Alkinoos Ioannides speaks to Neos Kosmos

Though he has only packed a 'Small Suitcase', his words convey a truth beyond borders and personal limitations

A few days before Alkinoos Ioannides’ concert in Australia, we asked him what fits inside his ‘Small Suitcase’.

‘Small Suitcase’ (‘Mikri Valitsa’ in Greek) is the title of his latest album; an album which he describes as “deeply honest”. Via a long creative procedure he found himself utilising more silences than words, keeping only the bare essentials. Yet, through songs he stripped of their initial embellishments over and over again, he felt he was getting across more messages, maximising the strength of his ‘meanings’. Every verse transforms quietly into a storm of questions each listener could answer differently. With this album, dedicated “to those who are forced to leave their homeland and to those abandoned by it”, Alkinoos speaks straight to our hearts.

What was it that led you to get involved with music?

Probably my father’s record collection. As a family, we were never particularly well off, but my dad, who was a painter, made sure our home was never short of records and books. Those were my first ‘school’.

You took your first steps on stage as an actor. In retrospect, how have you benefited from this experience?

As an actor, I got an all-round education. I learned to collaborate and to understand that the artistic result comes as a confirmation of the genuine coexistence of people. I’ve kept this in music, too. Even when playing solos with my guitar, without other musicians on stage, I know that the final result derives from the authenticity of my coexistence with the material as well as with my listeners.

Do you feel that, apart from maturing, you have also changed as an artist? What inspires you these days?

I have always felt this great urge to connect what is happening within me to what is happening around me, through my work. To unite what’s inside with the outside, connect the surface with the depth, the ‘I’ with the ‘we’, here with everywhere. This does not ‘mature’.

You have been described as an unconventional, alternative artist. Do you agree with this categorisation? Why did you choose this genre?

I do not think I’m unconventional or alternative. I did not choose any kind of music. The course of each artist is unique. We who monitor it, the listeners, usually try to sort this course under a group, a genre, to classify it in our mind in order to comprehend it. Record labels do that aiming at specific target groups.

What should we expect from your Australian tour? Old, new material?

It’s been several years since I last visited you. I want to share with you as many songs as I can. So, you will get to listen to many songs from older albums and some from my latest ones. I’m also planning on doing some covers.

Your latest work, ‘Small Suitcase’, is dedicated “to those who are forced to leave their homes and those who have been abandoned by their motherland”. What fits inside this small suitcase?

It carries all you would take with you if you were forced to leave. The bare essentials. Love, soul, memory, the dream, faith, endurance. It carries what could ensure I’d keep seeing my own face no matter how many times I’d have to look into a ‘foreign’ mirror. How do you see the recent refugee crisis? When you want to be a human, you need to act like a human at all times. Especially during the most difficult time, when a fellow human being is fighting with the ice-cold waves, forced to leave their home, with a child in their arms. That is when you are supposed to reach out your hand and open your home. Otherwise, you’re not human. Do what the Greek islanders have been doing for months now, every day and every night. What this will later cost our country and each and every one of us individually is a different story. Receiving such a huge number of refugees is something we will have to deal with extreme seriousness and sensibility.

You have said that you are always moved when you come across Greek immigrants abroad.

Nostalgia has great power in itself. It can be a driving force for creativity, but also consume whoever experiences it. I admire people who have felt it. I too am a man of nostalgia, which is why I am moved when I meet diaspora Greeks. Because it feels like home.

Is it true that you were given more than one opportunity to move abroad with your family and although you wanted to, never pursued it? What keeps you in Greece?

The people. And the feeling that I do not have the right to leave. I recognise this right in every human being that has no future in their homeland. To every individual whose land won’t accept what they have to offer. To whoever remains untapped, languishing, instead of flourishing and evolving because their own land is letting them wither. Everyone has the right to travel and live elsewhere, even if it is not imposed by a mere survival need, but the dream of adventure and the journey itself. I wouldn’t be able to justify such a decision if I left, as I have received so much love and appreciation from the audience in my country. Even during this dire time I keep receiving many gifts. I choose to stay not because I feel my presence here is important to anyone, but because being here makes me feel more consistent towards myself.

Did you expect the extent of the success your music has received?

The truth is that I never foresaw the massive success of my first album. I’ve been struggling to shrink my audience ever since, and to some extent I think I have succeeded.

How do you manage to keep your personal life out of the media?

I have given many interviews in my life and have sung live on TV several times. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, although, to tell the truth, giving an interview requires talking about yourself. And, when you talk about yourself for an hour, there’s likely something wrong with you. I’ve rarely dealt with the media in my personal life. I suppose they realised early on that they wouldn’t find anything particularly interesting, and left me alone.

You still don’t have a strong presence on social media.

I never found time to learn how to use it. I never joined Facebook, nor do I know how it works. I’m good with technology, I operate complex recording and audio editing programs, I study the theory of electronic music, I can tell you what each and every one of the thousands of buttons in a recording studio does. That’s as far as I go.

You have, however, published several opinion pieces commenting on specific events affecting the Greek reality. Do you consider yourself a politicised artist? Even in your last album, you have included a song titled Political Statement.

We are all politicised. When paramount events take place next to and within you, and you talk about them, you are politicised. When you pretend not to see them and keep singing about all things irrelevant, this again is a political stance. Even when you remain silent, you are taking a clear political position. The song to which you refer is satirical and has a strong dose of self-sarcasm. The title is not literal, but it’s indicative of the confusion and the feeling of impassiveness which has taken over a lot of people who either refer to ourselves as ‘progressives’ or in turn have others label us as such. I have never sided with a certain political party. I have a permanent suspicion and inherent aversion towards parties. But I am politicised, if this means that I am interested in what happens in my life and in the lives of the people around me.

You were one of the most positive commentators regarding the election of SYRIZA back on 25 January 2015. Do you maintain the same feelings?

I think even SYRIZA itself does not maintain the same feelings. How can one maintain the same feelings considering all that followed? However, I won’t let hope and my faith in a better world die because one party, during a specific historical moment, failed to put into practice what they had promised. It would be too realistic for me to despair. Oftentimes we artists are being accused for lack of realism. If they want realism, let them go to the statisticians, news presenters and politicians. I’ve seen their realism. It won’t do.

What do you think of all this media ‘optimism’ regarding the latest discussions towards the resolution of the Cyprus issue?

Deep within me, there’s an ardent desire for this tragedy to come to an end. For the Turkish army which is illegally occupying half of Cyprus since 1974 to leave, so that we, all the residents of the island, can live together. I think Greek and Turkish Cypriots could build something together, having a common vision. All this can only be based on mutual trust, which should be preserved at all cost. However, as long as there are third countries ready to undermine that trust and to once again sacrifice the island’s inhabitants in order to serve their own interests, the situation remains dangerous. Greece, as a country, is in an extremely weak position, which, in this case, isn’t necessarily as big a problem, considering that the few times Greece felt strong, both native and diaspora Hellenes copped it. I say this jokingly, but unfortunately there’s quite some truth in it. The big problem, in my opinion, is Turkey. A country that is expansive and unpredictable, a local superpower playing with fire in an area particularly unstable and explosive. While illegally occupying military neutral Cyprus, Turkey is trying to convince us that it is not part of the problem but part of the solution. I am sure that Turkey will never sign an agreement that would close the door to any ulterior expansionary acts. And I fear that the rest of us will again sign something guaranteeing such a right for Turkey, heralding a new, future tragedy for Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike. Add ‘our own’ nationalists to the equation- whose actions have always been disastrous for the country- and everything seems even harder. From the bottom of my heart, I wish a solution is found to ensure the long-term peace and prosperity of all Cypriots. I wish some sort of brotherhood could guarantee a future away from past mistakes. I wish this more than anything in my life. It is impossible for me not to worry, though.

Your resumé is the shortest we’ve ever seen – ‘He was born, lives, will die.’ Are you just a man like everyone else?

Everyone’s course, everyone’s journey on the map is unique. Our every breath, thought, act, touch is different and unrepeatable. However, apart from our uniqueness it is good to keep in mind that the starting point and destination are the same for everyone. On this rough, rough road between these two points, the notion that we are essentially connected with all human beings can deliver us from many harms. In a very generalised nutshell, all people treading this earth share exactly the same CV.

* Alkinoos Ioannidis will be performing at the 29th Lonsdale Festival, in the heart of Melbourne, on Saturday 27 February and at The Sydney Festival at Darling Harbour on Sunday 28.