Inspired by early 20th century composers from Greece, a Melbourne-based musician has released an album which pays tribute to rebetiko pioneers of yesteryear while incorporating modern Australian influences.
Amidst more than a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and a devastating family loss, Con Kalamaras could only cope in the best way he knows how — creating music.
The result is a work called “The Lokridos Project,” which he describes as a “collection of rare obscurities” that stemmed from being mostly isolated in a rural area during the dead of winter.
“This album features a pallet of songs which aren’t usual for Greeks in the diaspora,” Kalamaras tells The Pappas Post. “The warmth of Greek songs kept me going on dark misty winter nights.”
“Lokridos” includes a few of Kalamaras’ original works in addition to cover songs. But the album is still a clear nod to rebetiko’s golden era with inspiration from artists such as Kostas Skarvelis, Kostas Bezos and Giorgos Katsaros — widely considered the “patriarch” of the genre.
“By default there is an Australian influence which is unavoidable,” Kalamaras says. “But overall the style of the album and song choices are intentionally simple and reminiscent of true gramophone recordings.”
Another driving force and artistic inspiration that set the album’s mood was the death of the Melbourne native’s father in August 2020. Kalamaras even pulled the album’s name “Lokridos” from the street where his father was born in Gyzi, a neighborhood of Athens.
“[My father] truly was one of a kind,” Kalamaras wrote in a Facebook post at the time. “He’d lived through a world war and a civil war which tore his country apart. He loved music, was an exceptional classical guitarist, loved his family and absolutely adored Australia and the outback.”
The Melbourne native says his favorite part of composing the album was being able to escape from his reality, which entailed coping with the death of his father and facing a solitary winter.
“Kimata,” meaning “Waves,” is his favorite track on the album. He created the song using his own recordings from beaches in Greece accompanied by a rustic antique guitar.
“Music is the gift that can take you anywhere,” he says. “Being able to close my eyes and listen to the music that was taking shape in the middle of winter, I felt like I was on a beach with my feet in the sand.”
Kalamaras’ intention for the album was to make it a snapshot of a raw, difficult year and capture what he calls “the human element,” reflecting upon a year which saw many, including people in his own circle, have their livelihoods upended.
“Musicians and the whole music industry [in Australia] have had minimal support from the government,” he says. “We’ve lost many talented people who have left the industry and, dare I say, might not come back to it.”
The pandemic made Con consider walking away from music himself, but he says he has too many projects to look forward to when circumstances improve.
One of those endeavors is co-directing Greek Fringe, a digital creative and music effort spanning three continents — Australia, Europe and North America. Since launching in August 2020, the group has already organized a series of online performances featuring artists from Greece, Cyprus and elsewhere which attracted thousands of viewers worldwide.
In the pre-COVID world, Kalamaras had spent years — “too many to remember” — producing events such as the Melbourne Rebetiko Festival and performing music in his hometown.
“I’m very fortunate to still have Greek Fringe and our lovely supporters in North America such as The Pappas Post and the Greek America Foundation,” Kalamaras says. “Our supporters in Melbourne, including the Hellenic Museum, have also kept us sane and we look forward to forging on once we have a clear path out of the current state of affairs.”
But for now, he remains living in the mountains with his young family and their cat named Minion Sassy Pants. His pastimes include — among other things — gardening, mountain walking, studying history and, of course, collecting vintage records.
“I have recorded quite a few records, but Lokridos Project is a better representation of where I am at this given time,” Kalamaras says. “Each album is different — just like a photo!”
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