Rebetiko music lovers will have the chance to enjoy the sounds of Greek urban blues from the late 19th century, taking a musical journey through the harsh realities of a marginalised subculture’s lifestyle.

Fuelled by his love for rebetiko, Con Kalamaras is organising a tribute concert for legendary rebetiko artists Vasilis Tsitsanis and Sotiria Bellou, called “Sinnefiasmeni Kiriaki” after Tsitsanis’s famous Greek song, scheduled for Melbourne’s Brunswick Ballroom on July 7.

“The event is a celebration of the cultural contribution of Vassilis Tsitsanis and Sotiria Bellou, two of the most iconic rebetiko artists in the last 100 years,” Kalamaras told Neos Kosmos.

“The concert will delve into the history of the songs and also the relationship between Bellou and Tsitsanis,” said Kalamaras, with a repertoire including anthemic Greek songs like “Sinefiansemni Kiriaki,” “Omorfi Thessaloniki,” “Varka Yialo,” “Ximeroni Kai Vradiazi,” Horisame ena dilino, among others.

“Estudiantina of Melbourne.” Photo: Supplied

What captivates the Greek Australian musician about rebetiko music is “its raw emotional power and its ability to convey the depth of human experience.”

“The music often reflects themes of struggle, resilience, love, loss, and longing, which are universal human experiences that transcend cultural boundaries.”

Kalamaras said “many rebetika songs are sung in Greek, providing a platform for the preservation and promotion of the Greek language among Greek Australians, especially younger generations.”

But rebetiko is not just a link connecting “us to our language.”

“Estudiantina of Melbourne” performing at Brunswick Ballroom concert. Photo: Supplied

With the events of 1922 leading to a big population exchange and a sudden change in Greece’s identity, Kalamaras said the rise of this genre also marked “a significant moment in the history of music in Greece.”

“It represents the people who have suffered, endured and were able to express their pain and longing for something that they will never see again.”

Although there were many artists who helped shape Greek music, such as Kostas Skarvelis, Rita Abadzi, Rosa Eskenazi, and Markos Vamvakaris, Kalamaras said when it comes to rebetiko, “all roads lead to Tsitsanis.”

He said, Vasilis Tsitsanis, “one of the most influential composers and bouzouki players in the history of rebetiko, played a crucial role in popularising rebetiko music both in Greece and abroad.”

“Estudiantina of Melbourne” during Brunswick Ballroom concert. Photo: Supplied

Sotiria Bellou’s emotional and raw interpretations of rebetiko songs established her as one of the earliest prominent female performers “in the male-dominated rebetiko music scene.”

Kalamaras said both Tsitsanis and Bellou faced family challenges with their musical dreams but pursued them, anyway, taking rebetiko “to another level.”

“That’s why I felt it was important to celebrate them as a team.”

At the Rebetiko Jam at “Triakosia”. Photo: Sarah Walker/Supplied

The tribute concert will feature a newly formed ensemble called “Estudiantina of Melbourne” which translates to “Students of Melbourne.”

Kalamaras will play the bouzouki and sing. Maria Antaras-Dalamagas, will showcase her talents on the accordion and in singing.

Vagelis Ginis, originally from Athens and now living in Melbourne, will also lend his voice to the performance.

Jenny Dixon, a skilled violinist with a background in classical music and global symphony tours, will play the violin, after recently developing a passion for rebetika and Smyrneika.

At the Rebetiko Jam. Photo: Sarah Walker/Supplied

Alex Petropoulos will express his love for rebetika through his guitar, while Paul Karalis will bring his bouzouki expertise to the mix.

Kalamaras said rebetiko music “deeply rooted in Greek culture” helps Greek Australians “maintain a strong sense of cultural identity.”

Its themes reflect Hellenic customs, values, and folklore, which also helps keep “these traditions alive within the community.”

The active musician and event promoter also hosts a weekly Rebetiko Jam at Triakosia every Wednesday, which he said attracts “many younger musicians new to the music.”

Con Kalamaras (left) with Sotiris Kiokasoglou (right) at the Rebetiko Jam. Photo: Sarah Walker/Supplied

He said this jam has led to lots of duos and trios forming in Melbourne, and it’s also caught the attention of people in Greece.

“A friend of mine was at the Vamvarakis Museum in Syros and on the wall in the museum was a clip of the Melbourne Rebetiko Jam on loop!”

But this “didn’t happen overnight.”

With Melbourne’s “connection to this music dating right back to the late 70’s,” he said “rebetiko and Melbourne go hand in hand.”

“We’re lucky in Melbourne to have so many talented musicians who continue this tradition.”