Women most get the blues, especially in a male-dominated music industry. Greek Australian blues artist Kaliopi Stavropoulos aims to shift that.

The Greek Australian blues artist Kaliopi Stavropoulos who heads Kaliopi & the Blues Messengers, is the driving force behind the 2024 International Women’s Day Music Festival, honouring women in the blues on Sunday afternoon, March 10, at the Central Club Hotel Richmond.

The festival will feature a lineup of male and female blues artists and emerging and iconic blueswomen.

Stavropoulos talked to Neos Kosmos and said that the festival “was inspired” by the success of a women’s music event held last August, organised by Double Trouble Blues Sessions, as well as her single launch Troublin’ Blues in last year’s International Women’s Day.

“Those two shows went down really well, so we thought ‘, we should celebrate International Women’s Day with a Blues Music festival’,” she explains.

Kaliopi Stavropoulos. Photo: Jason Rosewarne

Stavropoulos played a pivotal role in creating Double Trouble Blues Sessions, as she said to “showcase national blues icons and unearth national blues treasures”.

The musician has celebrated the blues through performances, collaborations, and initiatives for over 30 years.

In 2022, Kaliopi & the Blues Messengers hosted Double Trouble Blues Sessions, supporting national blues artists like Geoff Achison and Ian Collard and emerging talents, including the Women ‘N’ Blues Program participants.

For the Festival, Kaliopi & the Blues Messengers will delve into the music of pre-World War delta blues, such as the works of Memphis Minnie as the guitarist and singer. They will add to this music their unique texture, characterised by the fretless jug bass sounds, incorporating early Dixie-like piano, clarinet blues licks, and Delta Blues guitar over shuffling brushes on the drums to Kaliopi’s soulful voice.

Kaliopi & the Blues Messengers. Photo: Jason Rosewarne

Stavropoulos stresses the significance of male inclusion in such events, urging their participation in fostering a sense of solidarity and mutual support among men and women without making exclusions based on gender.

“It is important that men are strong enough to stand with their sisters and partners and to be there, with us. We only hold up half the sky. We need our brothers, fathers, and sons holding up the other half with us.”

Her mother is from Nisyros, an island in the Dodecanese—and her father is from Patras. Stavropoulos was intrigued by the distinct playing of instruments in Greece, particularly the violin, and the “sliding in and out of notes” characteristic of Nisyrian music. The clarinet in Kaliopi & the Blues Messengers pays homage to the music from the mountains her father is from, featuring the microtonal element of the music.

Stavropoulos was intrigued by the “microtones” found in the blues, noting that despite its simplicity with “predominantly five notes,” the mastery in this genre lies in “how you get in and out of those five notes” with emotion and sensitive tri-tones.

Kaliopi Stavropoulos during a live performance. Photo: Jason Rosewarne

“It’s the simplicity in blues that makes it pure. Simple is pure, so the music is simple, but it is pure, which is profound.”

The Greek Australian muso connects blues songs and rebetika, the Greek blues, noting their shared storytelling element.

During her collaboration with Santouri virtuoso Marios Papadeas, Stavropoulos had the opportunity to delve into the themes of rebetika, studying the narratives of harsh realities experienced by an oppressed subculture seeking refuge in Greece after fleeing from Asia Minor, now Turkey, as well as the significance of “metaphors.”

“The stories about being on the fringe, the minority being displaced, being the underdog are always sung with metaphors. They’re often wailing voices howling over a particular upbeat, familiar rhythm.

“In Greek, there are compound rhythms, which I use in my music and performances. ”

She notes that “blues is transformative” and outlines the music’s “healing” power.

“The Smyrneika, rebetika, or the African American blues… they’re singing, chanting for healing, for change.”

Lisette Payet (left) and Kaliopi Stavropoulos (right). Photo: Nomepics Naomi Gehan

Memphis Minnie’s music seduces Stavropoulos because of her “vast repertoire” and her use of metaphors relevant to contemporary issues, such as “climate change, domestic violence and systemic abuse.”

She knows too well the challenges women face in the music industry due to a “male-dominated culture”, adding, “Women, in general, must work twice as hard to succeed with merit.”

“There’s a saying among us in the industry that we must be twice as good to get half as much recognition. While I chuckle at this, it reflects the reality of our challenges.

“We must be exceptionally skilled, consistent, and focused to thrive in a male-dominated environment.”

Stavropoulos’ desire to remain connected to her Greek heritage is reflected through her collaborations with Greek artists, such as Santouri player Marios Papadeas and Demetra Giannakopoulos.

“Working with them was like coming home. You don’t realise how much you try to fit in for decades until you sit next to your Greek sister or brother. There’s just the way we do things, the way we are.”

Kaliopi & the Blues Messengers. Photo: Jason Rosewarne

Being Greek took work for Stavropoulos. The pressure of having an “exotic” name forced her to use the stage name “Bobbie Maree” before moving to California in the early 1990s.

“Nobody could say Kaliopi at school, and at home, everyone called me Poppy, so I settled with Bobbie, and Maree was my adopted middle name.”

She says that when she first appeared on television, her last name was “too long” for the screen, so she used “Maree” as her surname.

When she visited Nisyros as a woman, every one pronounced her name correctly, like “coming home.”

As International Women’s Day approaches, Stavropoulos’ message is simple:

“Every day should be International Women’s Day. Just remember your sisters, your mothers, and your daughters every day.

“Be inclusive, stand for equality and bridge the opportunities and salary gap between men and women, speak up against the treatment of women as objects.”