Most people have very strong ideas about Greek music, regardless of whether they are Greek themselves or not. The term itself, ‘Greek music’ brings to mind the sounds of bouzouki, people dancing in linear formation, traditional costumes and folk dances, or mini-clad singers showered with flowers in late-night music clubs. These aspects don’t even begin to offer an accurate representation of Greek music, traditional or contemporary. In Melbourne, particularly, save for the steady presence of bouzoukia in Greek restaurants and the steady flow of a roster of stars (representing the whole spectrum of stardom) coming from Greece, many aspects of Greek music remain unknown. Anna Vithoulka wants to change that. As the curator of ‘Opan Jam Καφενείο’, a series of monthly music events taking place in various venues in Melbourne, Anna Cat – as she is known to her friends – invites Greek musicians and singers to present their songs and showcase contemporary Greek music in its full diversity and vibrancy.

Anna Cat (Vithoulkas), Promotion Manager of OPEN JAM ‘Καφενείο’. (Photo: Panagiotis Tsoukalas)

How did OPEN JAM ‘Καφενείο’ come to be?

I have an avid love for music and I have always wondered with so many Greeks in Australia, why Greek music is not one of the popular sounds in the Australian music culture.

I decided a couple of years ago to find a way to introduce our music to Australian audiences; I am passionate about introducing contemporary Greek music with the belief that the music that is happening in Greece today is cool, current, and a voice that needs to be heard in the broader Australian music industry. I lived in Greece for a while when I was young, and have spent many years travelling to Greece visiting my parents who live there. I have had the privilege to experience the incredibly vibrant and diverse music culture that is constantly growing and changing but always keeping our unique sound within the contemporary music of today. Greece’s Music Industry is one of the most vibrant music cultures in the world and the sound is so varied, many young musicians playing traditional instruments with contemporary sounds that are so unique to Greece. From village festivals with traditional folk sounds, to festivals of Indie rock, Hip Hop, Rock, Swing and so much more, still holding the unique sounds of Greek music. Music is part of Life in Greece, every bar, corner tavern, from small to large venue spaces, Καφενειa traditional or new, is where you will hear live music being played. My inspiration and passion comes from this and is at the forefront of my starting OPEN JAM ‘Καφενειο’.

Cats and the Canary play swing covers of Greek songs. (Photo: Panagiotis Tsoukalas)

How do you want to see this initiative evolve?

OPEN JAM ‘Καφενείο’ offers an opportunity for musicians to perform and grow, exploring all styles of contemporary Greek music, from alternative rock to traditional folk with a contemporary sound.

We offer a relaxed atmosphere for people to come and enjoy the music and support these musicians and our vision to introduce our music to the Australian music industry.

As we build and evolve we will eventually perform in bigger venues and to bigger audiences.

Kaliopi Stavropoulos. (Photo: Panagiotis Tsoukalas)

How has the experience of the first events been so far? 

We are very pleased with the interest and support we’ve received from both musicians and the audience. It’s wonderful connecting musicians and seeing them come together and enjoying this experience. We are excited to have on board our own home grown Greek Australian rock diva Kaliopi Stavropoulos bringing her unique sound and amazing talent, we are all in awe of her.

OPEN JAM ‘Καφενείο’ has also formed its first alternative Greek rock band, featuring singers Eleni Boukouvala and George Sklavos, and musicians Alex Kehridakis, Minas Protopsaltis and Costas Veligos, who are all new Greeks in Australia and are all giving their support in what we are creating for the Greek Music community.

We had a very welcomed surprise visit by Chrysoula Kechagioglou from Greece who was touring in Australia, who came and gave us her warm support and joined in with our musicians on the night.

We also had the pleasure of having the Cats and the Canary play at our launch, bringing their swing rock fusion sounds of Greece to OPEN JAM ‘Καφενείο’.

We are also very grateful for the support of PBS DJ Chris Xynos who came and played his incredible collection of music and who is an avid promoter of alternative Greek music in Australia. It’s been very positive, exciting and very diverse and I look forward to continuing and building the OPEN JAM ‘Καφενείο’ community of musicians. We welcome all musicians to join us and get involved to make Greek music a strong voice in the Australian music industry.

Giorgos Sklavos, Eleni Boukouvala, Alex Kehridakis and Minas Protopsaltis. (Photo: Panagiotis Tsoukalas)

What is your own background in music and the arts? 

I have been in the creative fields all my life, as an independent fashion designer and with my love of music, I have been able to incorporate my two loves and have worked alongside musicians, dancers and various performers over the years.

I have created and produced many successful independent events throughout my career, including showcasing my work through performance at Music festivals, Melbourne fringe festival, Community festivals, Theatre and have been a part of Melbourne fashion week.

As an independent I have the understanding of the need of collaboration and support to achieve success, I want to bring my experience and help support musicians who love to play Greek music and to help build a voice in the Australian Music industry.I credit my love of music to my family, our home was always buzzing and music was present always, my mother who sings and plays guitar and her brothers who sang and played music brought so much joy to all our family gatherings.

Eleni Boukouvala and John Tsartsaflis. (Photo: Panagiotis Tsoukalas)

How does Greek music fit into the whole cultural tapestry of Melbourne?

I believe Greek music in Melbourne is limited and I feel it’s time to open up and introduce our unique voice within the Australian music industry. Living in Melbourne that has the largest Greek population of any city in the World – outside of Greece, it surprises me that our music is not one of the major sounds of this city. As an avid music lover I go to a lot of live music events and on any given week in Melbourne you can see music from Cuba, Brazil, Spain, Africa, Jamaica, and many fusions of all these sounds are on the main stages of most live music venues, but I have always wondered: why not Greek? I would like to see Greek music expand from the insular focus of it only being accessible within the Greek community and Greek venues. This is my goal, to show how Greek music has a place next to any other and offer Melbourne music lovers access to it. Culturally this city is very diverse and I believe music lovers, if they had the opportunity to hear our unique and current music would appreciate it and support it.