By Anna Cominos
Christella Demetriou is a popular and talented bouzouki player who has lived in Cyprus, Athens and Melbourne, working as a composer, musician, and visual artist.
Much of her musical composition is based on Ancient and Modern Greek poetry. She has released an album titled ‘Sappho, Kavafy’ and Christella has worked with accomplished soloists across several musical traditions including classical and jazz.
GCT recently had a chat to Christella about her passion for music and Greece.
Where were you born and where do you currently reside?
I was born in Nicosia Cyprus and migrated to Melbourne with my family in 1976, as refugees. I then headed to Athens in 1996 and returned to Melbourne in 2012.
Where do your ancestors come from?
My ancestors are of Greek Cypriot origin.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have been recording my new work titled Echo: Sappho, Alcaeus and other ancient Greek poets, which is based on Ancient Greek poetry translated into Modern Greek by contemporary Greek poet Sotiris Kakisis. The recordings feature the vocalists Lizeta Kalimeri, Alkinoos Ioannides, Argyris Argyropoulos and myself as well as accomplished soloists from Athens including Dimitris Kalantzis, Odysseas Korelis, Vangeli Nina and Dimitris Karagiannis in addition to soloists from Melbourne include Ken Schroder, Nick Tsiavos, and David Allardice. Echo: Sappho, Alcaeus, and other ancient Greek poets has just been released on CD with record Label Polytropon in Thessaloniki and it is being distributed through Music Links Knowledge in Athens and is available online.
How has your upbringing influenced what you are doing now?
I was brought up with an appreciation of music and as an immigrant, I took refuge in music and art as learning the English language was a challenge. Although I loved sport, the competition aspect to it posed a problem for me and when I discovered Trotsky and activism I gave up competing and focused on the arts, delivering a cultural activism through running a series of live music venues such as Tsakpina Café, Rhapsody Café, the Boite World Music. Through contact with many performers and artists, I was encouraged to focus on my own work through music and visual art.
Apart from your family, what Greeks have influenced your life?
I have been influenced by the politics of the Greek-left, however, I was never a member of any political party. I had always participated in cultural events and in different causes as an individual. Two of the main influences on my musical development has been the composers Manos Hadjidakis and Vasilis Tsitsanis. I have also spent much time researching and performing Rembetika.
My arts education changed my life, the more I learned about art, the more insatiable I became to travel to experience culture and to absorb ideas and ways of making a language. Living in Athens also gave me ground to build on, I absorbed everything around me and made myself at home. I love Ancient Greek theatre, poetry, contemporary Greek music, Classical music, Jazz and contemporary art.
Athens provided a rich cultural experience as well as providing me with many opportunities to practice my music and visual art. My time in Greece’s capital city also enabled me to work with accomplished musicians and vocalists such as tenor Spiros Sakkas and the master of bouzouki Christos Constandinou amongst many others.
I’m both an idealist and a pragmatist. Outside Greece, I am in love with all of Europe, madly in love with Spain, France, and Italy. Europe has the power to dispel the discontent and isolation I had experienced in my formative years, particularly when I was an art student in Melbourne.
What advice would you give to young artists?
Never underestimate the simple pleasures in life. Music and art are essential to one’s diet, they are the product of love and a way of life.
What do you remember about your childhood in Cyprus?
I always recall traditional Cypriot songs, songs from Smyrni and an absurd Apokries (carnival) repertoire my grandmother Christalleni Stavrinou, used to sing. I also hold on to my great grandmother’s (Emilia Yiannacou) weaving as well as my godmother’s (Christothea Themistocleous) colourful decorative baskets. My mother, Joanna Demetriou is a great storyteller and she enjoys telling many stories of the past involving our ancestors and our village Kalo Horio Morphou which is now part of the illegally occupied territory by Turkey in the North of Cyprus.
What is your favourite Greek food?
Wild greens (horta) are by far my most loved.