Heading to the Antipodes Festival this year? Giota Negka invites you to ‘come with an open heart’

We speak with Greece’s top artist, who will be headlining this year’s Greek festivals in Melbourne and Sydney. Giota gives us a taste of what we’ll hear in her upcoming concerts this week, as she shares snippets of her trajectory

We are just a week away from the Greek Festival comeback, but for Giota Negka and her team the countdown for the first visit Down Under started months ago.

True to the motto of her latest album Αυτό που θέλεις στη ζωή το καταφέρνεις (Whatever you want in life, you can achieve), the artist says performing in Australia is like a dream come true.

In fact, she has an extra reason to look forward to the journey; finally meeting in person with relatives from her mum’s side who had migrated from Greece.

The Athens-born artist – placed amongst the country’s top representatives of contemporary laiko and entehno genres – will perform live for the Greek Festivals on Saturday 29 February on Melbourne’s Lonsdale Street and Sunday 1 March at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

Negka will also appear at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville, Sydney on Wednesday 26 February.

What is the foremost feeling you get when thinking of your upcoming visit?
Anticipation … Australia is in a different hemisphere [from Greece] and I am aware that not many artists are given the opportunity to come. It’s been a burning desire of mine, for years now, to come and I just couldn’t believe it when I learnt it would happen. I feel happy that my songs will travel so far.

What songs will you be performing?
The concerts will feature songs from my personal albums and songs that are widely-know which I love. So, there will be a part with laika, songs that we tend to sing in unison, songs that move us, from artists like Vasilis Tsitsanis and Akis Panou. This kind of repertoire is always part of my shows, with contemporary songs crossing paths with the past which we never forget. Other great voices we will pay tribute to are Grigoris Bithikotsis, Vicky Mosholiou, Yiorgos Ntalaras, Haroula Alexiou.

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As you probably know, the Greek Australian community consists of first-generation migrants and their descendants, but also newcomers. Does the concept of xenitia feature in your songs? And does it have an impact on you personally as an artist?
Of course, it has an impact on us all. It doesn’t stand out in my songs, but it is present. You know, when it comes to xenitia, the pain affects both the person who migrates and the one who stays back. And we’ve all got this little “thorn”, this sentiment in our families, because we all have people close to us who live in other countries and are no longer with us. Both sides are experiencing it deeply and so I couldn’t leave it [the concept of xenitia] out of my shows.

In past concerts you have told audiences about the memory of a song which left its mark on you. Can you share this story with us?
I was around 8 years old and remember my father playing bouzouki and singing the song Kapou nyhtonei by Stavros Kouyioumtzis. I had learned it by heart and was singing along curled up in his lap. And then came a moment where he asked me to join him again for the chorus but my voice was struggling and I can recall vividly him saying ‘you can do it my child, I’m telling you, you can’. You know, every time things get tough, I resort to this memory of his voice saying ‘you can do it my child’ and this gives me courage.

When was the beginning of your professional singing career?
I remember myself singing with my all, at home, at family get-togethers, but as a professional I started in 1990 at a venue in Moshato, called Emmetro. This played a pivotal role for me going forward, because I was given space to experiment and embark on ‘journeys’ with colleagues, with the audience. It was a formative learning experience.

Thinking of all the collaborations and artists who defined your trajectory, can you name a few?
One of those people, who was a friend, a ‘companion’ and a teacher to me, is Stamatis Kraounakis … Another person I collaborated with and admire for her thoroughness as an artist and honesty and integrity as a person is Dimitra Galani. Another great teacher, in terms of the love he puts into his work, and how he strives for perfection, as well as the respect he shows towards the actual songs and the audience is George Dalaras. And the list goes on, thank God I’ve met some really great people along the way and I’m grateful for this.

Although you started your professional career earlier, the first album was released in 2003 and you often get asked in interviews why this was the case. You’ve said it was just a matter of the opportunity coming later down the track, but why do you think people are so interested in this? Having your own body of work as a singer means greater recognition?

Look, everyone follows a different life path, and career-wise timings are also different for each person. Some careers kick start from an early age with fame and album releases, others don’t. For instance, a similar case to mine was Pashalis Terzis whose discography also came later after years of singing. If you asked me 10 years ago, I’d have a different reply, because I was longing for my own songs. But at the present time, … really, I’ve got nothing to complain about. And this is why I’m convinced that there is a reason behind how and when things come in life, and I accept this with joy and gratitude.

Now when it comes to having my own songs – after a point it wasn’t enough for me to perform covers – albeit with my distinct style and true dedication – of songs dear to me. As any singer does, I was longing for a creator to hand me a song that had never been sung before … to inject life into it. [As artists] we all want this of course, because you know the creation of a song resembles an actual birth. It’s like a baby and I feel I’m taking up the role of the obstetrician in that instance … In this sense, yes it was always important for me and was longing for it, and this dream also came true eventually.

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You are known for appearing comfortable on stage. Do you feel calm and relaxed prior to performing or nervous?
I’m always nervous before a stage appearance. I know deep inside that nothing is to be taken for granted in life, so I go through this process as if it’s the first time. I stay focused so I can channel my energy to the audience for this experience to “unite” us all … When on stage, I feel love for all the people who’ve come for the concert, but it’s the same love I receive from them when meeting the audience. This is a state of soul which remains unaltered, because we are all then connected through music, there’s a deep love involved and for that I am really grateful.

Can we wrap up with a message or invitation for those who will come to your shows?
I want them to know that I look forward to meeting them all, I want to look into their eyes, for us all to connect through music … I invite them to come wearing a smile, to come with an open heart and allow for music to heal wounds and add beauty to the moment.

Pit-stops in the life of a great artist

  • Giota Negka was born and raised in Athens, Greece, on 31 August, 1964. Her parents were amateur musicians, living in Aigaleo in the western part of Athens.
  • Her singing career kicked off as soon as she finished high school, and she featured in a small music venue in Moschato called Emmetro where she performed until 1996.
  • From 1997-2000 she sang laika (popular, folk) and rebetika with a number of local musicians.
  • She met Panayiotis Kalantzopoulos, Evanthia Reboutsika and Elly Paspala, heavyweights on Greek music, in 2001, and she participated in their live appearances in Athens and backed them in concerts around Greece.
  • Her recording debut was a CD single, titled Με τα μάτια κλειστά (With Closed Eyes), in 2003. Music and lyrics were by Panagiotis Kalantzopoulos. The release was a sensation and showed Greece her potential.
  • Live performances with Gerasimos Andreatos took place in Spring 2004.
  • In 2004, she began a successful collaboration with Estoudiantina orchestra – a non-profit organisation aimed at researching and recording Greek music. This collaboration lead to work with prominent Greek musicians such as George Dalaras and Chronis Aidonidis. This kickstarts more collaborations and performances with more music greats, including Eleni Tsaligopoulou, Evanthia Reboutsika, Pantelis Thalassinos and more.
  • In 2004, she released Το βέλος (The Arrow), her first personal record release with music and lyrics by instrumentalist Vangelis Korakakis. She is praised for her impeccable interpretations.
  • In Winter 2006/2007 she performs in a musical theatre performance, titled Έχω Άνθρωπο (I Have Someone), directed by Thodoris Gonis with music by Kostas Livadas. A unanimous success loved by audiences and critics alike, it lead to even more collaborations and recordings of previously unreleased songs. Her moving interpretations receive acclaim.
  • In 2014, she collaborated with composer Themis Karamouratidis on the recording of Καινούριο Φιλί (New Kiss), followed the year after with another collaboration, titled Τελευταίος Εαυτός (Last Self).
  • At the end of 2017, she announced her collaboration with the Panik Entertainment Group, under label of Panik Oxygen. A new single, titled Ήταν Μαζί Σου (It Was With You) is released, followed by Οξυγόνο (Oxygen).