Poetry meets Greek culture in March, with two rare concerts offering a selected fusion of Konstantinos Cavafy’s (K.P. Cavafy) words, brought to life by Babis Koulouras’ passion and talent.
Mr Koulouras is the president of Ano Syros Cultural Association, Television Tea’s program director and the leader of Cavafy Group, which consists of twelve musicians and two female singers, Chryssoula Kechagioglou and Elpida Gad.
Cavafy was born in Alexandria in 1863, becoming one of the greatest poets in history, with a collection of 154 published works. His most famous work, dating back to 1911, pays tribute to Odysseus and his journey, to Ithaca. Mr Koulouras is on a journey himself, one destined to spread Cavafy’s incredible poetry, whilst showcasing the cultural depth of an island that sits in the centre of the Cyclades. In many ways, Cavafy lives on through the passion of the Ano Syros group, travelling to New York, Vienna, Constantinople and now, Australia. The group is seeking its own Ithaca, the same way Odysseus did, making the most of the journey, not the destination. Babis Koulouras shares his thoughts about Cavafy in an exclusive Neos Kosmos interview, a few days before the group’s performance at The Enmore Theatre on the weekend.
BC (Bill Cotsis): I remember visiting your birthplace, Syros, in 2004 and it was exciting, vibrant. How has the island changed throughout the years and what impact does it have on you when you visit?
BK (Babis Koulouras): We feel lucky and happy to live in a place that has it all. The beauties of an Aegean island, while being a central spot of culture and history, a place where something wonderful happens almost every day. Syros is changing day by day, yet remains unique.
BC: How did the cultural society of Ano Syros form? How long have you been its president and what is the group aiming at?
BK: It was formed in 1979 and I’ve been its president for the last 15 years. It was born out of the Ano Syros residents’ need to express their love for the island through cultural events. Our goal is to keep, develop and promote the tradition and the culture of our island and our country.
BC: What makes Cavafy’s poetry so special to you?
BK: Konstantinos Cavafy is a global poet and his art has attracted me since my childhood. It was hard to figure out why at the time but as I was growing up, his words spoke to me and his poetry made more sense. Just then I also realised I could recite most of these poems by heart.
BC: What was it like to perform in Alexandria, Cavafy’s birthplace?
BK: Performing in Alexandria, as well as in Constantinople (Istanbul), the city his family came from, was a dream come true. In Alexandria, we performed at the poet’s house in Lipsius street and at the Alexandria Cultural Centre. You can easily imagine how I felt reciting the poems, leaning on his own desk. In Constantinople, we performed at the Phanari Greek Orthodox College, in front of The Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos, who called our show ‘a feast’.
BC: What inspires you as an artist?
BK: I’m influenced by everything that surrounds me. The simplest and smallest things, seemingly trivial to some, the secrets and the mysteries around us. However, I’m mainly intrigued by the emotions of people as well as the developments and the feats of science.
BC: The team’s best moments so far?
BK: The Cavafy team highlights would certainly include our performances in the poet’s house, in Constantinople, at the University of Harvard, in Delfoi and Delos where we performed in the twilight. We also felt honoured to have the chance to perform at both the Athenian and Thessaloniki Concert Halls, where our shows were introduced by the acclaimed Greek critic Alexis Kostalas. Thessaloniki’s mayor Yannis Boutaris also recited some of Cavafy’s poems with us. We have also performed in Helsinki, Stockholm, New York, Boston, Paris and Andalucía.
BC: Are all the members professional performers from Syros?
BK: They all live in Syros. Most of them are professional musicians, though our group’s only fee is spreading the word of our culture through poetry and music.
BC: Is this your first time to Australia and what should the audience expect to see/hear?
BK: Yes, it is our first time in Australia and this tour is a result of a four-year effort. I must say a big “thank you” to the organisers of the festivals in Sydney and Adelaide who invited us. I feel confident that they will invite us again for our shows dedicated to poets Nikos Gatsos, Nikos Kavadias and Giorgos Seferis. The Cavafy Group does not carry the popularity of the famous and commercial names. Audiences initially come to our show tentatively and then swarm to the next ones. I can assure you that we will excite the audience.
Festival Hellenika Adelaide performance: Tuesday 31 March at 7.45 pm @ Marion Cultural Centre, 287 Diagonal Road, Oaklands Park SA
* Billy Cotsis is a writer and short film director based in Sydney.