. It was a period that I wanted to explore new people and working environments and I believe that the capital of UAE was very welcoming and friendly. Moving to Dubai proved to be not so successful as I thought it would, mainly due to the world crisis and also due to some false choices in business associates. However it proved to be a school of how to establish your own company in a foreign country and also how not to be fooled by those who claim to be your friends or your business allies but act totally opposite than that. Finally returning back home, getting married and running along with my wife our own event management company seems to be the wisest decision ever.

DPN: Is United Arab Emirates the sparkling star of the Middle East?

VM: U.A.E. is a unique place that makes the newcomer to feel dazed by its wealth and achievements. It is surely the sparkling star of the Middle East but one needs to be extremely cautious because not everything that sparkles over there is gold.

DPN: During your career as a radio producer you cooperated with big names from the global showbiz industry. Who was the most interesting one?

VM: Actually as a promoter of concerts I had the opportunity to cooperate with huge names of pop and rock music such as: Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick, Dianna Ross, Jerry Lee Lewis, Barry White, Tina Turner, Carlos Santana, Debbie Harry, Mick Fleetwood e.t.c. Most of them were unique personalities and very interesting characters. The one who I admire most and felt very lucky to be with for three days was Frank Sinatra who we invited for a concert in Athens Olympic Stadium back in May 1992, 19 years ago.

DPN: A number of events worldwide are consisting your portfolio up to now. Which one was the most successful one?

VM: I believe that two were the most successful events I was lucky to be the producer. The first one was the 2004 Athens New Years Eve show  in Syntagma square with a live audience of 50,000 which we broadcasted to more than 70 countries. The second one was the inauguration event of the Alexandrian Library in Egypt in 2002 with more than 50 Kings and Presidents of the world and a live broadcasting to more than a 100 countries.

DPN: Currently you are managing AMUSE EVENTS (www.amuse.gr), an event company in Athens. Tell us some things about your company.

VM: Amuse Concept Events was established by my wife Elli in October 2001. Since 2009 we are running the company together joining our forces and expertise in the magical world of P.R. and Events. Our major clients are Philip Morris, The Greek Lottery Organization, Eurobank and Cosmote.

DPN: Who was your hero when you were a child?

VM: I don’t think that I had one hero but I do remember that all my heroes were good and noble who sacrificed themselves to serve humanity.

DPN: What do you think are your three best qualities? Your three worst?

VM: That’s a difficult one. Let’s start with the worst first: Bad tempered, Arrogant sometimes, can’t lose my excess weight. Regarding the best now: Hard worker, persistent, honest and just.

DPN: What have been the three biggest news events during your lifetime and why?

VM: Succeeding in the entering exams for the Greek Polytechnic School and getting my degree from it cause it was something that made my parents proud of me and made me feel like a member of a secret elite called engineers. Playing for the first time in a night club as a professional DJ and doing my first radio show cause I managed to turn my hobby into a profession.

DPN: What’s the highest honor or award you’ve ever received?

VM: The highest award was the European best event award for the Athens 2004 New Years Eve Show.

DPN: What things frighten you?

VM: To end up in jail or a mental institution, losing my family, losing my faith in me

DPN: What do you think has stayed the same about you throughout life? What do you think has changed?

VM: I believe that I have remained almost the same throughout all those years refusing to really grow up and follow the necessary rules and probably this is the reason why I am into the Events business after all. What seems to have changed unfortunately is my de facto faith and trust in people  

DPN: If you could go back to any age, which age would it be and why?

VM: It would be the age right after the end of my studies where your journey begins free of learning and studying responsibilities when you actually believe that the whole world is yours to chose from what you really want to do with your life.

DPN: What do you feel have been the important successes in your life?

VM:  It was my decision to get married to a woman that I both love and respect. I see things in a totally different way and this has made me more persistent and successful than I have ever been before.

DPN: If a young person came to you asking what’s the most important thing for living a good life, what would you say?

VM: I would say that it would be to live your life feeling free, doing exactly what your heart advises you and your only rule should be never to hurt anyone else when doing so.

DPN: Do you think a person needs to first overcome serious setbacks or challenges to be truly successful?

VM:  I believe that setbacks and challenges never stop to show up whether you are successful or not. You just have to keep on trying to solve all problems ahead no matter what.

DPN: In what way is it important to know your limitations in your life or career?

VM: I don’t think that there should be any limitation in our life or career except of course of the moral ones and the ones that keep us within the law. We should think out of the box and act as if there are no barriers in our minds or free will. That’s the only way to achieve our goals and to make a difference out of our life.

DPN: Organizing events means loads of stress as you need to deal with a number of different people. How do you deal with that?

VM:  I yell and shout a lot to my crew always being one step ahead checking everyone’s responsibilities and tasks to make sure that there are no left outs. This is the only way to control my stress, since I know that there is no reason for me to be stressful.

DPN: Take us through an interesting project you have worked on recently.

VM: We have been assigned by the Corporate Responsibility Department of the Greek Lottery Company to organise several entertainment events in several  Greek cities for the orphan children of those cities. For that purpose we have organised a full day of activities and entertainment for the different age groups of the children starting with infants and ending with teenagers. We have concluded the two first events in Athens and Thessaloniki and I am very happy with the content that we have proposed and produced and of course with the happy moments that we managed to offer to those kids. The event included puppets and marionettes, several interactive activities such as cooking, painting, gift making, dancing lessons, make up, hair styling and nails for the girls. A karaoke contest named OPAP spring idol with many participants hosted by a TV celebrity and me and the whole event ends with a concert of a famous Greek pop group while all children get a giveaway bag with presents upon their departure. Kids menu lunch boxes are given during lunch and of course a team of 35 animators create a festive environment throughout the whole day. Our next stops will be Creta, Patras, Ioannina and Athens once again.

DPN: Describe a situation in your life where everything went totally wrong.

VM: That leads me back to Dubai and my decision to establish an Event Management company over there. The first attempt was with a Greek production company which wanted to expand to the middle East so we started up together CMX events which lasted roughly for six months since The Greek production company decided to back off afraid of the global crisis that had just occurred at that time. The second was with a local who was a member of Dubai government and wanted his son to partner an event management company so we started up Amuse UAE which again was a total disaster due to the fact that the local guys (father and son)  expected me not only to run the company and come up with all the ideas needed for our presentations but also find the clients for the company since they didn’t want to ask for any favors from their friends the other members of Dubai government. (Of course this detail was not made clear to me from the beginning of our collaboration but only when they decided that they didn’t want to pay any more expenses of the company eight months after we started). It took me more than it should but I finally understood that I should either change profession or country and I decided to change the second one and return home

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Interview 6: Rami Mustafa-Middle East is rocking hard

Rami Mustafa (RM) a talented young musician is our weekly interview for this time. Representing his Band, NERVECELL is taking us into hard rock situations and shows us how you may combine an MBA study along with a crazy fan that is swallowing bulbs during the concert that you may perform in your International Tour. A really promising talent in the global music industry is sharing with us his life time story.

DPN: Rami, you play guitar in “NERVECELL” (www.nervecell.net) band, the first metal band in Middle East to sign major labels up to now. Tell us some things about your Band.

RM: “Nervecell” is a death/thrash metal band formed in Dubai in the year 2000. We started performing at local shows in universities and colleges and broke into the international metal scene in 2004-2005 with the success of our first EP “Human Chaos” in 2004 which quickly gained international appeal and also lead us to perform at the Middle East’s biggest rock/metal festival Dubai Desert Rock Festival in 2005 (Dubai) – which is first of its kind in the region bringing international rock and metal bands such as Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Machine Head, Sepultura and many more. From that time and till this day we performed locally and internationally in over 30 cities across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Australia and North Africa. We are currently signed with Lifeforce Records (Europe) and Spellbind Records (Middle East) and we are managed by Center Stage Management – who is also the main organizer of Dubai Desert Rock Festival. We have 1 demo entitled “Vastlands Of Abomination”, 1 EP entitled “Human Chaos” and 2 full length albums – entitled “Preaching Venom” and “Psychogenocide”. The 2011 album “Psychogenocide” is our latest effort.
DPN: What music means for you?

RM: Music is my passion and lifestyle. I grew up in a musical family including my father, uncles and cousins. My father studied music and he’s a professional pianist, keyboardist, accordion and kanun player. Being inspired by him at an early stage to play music, at the age of 5 I started experimenting with musical instruments – playing my dad’s keyboards, my uncle’s drum kit and then I grabbed my first guitar which I learnt all by myself fully by the age of 7. At the age of 11 or 12 I discovered rock and metal music.

DPN: Who was the musician that inspired you mostly while you were a child?

RM: I grew up listening to lots of bands and musicians, so I don’t really have one favorite musician, but to name a few bands and guitar players that really influenced me and inspired me; Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Deicide, Sepultura, Cannibal Corpse, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and many more.

DPN: hat was the most memorable concert you have attended as a visitor?

RM: Honestly most festivals I’ve been to be ones that Nervecell performed at! One of the most memorable concerts as a visitor and performer was With Full Force Festival 2009 in Germany. I’ve watched many great bands such as Sepultura, Down, Motorhead, Hatebreed, Vader etc. all in one place. There were more than 40,000 fans.

DPN: Do you believe that hard rock music has space to grow in Middle East?

RM: Definitely. As long as there are good bands and musicians there will always be growth. In the past years I’ve seen bands that are great and have lots potential from all over the Middle East. Of course different countries have different music scenes and the music scene does reflect on the exposure of the bands and musicians. Dubai has one of the strongest rock/metal scenes in the region and I believe that bands should keep performing live to develop their fanbase and of course promote themselves with recordings, merchandising and other marketing techniques that will help them build a fanbase. Local media including press, magazines, radio, music labels etc. leads more exposure. So far with the success of the Dubai Desert Rock Festival in the past years definitely helped the scene grow drastically and even pushing the whole Middle East rock and metal scene.

DPN: At this moment where are the next planned tours of “NERVECELL”?

RM: We have recently released our new album “Psychogenocide” which is available in stores all across the Middle East and Europe and also on the Nervecell Online Store (http://store.nervecell.net), so we are supporting the album with upcoming shows and tours including a festival run in Europe this August to perform at 3 major festivals at Summer Breeze (Germany), Rock im Betonwerk (Germany) and Brutal Assault (Czech Republic). After these festivals we are planning to continue touring all across Europe. We already performed 2 album release shows in Dubai last March did an Asian tour in April/May in support of “Psychogenocide” and we’re planning for more tours which we will confirm in the upcoming weeks.

DPN: In your opinion which was the best performance that “NERVECELL” ever did and why?

RM: We had many great performances especially at festivals including Dubai Desert Rock Festival 2008 and 2009, Rock im Ring/Rock im Park 2009 (Germany), shows in Europe, India, Bahrain and more. But I’d say Wacken Open Air Festival 2009 in Germany was my personal favorite. Not only we had a huge crowd response, but playing one of the biggest and most respected metal festivals in the world made it even more special!
DPN: Your band has loads of fans in Middle East and not only. What is the craziest thing that a fan ever did?

RM: Wow! There are lots of crazy stories to tell. A recent one was at our last Asia Tour (April/May 2011) during our second Philippines show in the city of Cebu, a guy comes on stage while we were performing, bites a neon bulb right next to me and swallows it…he literally eats the glass bulb! That was pretty insane!

DPN: When you are on the stage what your feeling is?

RM: Put it this way, writing a song in a room, putting the song together with the band and then going on stage in front of fans to perform it live making them all hear the song is just phenomenal! It doesn’t matter if it’s for hundreds or thousands of people, this feeling is always the same. Nervecell’s music is really energetic and usually drives the crowd into crazy moshpits and seeing the crowd interact back to our music with such energy brings a tremendous amount of happiness to my heart! It’s just a great head rush that no words can really explain it until you go on stage and experience it yourself!

DPN: Do you have any nickname? If yes, from where did is come from?

RM: Honestly I don’t have a “fixed” nickname but many do call me Ram and Romeo, mostly the ladies like to do that. It really came from my real name Rami, but I don’t mind being called with my real name anyways.

DPN: You are originally from Jordan but spend most of your life in Qatar. What Qatar means for you?

RM: I came to Qatar when I was 1 month young. Lived in Qatar till the age of 18 and I really feel it’s my home you know. It’s a very humble and peaceful country. I moved to the UAE when I graduated from high school to study at university in Dubai and lived there for almost 10 years and of course I also had lots of great times in Dubai too which I feel is my second home!

DPN: What was your favorite place to hang around while you were a teenager in Doha, Qatar?

RM: Hanging out in the desert where it is most peaceful and quite, that’s pretty much outside the city, but within Doha city hanging out at the beach was another favorite place for sure.

DPN: You have the look of the hard guy who enjoys only playing hard music. Apart from that you have completed great studies including Bachelor in Information Technology and also an MBA. How come this consistence from your side to build up a strong educational background?

RM: I’m a full time musician and my background in music comes from a very specific style, I wanted to peruse my education no matter what. I’ve always believed that education and knowledge is an essential part for any human’s success in life along with life itself being the real practical experience that we all learn from. Balancing out my musical endeavors and studying at the same time was a very challenging task especially when I needed to go the extra mile to tour and make sure I submit my projects on time and pass my exams. Luckily enough, I managed to do both music and education and I’m very proud and fortunate of being able to handle both.

DPN: Apart from the Band you have also established your own business in Qatar, “SHREDDERS PLANET” (www.shreddersplanet.com). Will you describe us your business?

RM: Shredder’s Planet is a musical instruments store that I and my partner and good friend Ramy Aziziah established a couple of years ago. I wanted to do a side business along with my musical activities. My background and experience dealing with musical instruments (especially guitars and its components/accessories) together with what I learnt during my studies definitely helped me to establish my own business. We are the official dealer and distributor of major brands such as B.C. Rich Guitars, Randall Amplifiers, Cordoba Guitars, GHS Strings and currently expanding. We also have an online store, which is the first of its kind in Qatar where we sell directly to to customers in Qatar and all over the world.

DPN: You spent period of your life also in Dubai, is this city the “superstar” of the Middle East?

RM: I moved to Dubai in the year 2001 to study in the University. I did a bachelor’s degree at the American University in Dubai and I graduated in 2005. I persuaded my graduate studies in a Belgian University (Dubai branch) called EHSAL European University College Brussels studying International Master of Business Administration and graduated in 2009. After that I moved back in Qatar. I would agree with the term “superstar” of the Middle East, for Dubai, as this city does help bring out individuals who are passionate and hardworking in what they do best. During my study period, most of my time was dedicated for the band and till this day I travel back and forth to Dubai whenever we have tours, recordings or any other activities to do with the band. Dubai definitely opened up lots of opportunities!
DPN: If your life was a song what the refrain of it would be?

RM: The instrumental song “Ratios” from our album “Preaching Venom”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview 5-Elias Nikolakopoulos, the Greek spirit in Oman

Elias Nikolakopoulos (EN), an experienced veterinary doctor working for HM Sultan Qaboos Royal Court of the Sultanate of Oman is our today interview in DUBAI PROFILE NEWS Blog (DPN). He spent his life between Greece, Bulgaria, Tanzania, U.K and Oman and he is now here with us ready to share all these experiences. This is a unique interview which all of you for sure will enjoy it.
DPN: Elias, for the past 6 years you have been working in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, as a veterinary doctor for HM Sultan Qaboos Royal Court.  How is your life there?

EN: For people who are not aware of the differences between Middle East Arab countries they make the mistake of thinking that Oman, if they know where it is, is a strict, conservative country and they could not be further than the truth. Jokingly, expats in Oman, we call it a “paradise bubble”. This place is definitely out of a fairy tale. Omani people are extremely friendly, hospitable, and humble as well as naturally polite.  From my first day here I have felt welcomed and never have I felt as a foreigner. Working almost exclusively with Omanis in the Royal Court and socializing with Omanis outside work, I have only good things to say. Oman is a naturally beautiful country with endless beaches, desert, mountains, tons of outdoor activities and an idyllic tourist destination, very safe and exotic. I strongly recommend it for whoever wants to “taste” proper Arabic hospitality. Work wise I enjoy my work that is 70% equine and 30% everything else (wild animals, productive and small animals). The veterinary setup is ideal with state of the art equipment, friendly colleagues and supporting staff. Everyday holds something new and it keeps life interesting and fun. Our department, as well as the country itself, slowly yet constantly strives to improve. Oman is continuously being modernized by huge infrastructure and hospitality projects but in a very different way than all its neighbours. Progress is made in order to fit its people, rather to follow any external competitive edge. Oman is lucky to be governed by a prolific leader who took the country at a very low level, in 1970, the year of my birth, and has carried it through to its current state, a modern, civil society, constantly growing and progressing.  It is very impressive to see how the country is heavily investing in its youth, by providing education at a local and international level, placing the Omanis into jobs and creating a strong working culture.  And that is only one out of a list of initiatives and policies that are happening here for the Omani people. I have to admit that sometimes feel a bit jealous that such steps were not correctly undertaken in my own country and I feel privileged to live here.

DPN: What do animals mean for you?

EN: Animals are great teachers. They teach you respect calmness and communication. If you do not “grow” these elements in your approach towards them then it becomes very difficult to work with them.  And if you are lucky, maybe some of these elements can stay with you for the rest of your life. 

DPN: As far as I know, you speak some Arabic. How easy was for you to learn it, and apart from that, what does the Arabic culture mean for you?

EN: Knowing Arabic is a very relative term. The language is so rich that no matter how much you know, you simply know too little.  It is very difficult for a foreigner to learn proper Arabic but it is well worth the effort, especially if you live, socialize and work with Arab speakers. I can only say that I am in the process of learning. And this is a very long process that takes dedication, time and effort.
Language is a very good introduction to culture, traditions and the hearts of people. I strongly believe that anyone making the effort to learn it, especially if they live in an Arab country, will be rewarded on many levels, seen and unseen. 

DPN: It’s been said that after they pass away, the most important people in our lives, “live within us”.  Is there anyone from your past that lives within you?

EN: A very well known Greek author, Nikos Kazantzakis, in one of his books called “Ascetics” has a chapter called “The race” and he describes best how our ancestors live in and through us. Do not make a mistake, when you smile, your great ancestors smile through you, what you taste, they taste!  We are a time continuous of all the souls behind us and we are the beginning of all the souls ahead of us.

DPN: What influence did your family have in your life?

EN: I have been very lucky to have grown up in a very loving and caring environment, surrounded by good, moral and giving people. My parents have always supported me in my decisions, they still do and this has created a sense of security and calmness in me. At the end of the day, we are our family and our family is us.

DPN: One country that you lived in your life is Bulgaria.  Do you recollect any special experience?

EN: I was lucky to live in beautiful Bulgaria through difficult times from 1987 to 1994, i.e. during the communistic regime, its fall and the transitional period.  As I had to learn the Bulgarian language, I integrated very well with the Bulgarian people and that gave me the chance to explore their culture, traditions and have a wonderful time. If I can extract one experience out of a huge bouquet, it would be my neighbours’ grandmother coming to me, during a very tough exam period of 14hrs study per day, and offering me a plate of soup in order to make me feel stronger for my studies, since my family was not around to support me. I can never forget this gesture for some reason!

DPN: Being a global citizen, you also have spent a few months of your life in Africa.  Where did you live there and how does Africa look in your eyes?

EN: I was in Africa for a few months in 1994 and stayed in Dar Es Salaam (The House of Peace), the capital of Tanzania. I travelled extensively through the country and the experience was simply unforgettable, both on a professional level, due to all the trips in their big parks with all the wild animals, as well as personally, as I saw a different way of perceiving life from what I knew till then. 
“Mama Africa” I believe is the source of life, people are happier and simpler than in Europe. What is also true is what they call TIA (This Is Africa), regarding the way things are done there.  Expect the unexpected, enjoy the moment and run when you have to. In my short stay in Tanzania, I picked up some Swahili, which funnily enough, turned out to be useful in Oman, where part of the population are speaking also Swahili. 

DPN: During the 2004 Athens Olympic Games you were a member of the Olympic Veterinary Team.  Tell us about that experience.

EN: Being a part of the Olympic Games, be that as an organizer, volunteer or from any other position is an amazing experience, especially if you do that, in and for, your own country. Besides the number of interesting people you get to meet from different countries and backgrounds, you get to be a part of a huge team effort. This by itself creates a unique feeling that stays with you for the rest of your life.  I was lucky to be a part of the 2004 Olympic Veterinary team and that gave me lots of insights, experience and even more good memories.

DPN: Elias, what is the last book you read?

EN: I am currently reading (for the n th time) “A course in miracles” and “Nonviolence in theory and practice” by Barry Gan and Robert Holmes.  Both are highly recommended books.

DPN: If someone wrote your biography, what do you think the title should be?

EN: I think that if someone had time to write a book, it should be on a topic that is beneficial to a lot of people and not dedicated to me!

DPN: If you were an animal which one would you be and why?

EN: I think that, the dog, my Chinese horoscope, would be a very suitable candidate as I have all the qualities and traits, both good and bad.

DPN: Mark Twain, a famous American author, stated that “of all the animal, man is the only that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it”, comment that for us.

EN: The human being is a very complex being that is capable, as Mark Twain said, for the worst, however it is capable for the best too. It is up to every individual to choose which way they are willing to go. And as I said before, animals are very good teachers that can show the better way. 

DPN: What the future holds for Dr. Elias Nikolakopoulos?

EN: The future is unpredictable, but for the time being, and given the current crisis situation around the world, Oman seems to be a very good choice. 

DPN: If a young person will ask you if it would be business in the Middle East what would you advise?

EN: The Middle East is a fast growing region full of opportunities for skilled people that are willing to work, persist and create. It is of great importance, in order to succeed in this part of the world, to be honest, transparent and trustworthy. I would strongly recommend it to enthusiastic young people.

DPN: After living up to now in so many places around the world, where is your home?

EN: One is created by the elements of their native land. Being Greek, I have a certain education, cultural background and character that is my inheritance and I carry it proudly. However, living in many different cultures, countries and traditions one can only benefit by enriching their understanding of the “different”, learning to accept others beliefs and opinions and educate themselves in life by growing beyond their original culture. There is a very nice aya in the Quaran that says: “God made us different so we can get to know each other”. I find that this has a deep meaning which, once you accept, any place will feel comfortable and like home. Part of my heart always beats in Greece and hurts for my country, and the other part beats for Oman and the world!