Con Kalamaras has many titles – he is a Melbourne-based Rebetiko musician, events producer and the co-founder and director of Greek Fringe. This would keep anyone on their toes but not Kalamaras. During the recent Melbourne lockdown, he made time to record a new album as well titled Lokridos Project.
To celebrate the release of this new Rebetiko album, we spoke with Kalamaras about the inspiration between his music and what his future plans are.
1. Tell us a little bit about your new album, ‘Lokridos Project.’
The album was inspired by composers who arrived in Athens in the 1920’s. It is a collection of obscurities that aren’t the usual pallet of songs for Greeks in the diaspora. The album grew out of Melbourne’s COVID lockdowns and as I was living in a rural area during winter, the warmth of Greek songs kept me going on dark misty winter nights.
The title came from the street name where my father was born, Lokridos in Gyzi. The album is an unofficial dedication to him as he sadly passed away last year during lockdown. The album was a project to simply get me through one of the worst years of my life. The songs were intentionally recorded with that simple sound to capture the emotion of the year.
2. Is the album a combination of original songs and covers? Do you have a favourite?
There are a few original works on this album, my attempt to respectfully compose music in the way the traditional songs were written. By default, there is an Australian influence which is unavoidable but overall, the style of the album and song choices are intentionally simple and reminiscent of true gramophone recordings.
My favourite track is the first track, Kimata, [which means] ‘waves.’ The sound effects were my recordings from the beaches of Greece accompanied by a rustic antique guitar. A delight!
3. What was the most challenging aspect of making this album?
Maintaining a constant motivation was the hardest part, living in isolation and continuing to push myself in this process, that was the hardest part. There were times when the road to the end seemed too far, too hard and I was emotionally spent. As I mentioned, my father’s health was deteriorating and this only compounded the emotional impact of the songs and the overall sound. It does have its dark moments but ends with optimism.
4. What did you hope to accomplish with this album?
I wanted the album to be a snapshot of the year, raw and for it to sound human. It does have flaws, it isn’t perfect. It’s important for this to come across, people aren’t perfect. Sometimes when recording, this human element can be lost. It was important for me to capture the human element.
5. What has it been like being a musician in Melbourne in the COVID-19 era?
There’s no denying the pandemic has decimated many people’s lives. Musicians and the whole music industry have had minimal support from Government, and we’ve lost many talented people who have left the industry and dare I say, some might not come back to it. To be honest, there were moments where I contemplated walking away from it.
6. What’s next for you?
I’ve already started recording the next album. Lockdown continues in Melbourne so I’ve been focusing on Greek Fringe (with Christina Bacchiella) and we’re forging ahead with our singing workshops that bring people together. [I’m also] planning on forging ahead with events including the Rebetiko Jam (with Wayne Simmons) once things open up. I’ve also started writing songs with a local Greek musician, Stavroula Thomopoulos, under the banner of Erinaki.