Some 12 years ago, maybe more, I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of Drakos – a Cretan, Balkan, Celtic ensemble based in Melbourne – performing live on the now defunct ABC TV youth program, Recovery.
It was incongruent and thrilling at the same time. Led by George Xylouris, the latest in a long line of Cretan lyra masters with the Irish Australian Hannan sisters, Drakos were intoning the ‘youth’ jangle-guitar crowd with ancient beats, melodies and rhythms.
It was a validation of Australia’s multiculturalism and especially Melbourne’s musical melting pot.
George Xylouris has since left Australia and lives on his home island of Crete yet his Australian experience has provided him a unique template for working across musical genres and cultures. “I learned in Australia how to bring cultures and people together through their music” said George Xylouris to Neos Kosmos from Crete.
Xylouris and the Hannan sisters had made a significant name for themselves in the mid 90s in Australia, as one of the most sought out world music ensembles.
In Crete the name Xylouris resonates with history, especially as he is a nephew of the great Cretan musical genius, Nickos Xylouris.
The Xylouris Ensemble became an Australian cultural export to Greece. It was as if Australia was selling ice to the Eskimos, but instead it was selling Greek music back to Greece, or so it seemed.
Yet it was different. The Australian experience and the meld of cultures had generated a new sound.
“Even after all these years people in Greece still ask me about the Xylouris Ensemble or ‘Antipodes’ as the band is known here in Greece,” reflects Xylouris adding with a tone of surprise, “the radios here still play our recordings.”
The impact of diverse cultural influences that added depth and resonance to Xylouris approach has been felt in Greece.
“We often put concerts together, not only of Cretan music, but music which the Hannan sisters, Alice Garner, Danny Butler all carry with them,” Xylouris says.
The ensemble has developed a considerable fan base across world and has performed in traditional music festivals in France, Germany, Belgium, and more.
Recently the Xylouris Ensemble worked with Huun Huur Tu, a throat singer from Tuva, and has always been involved projects with Ross Daly, the Irish Cretan lyra expert now in Australia. Daly brings musicians together for his Labyrinth studio project in Crete, from the Middle East, India, Persia and Turkey.
The years have flowed on and neither I, nor Xylouris, can remember much of the heady 1990s. Since then many things have happened, large wars, mass natural disasters, ravages of ageing, but as Xylouris says, “The immediate place beyond nothing is the point of origin.”
The Xylouris Ensemble is in Australia preparing to perform at the Brunswick Music Festival after their stint with Ross Daly at WOMAdelaide.
When asked what the fans will be expecting of George Xylouris and his ensemble at the Brunswick Music Festival, he says, “You can expect us to give our souls.”
For more information on the Xylouris Ensemble is playing go to www.brunswickmusicfestival.com.au