Saturday, June 02, 2012


The last time I spoke to musician and rebetika aficionado Hector Cosmas was in connection with his visit to Australia in June last year, accompanying Agathonas, stalwart of the genre. Perusing my proposed diatribe “Agathonas and Co,” Hector noticed that I had described Agathonas voice and gravelly and his head as bulbous. “You don’t describe someone’s head as bulbous,” he explained to me, with a completely expressionless countenance, “unless you intend to insult. Further, his voice is anything but gravelly. Instead he sings sweetly in the upper register. Apart from that, I admire your dexterous use of personal pronouns and the attempt at humour.” Moments later the dead pan act was shattered and we were both enmeshed in throes of laughter while trying to emulate Agathonas singing sweetly in the upper register WITH a gravelly voice. A half hour after that, and he had transported all of us into worlds unseen and half forgotten by the unfathomable power he wielded over his instrument of choice, the violin. With Hector, music was not about performance or replication of notes. You could feel the sounds emanating from the vibration of the strings and travelling directly to those parts of your body most poised to evoke emotion. His was a musical communion that spoke directly to all who would partake of it and he shared it generously.

Hearing the news of Hector Cosmas’ sudden demise at the age of forty six back in March could only be successfully paralleled to a sharp kick in the guts, coupled with mystification as to the reason for its occurrence. For a mediocre violinist who abandoned the classical path in order to delve into rebetika, the example of an accomplished violinist who mastered classical music and used it as a springboard not only to master the dying technique of Smyrneika but to preside over a unprecedented revival of the genre here in the Antipodes (and unlike the brief and crass baraki culture flowering the late nineties, which foundered and fell upon the inexplicable westernization and to use the vernacular ‘pimping’ of modern Greek music) it has proved to be remarkably vibrant and enduring as a permanent movements within the Melbournian Greek music scene, such as it is until the present day,) and then to transport that passion back to a motherland from which his family had been detached for seventy years, is inspiring and immensely motivating.

At the “Concert for Hector,” staged a few weeks ago in memory of the great man, at the Brunswick Town Hall, opposite from the Retreat Hotel, which for many years had become the centre of rebetika in Melbourne, friends, family and fans congregated, not so much, in the words of his sister Sophia to mourn, but rather to celebrate his multifaceted life and larger than life personality. As I stared at the three black and white photographs of Hector hanging above the stage, depicting him holding his violin lovingly, I felt the woodeness of the cliché of celebrating a life after it has departed, rather than mourning it, acutely. As a community, as people, we do little to celebrate our own lives and those of others while we are actually alive. There is no point in celebrating a life after it has gone. Instead, we should value all those things that make us and those around us special while we still can. If Hector became a brilliant musician, if he was able to touch the lives of all those around him and if, as has become lore in musical circles in Greece, he was able to become that rare thing, an accomplished, successful musician in Greece beloved by all and with no enemies or rivals, then that was a result not only of his own unsurpassable genius, his passionate love for his art and life but also, a consequence of the love and appreciation of all those whom he was able to move, enthuse and impassion. He was a bright and lonely star of comfort against a night sky of existence that is often dark and foreboding. While we are all privileged to have been able to celebrate Hector during his tragically brief lifetime, now that he is gone, I mourn not only his genius, not only for the pain of his young family in losing him but also for all those who go through life without celebrating anyone or anything. If there is anything to celebrate then in Hector’s passing, it is that he was celebrated, feted and appreciated, commensurate to his talent and the love he most generously shared.

This is a sentiment echoed by Costas Cosmas, Hector’s bereaved father. When I embraced him, fighting back my tears, he told me how happy he was to have been able to share so many remarkable moments with his son, playing sport, listening to music, running back home during performances to retrieve forgotten violin bows but most of all, sharing their lives together. He also painted a picture of a fiercely independent critical thinker. As a five year old boy, Hector accosted the reverend of his school when he asserted that love was only to be found within the Christian communion stating: “You are wrong. I know people who aren’t Christian and they have love. Love is everywhere.” This was a manifesto of principle that would guide him through his life. At the conclusion of the concert, Costas Cosmas remarked how he felt the immediacy of Hector’s love and guidance as he struggled to find the correct fingering on his baglama in order to accompany the other musicians paying tribute to him. Yet it was this love that caused him to play the correct notes, time and time again.

On stage, musicians that have over the years shared Hector’s passion and have performed with him, interpreted rebetika songs that particularly inspired Hector and struck a chord with him. For Argyris Argyropoulos, close friend and fellow musician, the agonizing poignancy was evident in the timbre of his voice as he intoned familiar lyrics that formed a touchstone of a shared existence in his honour. A heart-warming interpretation of Hector’s beloved Beatles followed by his cousins, ingeniously accompanied by Argyropoulos on the baglama was a fitting reminder of Hector’s role in furthering the cause of multifarious musical disciplines within multicultural Australia and subsequently, in monocultural Greece.

As the waxing of the organized Greek community is overshadowed by its waning, it is now difficult to relive or revive the exciting, heady days of the generation of university students who were inspired by modern Greek poetry, literature and music and formed a lively sub-culture that energized the margins of that community. In this, as in so much else, Hector Cosmas was a main protagonist. Talents will undoubtedly emerge in the future, but Hector and those who he inspired and who continue his tradition will most likely be the last of the Australian born members of our community who will engage that community with those talents rather than exclusively embrace the mainstream, simply because there is now limited interest or commitment in investing in structures within our community to provide support or even an audience for such luminaries. Yet for those who do persist and who will remain, the light that still shines from Hector despite his passing, will assuredly illuminate their way.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 2 June 2012