The much loved Bar Oussou, which has carved out a reputation for live world music in Melbourne’s inner-west will close, announced owner Mary Sitarenos .
“It was a huge decision, but I am moving on and it’s a good thing as I can spend more time with family and focus on other projects in theatre,” Sitarenos told Neos Kosmos of the move.
What she “cherished” most from the last decade were the people she met at the artists, the punters and industry insiders who, “collectively form a thriving space where cultural difference is realised as a shared experience through music.”
Global diversity was at the heart of the Brunswick bar’s vision and programming since its inception in 2012.
Sitarenos, actor with postgraduate studies in theatre making, came back home, Melbourne, after years in West Africa, where she worked on Greek classics in collaboration with Senegalese singers, dancers, actors and musicians.
Bar Oussou came in the aftermath of this immersion, with Sitarenos inviting Melbourne-based Senegalese Ousmane Ngom to join in the venture.
“I had a connection with the Senegalese community, and the one here in Melbourne, so when I started the bar with the French Senegalese focus, I did it because it felt very close to my own culture, the idea of hospitality and the love of music.”
The result was a venue with live music on almost every day. The hub was a place of creative exploration as resident Afro-fusion, and master kora players (West African string instrument ) melded with Reggae, Latin, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Rap, as well as Rebetiko and other Greek authentic music forms.
“I think people could see that we were two people from different cultures working together and creating something that is welcoming of differences,” Sitarenos said.
This intention was also reflected in the physical premises, she added.
“The bar is a fluid space, you don’t just sit down like in a restaurant. You can get up, walk in different rooms, meet other people, opt to listen to the music at the main hall or go out in the courtyard. We made it purposefully like this as a space for social strengthening.”
On spoken word and open mic nights the venue runs on ‘quiet’ weekdays, participants of all languages are welcomed with an advertised “100% survival rate for first-time performers guaranteed”.
For many migrants in Melbourne, Bar Oussou has felt like a ‘home away from home’, as the comments on socials confirm following the announcement the venue was being placed on the market.
Sitarenos believes in the “renaissance of Greek music in Melbourne through intercultural collaborations with other ethnic musicians creating original music with roots in its tradition.” Her venue has done its bit over the years, hosting numerous Greek bands and musicians.
They include Irene Vela and the Habibis, Achillea Yiangoulli, Delyrium, Kon Kalamaras, the Tsiftes, Kat Stevens and the Omados, Byron Triantafyllidis and Paddy Montgomery among many others.
Her Greek-Cypriot background, Sitarenos states, “had a huge influence” on her “in terms of the ethics of being part of a community.”
Growing up as a child of migrants in a less multicultural, than today’s, Australia, she says she knows what it means to be ‘the different one’, the one deviating from the mainstream.
“In a way when I went into the bar, I could actually bring the gifts that were given to me from my culture into the venue, whereas before, it was always being ‘the other’ or somewhere in between.”
But she didn’t make Bar Oussou a hub for her own niche community. Beyond the full-house gigs for years in a row, perhaps the biggest success story of this venue has been exactly that choice: making it ‘a home for the diaspora’. In its full sense, not limited to any single community but giving a stage for all.