Euterpe, fourth of the Ennead, was never the muse of song. Indeed, if you ask the Boetians of old, there never was an Ennead of Muses, for on Mount Helicon, they worshipped a triad in which Aoide, daughter of Mnemosyne or Memory, was the archetypal chanteuse extraordinaire. The relationship between song and memory is a profound one. According to Hesiod's Theogony, kings and poets receive their powers of authoritative speech from their possession of Mnemosyne and their special relationship with the Muses and the fact that memory is held to be a Titaness and thus primordial and much more ancient than the Olympian dwelling deities. And of course all this elaborate cosmology derives from the obvious - songs and memory share a symbiotic relationship. Memories inspire songs. Songs encapsulate memories and are in turn remembered, passed down the generations, though in the case of Homer, it is the lyrics that are still remembered, though the tune is long gone.
Here in the monotheistic climes of the Antipodes, we abjure triune deities or their enneadic collectives. In their stead, if there is anyone worthy of the status of the muse of song, then undoubtedly that singular person must be the elevated Anthea Sidiropoulos, who occupies as she does, the intermediate space between arts chthonic and arts celestial. By popular acclaim, a goddess of the Greek Australian stave, (and all about her know that this is so for she is possession of a truly Olympian stature, a profile that would be the envy of Aphrodite herself and foliage so impossibly long and split end free that it rivals the locks of Solomon's lover in the Song of Songs, regardless of how much it resembles a flock of goats bounding down Mount Gilead) Anthea is much more of a chantepleure than a chanteuse and this because she has the uncanny ability to cry as she sings. The challenge for the listener is to divine whence the tears derive, from the heart, from the soul or both. The resulting synthesis of passion expressed from her lips, and of understanding or movement of the soul on the part of the listener, is a sublime musical moment, profound it all of its tonalities.
Immediately experiencing Anthea Sidiropoulos when in song, is to be baptised by the igneous extrusion of magma erupting from deep within her soul. And herein lies the paradox. For igneous extrusions, once given coherent form from magma, either solidify under the surface, causing batholiths of pain and pathos, or they break free from the surface, run free for a while and, exposed to the air and all around them, harden and solidify into something finite and impenetrable. Anthea's musical performances on the other hand, retain their fluid magma form, their warmth, their ability to flow wherever their words propel them and though they may harden in the memory of the listeners, they flow inexorably on, never diminishing in depth of feeling. As Anthea herself commented in the aftermath of a recent performance, "bled a little too deep that night." If there is ever any proof of her divinity then, it is this. In her divine condescension, she sheds tears of blood for her audience, inviting all into a communion of chromatic absolution.
Further proof of her divinity can be found in her omnipresence. Scratch the surface of the Greek-Australian musical scene and it will not be long before you are granted a revelation of the emanations of her talent. Unlike other colleagues who distance themselves from the Greek community, believing that such associations could damage their career in the 'mainstream,' or others who view the Greek community as a quarry solely to be mined for lucre, Anthea Sidiropoulos is that rare thing: an accomplished musician, extremely highly regarded in both the mainstream and Greek musical circles, able to move seamlessly between both traditions, making valuable contributions to each of them, while all the time, never letting go of her core ideals, always engaging in community activism, stoking the dying embers of a society that must care for all its members. Further, and again this is where she stands apart and exalted from many of those who ply her craft, she is just as at ease with members of her own generation, or children, who she delights with the way she plays for them, rather than playing at them, or even members of older generations. At one of her more recent performances, the Boite -style night at the Thornbury Theatre, she was asked by her mother why she was sitting on the stage, rather than on a chair, along with the accompanying musicians. The ensuing Mother-daughter repartee read like a Greek-Australian sit-com, with the young girl trying to assert her own view of how to do things, in juxtaposition with directives from older and more authoritative voices. Yet this is part of Anthea's appeal: She is, when all said and done unashamedly, unabashedly, no holds barred, no beg your pardons, Anthea. There is no dissimulation, no ego, and no creation of art to conceal the artist. And this, the total honesty in which she stands before you and creates order amidst the chaos of psychic noise that assaults modern day life, is stark and confronting.
Whether she is singing rebetika, traditional, music, Greek hits from the sixties or seventies, rock, pop, funk and blues, or delving into her own original work, she is uniquely able to personalise her music, enveloping it in interpretations of her own, interlaced and interspersed with raw snippets of emotion and insight gleaned from her own considerable life experiences, including near-death experiences and a family history of social activism and campaigning for a more equitable and humane society. What emerges is not only a well worn favourite, or a note-worthy and successfully new arrangement, but a confession, a smile and an embrace of infinite scope and intimacy.
One of her songs, in which she touchingly pays homage to the first generation migrants is well on its way of becoming a Greek Australian classic. Its stirring refrain: «Με μάθατε να ζω, και γι' αυτό σας ευχαριστώ,» could be an ideology of an entire generation and uniquely, it is song in bilingual fashion, artfully displaying the intermingling and interdependence of the two cultural traditions as they exist in Australia. When it is sung, one can observe members of the audience mouthing the words, a remarkable achievement for a community that is only just beginning to realize that its own artists often exceed in capability and certainly in versatility, their compatriots in the homeland
Anthea's most recent Thornbury Theatre performance, an intimate gathering of hardcore fans, in which her talent was ably augmented by the talented musical stylings of musical stalwarts Iakovos Papadopoulos and longtime Anthea - collaborator Achilles Yiangoullis, was notable in that it coincided with the earthquake that shook Melbourne. Yet in the atmospheric basement theatre, with the strains of Marinella and other classics that are seldom sung or heard any more, playfully teasing their ear drums, no one even noticed, for the earth cannot move mortals in the way that only a goddess knows how.
It was Hesiod who confided that: "Happy is the man who the Muses love: sweet speech flows from his mouth." If the Diatribe this week appears mellifluous, it is only because it basks in the afterglow of a performance of a most macrifluvious expondent of the Muses' art. It is in her commitment to us and to her own message, that we are invariably privileged.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 June 2012