Whichever part of his childhood he decides to delve into – including that of playing kids’ games with his siblings and cousins – Nikos Xylouris’ memories carry him to the middle of Xylouris Ensemble rehearsals.
“That’s all that they fed us, we had no choice,” Nikos tells Neos Kosmos with a laugh.
So it doesn’t come as unnatural when almost two decades later, the now 21 year-old Nikos Xylouris enters the stage with other, long-time members of Xylouris Ensemble. The same goes for his brother Adonis and sister Apollonia, and cousin Rory, who are all the new members of the multi-generational Ensemble, the children of its founding members.
Hailing from a well-known musical family, it is now Cretan lute player and singer George Xylouris’ children who carry the tradition as a third generation of famous musicians of Anogeia’s Xylouris family.
After four studio and one live album, the Ensemble have launched its new, long-awaited album, the first one since ARIA nominated ‘Drakos’.
Entitled ‘Aera’, and made possible with the support of the Arts Victoria’s Contemporary and Live Music Development fund, the album was recently heralded with the release of a single Aiolos, an original composition by George Xylouris.
Recorded and mixed by sound engineer Casey Rice, ‘Aera’ brings the sounds its fans have been waiting for, featuring original music and reinterpreting traditional tunes from both Cretan and Irish traditions.
The album carries its personal, different characteristics when compared to the previous four, Nikos Xylouris says.
“I think it definitely is different. I would say that this album is much more experimental in a lot of ways – when you listen through all of them you realise that every piece is more structured in other albums.
“On every album there are the Irish sounding originals written by Mairéad Hannan and the Cretan sounding originals written by George Xylouris. ‘Aera’ offers new George Xylouris originals – Aiolos, Psarevondas and Rethymno, as well as originals by Mairéad Hannan – Round and Round and Snake/Stepping Out. They all blend into one. Then there is a traditional Cretan piece which was rearranged and orchestrated by Xylouris Ensemble as a whole,” Nikos tells Neos Kosmos.
‘Aera’ also brings a few experimental takes on tradition – a rizítiko song traditionally sung only by men, Helidonaki is performed by Dee Hannan in an almost a cappella version; while Rodinos, a syrtós (dance) usually played on lyra and lute, is given a darker note on cello and flute.
“We also have big strings like Alex Janna playing the cello and Danny Butler playing the double bass which gives the album much more depth.”
All that sound is refreshed by new band members and their musical talents – Nikos Xylouris (lyra, mandolin, lafta, tombak), Apollonia Xylouri (tombak, voice), Adonis Xylouris (mandolin) and Rory Hannan (percussion).
Reflecting another ‘Aera’ element, as well as the element of the Ensemble itself – that of the flight of music and musicians over oceans, literally and metaphorically – ‘Aera’ recordings took place in Crete with Nikos Kefalogiannis, in New York with Nik Chinboukas, in Melbourne at Mick Turner’s studio in Brunswick, then in Casey Rice studio.
“The album kind of represents a new lease on life with fresh material and new young members in the band. Just as the band originally grew in an organic kind of way with people joining as the band went on, the new members are a natural progression of this process, good to have new and fresh blood,” Shelagh Hannan tells Neos Kosmos.
A combination of young and older members, of traditional and new compositions – Nikos Xylouris says it wasn’t that hard to achieve a harmonious existence, after being brought up at Xylouris Ensemble rehearsals. But officially becoming a member of the band has its perks.
“It’s refreshing – every new member has musical background of their own and they are bringing their own influences into the music of Xylouris Ensemble. Definitely I’m proud of it and I enjoy it.”
And although for the Xylouris family music is a family affair, Nikos says he doesn’t exclude involvement with other music styles and bands in future.
“And the same goes for every other member of the band. Everyone pretty much has other ongoing projects with other musicians, and those 20 years of playing with other musicians bring many new ideas to Xylouris Ensemble, which is great.”
This month, Nikos and Adonis Xylouris will be touring Australia for Battle of Crete concerts in Darwin, Sydney and Melbourne, alongside George Rerakis and Sifis Tsourdalakis.
To celebrate the launch of ‘Aera’, the Xylouris Ensemble will perform with special guest Mick Turner, on Thursday 15 May, at 7.30 pm, at the Post Office Hotel, Coburg. For more information, visit www.xylourisensemble.net