When the early Greek migrants came over to Australia in the 50s and 60s, many brought with them a small suitcase with a few clothes and many memories. Some may have even brought the sounds of their motherland with them on a vinyl record.
Decades later, these melodies and tones have been transferred onto CD’s and Spotify playlists, after parents passed the songs of their youth down to second and third generation Greek-Australians.
NUGAS affiliate from the RMIT University Society of Hellenes, John Paras shares how Greek music helped him reconnect with his heritage, despite not having learned to speak much Greek growing up.
I think for many Greek-Australians, one of the easiest ways to connect with their culture is through music and through dance. Both go hand in hand. Growing up in Australia, the Paras family were always on the dance floor, singing our lungs out. For me, one of the ways I express my heritage is traditional dancing and singing Greek songs. There’s something about Greek music that just hits that spot I can’t explain, whether it be at some club night or traditional dancing, it gets my blood pumping.
My introduction to Greek music came at a young age, though it wasn’t Greek pop music. It was some old Greek singer whose name I don’t even know on cassette tapes that my pappou would put in the player as he picked me up from school to go have dinner with my yiayia.
The sound quality wasn’t great, there was so much reverb you might almost believe that it was recorded on the side of a mountain somewhere back in Greece. I remember not liking pappou’s cassettes at the time, I still think these recordings are heinous but there’s a story to these songs.
Greek music allowed me to reconnect with my culture, as speaking Greek was quite non-existent for me when I first started listening to Greek music. By listening and translating Greek words, it helped me gain an understanding of the language and its many meanings. My pronunciation also developed greatly. For many Greek Australians the rolling of the r’s and attempting to achieve the throaty sound of the letter gamma was hard to practice in a primarily English speaking country like Australia, especially for those who didn’t go to Greek school or didn’t speak much Greek at home.
The first Greek music album I bought was Greece 2013 and while it might not have been a reflection of traditional Greek music with songs like Gine Mazi Mou Ena by Paola, I would listen to this album on repeat.
As I grew older, my desire to connect back with my heritage also grew and I started listening to older song like the ones my grandparents danced to, before migrating to Australia. My pappou always points out this one song called Itia (Willow) as he had danced a Tsamiko to it at his wedding. It is from these kinds of traditional songs, from regions in the Peloponnese (where my family also comes from), that tell stories that I feel I can connect to and learn through.
Overall, I think Greek music is one of the major ways that Greek-Australians can identify with the culture whether it be some classic pop songs like Anaveis Foties by Despina Vandi, the sweet sounds of Glykeria to the Polyphonic song of Epirus. All of these songs tell stories that are snapshots into time past.