Con Kalamaras, Fotis Vergopoulos and Wayne Simmons play Rebetiki music in Oakleigh every Friday night, in sets of up to six hours, but Con insists they don’t have a band name.
We’re just really lucky to have this creative melting pot that can write music together and really remind people that there are other musicians out there and these people have great stories to tell.
Recently, though, the trio worked under a very impressive moniker: Tim Rogers Compania.
It was part of a project called The Key Of Sea, where established Australian musicians team up with migrant musicians to create a track for an album. All the proceeds will go to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival and Refugees Survivors and Ex Detainees (RISE).
So the Rebetika group from Oakleigh teamed up with You Am I front man, Tim Rogers, a legend of Australian music, who comes from outback Western Australia.
On the surface, Rogers doesn’t seem to have much in common with Rebetika music, which developed around Greece’s ports after World War One.
“A lot of the Asia Minor Greeks were turned out of Turkey, and with them, overnight, Greece’s population went through the roof,” Kalamaras says.
“And they brought with them this unique music, which was from Asia Minor, initially, and a lot of the themes were about loneliness, hardship, doing it tough.”
So how did a rock star from outback Australia, whose lyrics include, ‘I have a scratch only you could itch/underneath the Glebe Point Bridge,” adapt to what is known as Greek Blues?
According to Kalamaras, Rogers has quite a collection of Rebetika music.
“He wanted to make sure he was paying respect to it, and not make it mainstream, but really stick to the raw basics of what the early recordings were,” he said.
“And he was trying to reflect the themes as well, in the lyrics.”
He says the song, Ghost, could have been written by Markos Vamvakaris himself.
“Even though it sounds like his personal song, if you translate it into Greek, it would sound like a song from that time,” he says.
“Because it’s raw, it’s not overdone, it’s just one person singing into a microphone, and I think that’s why he just tapped into it, subconsciously.”
Listening to the song, I can’t help but agree, as the bouzouki underscores Rogers’ haunting lyrics:
“I call her name, the sound it stays, a heartbeat rattles in my rib/ Like dice in the fist it can’t resist the love that’s deep inside her grip.”
And, as if the song were a refugee itself, Rogers’ Rebetika lyrics somehow found their way into Kalamaras’ possession.
“They ended up in my folder after we played with him,” he says.
“I’m so going to frame them.”
At the album’s launch this week, Rogers was away on tour. So the trio, who aren’t used to having to be introduced, performed as ‘Mortika Rebetika’
“It’s just like saying, ‘blues band’,” Kalamaras explains.
“It’s just an umbrella that encompasses everything, so it’s just like saying, ‘The Blues Band’.”
An umbrella label is pretty appropriate, when you consider the group was also playing with artists from the Sudan, Vietnam and Ethiopia, as well as Australian artists such as the Cat Empire and Sarah Blasko.
And Kalamaras is expecting Australians will respond well to the album, which is now available.
“I think it will go number one,” he says.
“Politically, the time is right for it.”
He says that Australians are savvy consumers, and they want to be reminded of their cultural diversity in positive – rather than negative – ways.
“We’re just really lucky to have this creative melting pot that can write music together and really remind people that there are other musicians out there and these people have great stories to tell.”
This week, they’re playing with musicians from all over the globe, but Kalamaras says when the unnamed trio performs at Eurobites, it’s just as inclusive.
“The great thing about it is the people that attend, they sing as well, so everyone’s involved, everyone’s just involved,” he says.
“And when the people are involved, it sounds better as well.”
Kalamaras says the group hopes to work with Rogers again.
“He’s come to Oakleigh a couple of times actually, he loves it and he said to us that he felt it was filling a musical void,” he says.
“He just loved it because it was so raw and honest.”
But, with or without the lanky rock star, Oakleigh’s Eurobites will continue to get a weekly fix of Mortika Rebetika, or the Compania, or however they’d like to be introduced.
The Key Of Sea is out now through iTunes or www.thekeyofsea.com.au
Con Kalamaras plays with Fotis Vergopoulos and Wayne Simmons 8pm every Friday night in Eurobites, 21 Portman Street Oakleigh, and with Rebetika every Wednesday at Spitiko, 270 Park Street, South Melbourne.