There is something so natural, an inner warmth that comes from Parissa Bouas as she talks of her life and times as an artist. Her Greek background has allowed her to delve into other languages for her art, and also live amongst other cultures to explore the diversity that comes from there.
A multi-lingual performer, adopting these different voices has allowed her to become much more than a Greek Australian woman. She truly is a cross-cultured artist that doesn’t shy away from learning more. Destined for a career in the arts, Parissa started singing and dancing at a young age, as young as three. Growing up, she was lucky to be surrounded by a musical family who encouraged her to pursue a career in the arts and a wonderful choir teacher at school who helped her hone her craft and talents. By the age of 13 Parissa was performing professionally.
Growing up in Leichardt, Parissa was exposed to the cultural diversity of the arts in Australia not only from her own Greek Australian background but also accepting others. “I sing in English, Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and some African languages. I speak quite a bit of Spanish and Portuguese. I was singing in Spanish and Portuguese before I could really speak them but I think having Greek as a second language as a child has really helped me learn other languages,” said Parissa. She was an early member of ‘The Voices from the Vacant Lot’ and the Sydney ‘Solidarity Choir’.
In 1990, she sang for Nelson Mandela as part of the ANC combined choir. Her style can’t be described as a genre but rather an affirmation and a product of her environment, a cultural mix of identity, humanity and feeling. An example of this was when she was asked to contribute to Nicolette Boaz’s hip-hop CD by penning a tune about the Greek Australian experience.
“(Nicolette) wanted to make an album that was very contemporary and was giving voice to people from other cultures that are like Greek Australian, Sudanese Australian, Lebanese Australian – so people like myself who are bridges between two different countries and cultures. I wanted to write about belonging and my feelings of how I feel very Australian and Greek Australian rather than just Greek or Australian so I wrote about that for the album.” A true free spirit, Parissa spent a year living in Latin America, picking coffee for the Nicaraguan revolution, and touring with an Andean folkloric band, but came back to Australia to study her craft.
“When I went to Greece in 2007, I met these choir teachers and musicologists and I found some beautiful music from my dad’s island Corfu and I wanted to bring it to Australia to give it a voice here. Because of my study, I was able to listen to the music, score the music and made sure it worked for all the rights parts so that was hugely empowering. Through studying I am able to listen to the music, and understand it and make charts and give them to musicians so they can then play it. Education allows you to fulfil your dreams really.”
At present, Parissa is one half of The Hottentots, a band she has formed with her long-time writing partner Carl Cleves. Signed to a German label, The Hottentots have been touring a lot in Europe for the last ten years and just recorded the album Out of Australia. But for future plans, Parissa wants to get in touch with her Greek roots in Melbourne.
“We are possibly moving to Melbourne at the end of the year to get in touch with my Greek roots. I have a few Greek musical contacts there so I wouldn’t mind doing something. I am interested in singing rebetika and Greek gypsy music because I really like it. I can sing a couple of Nana Mouskouri songs because my father took me to concerts when I was a kid and he knew her musical director and I got to meet her so when I perform I tell the story and sing a couple of her songs. That’s why I feel drawn to live there, despite the cold.”
The Hottentots are touring nationally. Visit www.parissabouas.com/Hottentots.html to find a gig.