A jam between friends of rebetiko which was born last April as the brainchild of Con Kalamaras and Wayne Simmons has evolved into a weekly event that is always booked solid.
Lovers of the Greek blues, gather every Wednesday in Clifton Hill’s 300 and jam from 7.00 pm till 11.00 pm. The repertoire includes Smirneika, dimotika and rebetika dating anywhere from the 1920s to the 1950s.
“Wayne and I wanted to create a supportive space where people from all backgrounds – regardless of whether you are beginner or if you’re an experienced musician – can get together and jam,” Mr Kalamaras tells Neos Kosmos.
“It’s a space where people can learn and exchange knowledge but also a place where people that might otherwise never get a chance to perform, can perform live. It’s been nine months and since day one it’s been non-stop busy. Every jam has been packed.”
Mr Kalamaras and Mr Simmons also encourage people who are not Greek to come and perform so that they can get to know the richness of Hellenic culture and Eastern influence through the live sessions.
“We have created a centralised Dropbox account where we put all the music. People can study by themselves, and when we get together they know what we’re gonna play,” he explains.
READ MORE: ‘Rebetika will always be relevant’
Aside from providing rebetiko aficionados with the space to perform those songs in public, the duo also offers knowledge.
“People send us a message regarding what songs they would like to perform and we send them the song. Wayne writes up the sheet music and we try to create a list everybody can play. There are almost 60 songs in there now.”
The two don’t see this weekly process as a time-consuming task but more so as a cultural investment.
“There’s already a group of artists playing this music in Melbourne but we want it to be more accessible to everyone, so we find this to be a very good way to open up the demographic age-wise and gender-wise. We want more young people to become interested and more females to be part of it as well.”
The Rebetiko Jam organisers are trying to ensure a continuous interest in the genre and their plan seems to be working. Each Wednesday the 300 venue fills up with an average of 15 musicians and more or less 50 more people who come to see them perform. The most popular instrument is by far the six-string bouzouki, followed by the baglama and percussion instruments.
“Aside from it being a standard night at a popular location, it is a very organic way of creating and maintaining interest,” Mr Kalamaras says.
“Even if people make a mistake, it’s okay. No one is judging. They can still walk away feeling that they’ve learned something.
“We have people from 19 to 70 years old. There’s no restrictions and no rules; basically if you have an interest in this music bring your instrument and join us!”
Meanwhile, Rebetiko Jam nights don’t attract people of Greek background alone but a broad variety of punters interested in ethnic sounds. It being an acoustic event, a gathering that takes place around a table and not on a stage make it more personable and warm.
“I would say it’s about 50-50.The non Greeks that turn up are really committed. Like, Wayne. He’s not Greek but is one of the most passionate supporters of Greek music I know and has even been teaching for 20 years.
“The interesting thing,” he adds, “is that the some of the people who attend have actually become friends and now they’ve started jamming outside the gig, with other people.”
Can the Rebetiko Jam grow even more?
“The future plan is to evolve the concept and involve the people that turn up. At the moment we are focused on developing the repertoire and along with the skills of the people that come in. We are really proud of it and love the fact that it is a free event,” Mr Kalamaras enthuses.
“To answer your question, though, one of our friends is based in Sydney and she started a Greek jam night as well.
“From little things big things grow!”
* Adaptation by Nelly Skoufatoglou.