For Andreas Charalambous, the members of the Karanicolas family of Adelaide are more than mentors in a new land. In just over a year, they have become a beacon of light for him in a strange new country. The bonds of this family, which has drawn him into its embrace, remind him of the family he left in Limassol, Cyprus, two years ago. But he has also brought something to the table that they draw upon.
“This (Karanicolas) family is a close family. There is such love between the family and their relatives, they are so united. My family in Cyprus is also this close. It is something very rare and I did not think I would find it coming here to Australia,” says Andreas.
“I know a lot of people in Adelaide, many youths are on drugs and some adults who want to cheat people for whatever reason, but I have not found that with the Karanicolas family, and they also have a beautiful daughter…” laughs Andreas, 26, who is in a relationship with Sophia’s daughter Simone (aka Shivon), the bassist in all-girl band Lipsmack and prog rock/world music outfit Dirt Playground, featuring brother Johnny on guitar.
Music runs in the family. Sophia’s husband Billy, an airline pilot, initially had ambitions to live a life in music so the two children grew up with music and musical instruments in the house.
Sophia, who is also passionate about all forms of music, is also the Assistant Dean of Learning and Teaching for the School of Dentistry. She is a national award-winning educator. Last year, with University of Adelaide colleague Catherine Snelling, she won the prestigious Office for Learning and Teaching Award, for sustained excellence in university teaching. Last week, her team won a large government award to fund a university project that they will take to universities throughout Australia.
Sophia’s brother and sister, Nectarios and Paraskevi Kontoleon, who are established musicians in their own right, are also members of Dirt Playground, which combines Greek/Middle Eastern with rock influences. Her son, Johnny, and her other brother, Chris, are also in a Greek band known as Oneiro.
Next year, Johnny is planning to spend a year in Athens as part of his doctorate research in anthropology. He was the first of the family to meet Andreas. They became firm friends and would often meet for a coffee or listen to Greek music and go out to live music venues.
“I go to the bouzoukia to keep links with my culture and music, and it was on such a night that I met Sophia,” says Andreas.
Sophia was at a venue when she noticed the dancing Andreas and took pictures of him. Her daughter Simone noticed the flamboyant Andreas in the photos that Sophia took and was surprised when a few weeks later she met him at a gig. When Andreas came to take Simone out on their first date, he talked with the family and the synergy between Andreas and the Karanicolas family grew almost instantly.
“My children,” says Sophia, “are very connected to their Greek heritage. I was born here, so was my husband Billy. Our parents were migrants, so my children are second generation Australians and they have very strong connections with their culture.”
“I took my kids to Greek school because I wanted them to learn the language, the religion. When we took them to Greece for the first time, that was it, the trip ignited what was always within them,” says Sophia.
The children have many friends from different backgrounds but they love the connection to Greece that young migrants like Andreas have brought with them in recent years.
“There is a tenacity about them,” observes Sophia, “they will work hard, for long hours, but they will come home and be very community focused by inviting people over for a meal enjoyed over music.
“It is almost like the days when I grew up, remembering how our home was – there were people around all the time. Even though they have that awesome work ethic, these new migrants also have that spirit, that light, that sense of community and a sense of valuing one another and people in general.”
“With these young people, they will come to my home and sometimes they bring their guitars and bouzoukia and sing. We have this lively environment, so they don’t really have this need to go out and find somewhere to hang out.”
But, she says, coming to Australia has opened the new migrants’ eyes to other possibilities and to have a greater belief in themselves. Many of them who do not complete their high school education settle into a well-worn work path and do not think of developing further.
“Young people here in Australia are more ambitious, by that I mean that a lot of the youth in Greece and Cyprus (who do not complete their schooling) will be happy working in a cafe or in the fields for the rest of their lives. Not many of them will strive to do more than what is in their local community.
“But because they make the most of that environment, what they bring with them is a sense of love, warmth and hospitality.
“Here we get caught up in ambition and people come second,” says Sophia. “It is a bit more about the self here, whereas in Greece and Cyprus it is about the collective whole.”
Andreas works as a forklift operator and excavator and has done so for much of his life. He is working hard to learn to speak English like an Australian and is learning Australian phrases and sayings. But it is thanks to the Karanicolas family that he found the confidence to use his voice in song.
“I always knew I had a good voice,” says Andreas, “I knew I had it in Cyprus, but I did not ‘take it out’, I did not sing publicly. Here in Australia, Simone and her family helped me to express myself in public.
“They gave me the confidence to believe that I am a singer and this is what I would like to do for the rest of my life.”
Sophia says: “He just happened to sing one day and I said ‘My God, he has an amazing voice and technicality’, and because he happened to stumble across a musical family and he extends himself, he has now reached a point where he recently sang at the big Greek festival we had here in Adelaide.”
“He sings confidently, and he has that ‘X Factor’ on stage. He is one of those people who have the whole persona, and to have developed that in such a short time is incredible.
“I have known him for just over a year and everyone has learnt so much – us from him, he from us. It has been quite an incredible year.”
Andreas, whose younger brother George is also living in Australia, says of his time in Adelaide: “I find life in Australia very different. Different culture, different youth. The climate in Adelaide reminds me of home and the vineyards are similar to home – but life is different. But I have found something rare here. I was lucky to find what I did not think I would find.”
You can view Johnny and Shivon playing in Dirt Playground with their uncle and aunt Nectarios and Paraskevi Kontoleon on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAVQLvwX07A and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJpmz9ZNnB8
View Andreas Charalambous singing on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjmYcQSyTGY