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Culture

Babis Koulouras, the Artist Bringing the Poems of Constantine Cavafy to the World

ATHENS – Babis Koulouras is a composer, lyricist and performer from Syros. He became world famous because he is the artist who managed to move Greeks and foreigners in the east and west by singing and reciting with the Cavafy Group the poems, by heart, of one of the greatest Greek poets Constantine Cavafy. With the Cavafy, Kavadias, and Gatsos Groups he has created, since 2006 he has given more than 80 performances in dozens of cities and historic places in Greece and abroad such as Alexandria, the Great School of the Nation- the Patriarchal Academy of Constantinople, the Theological School of Halki, the Megaro Athens and Thessaloniki, New York and Boston, Harvard and Helsinki Universities, Paris, Brussels, Granada, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Stockholm, Delos and Delphi archaeological sites, Athens Roman Agora etc. The National Herald had the pleasure of meeting him and chatting with him about his great work.

Babis Koulouras, center with the Commander of Mount Athos, shipowner Thanasis Martinos, benefactor of the homeland, and major sponsor of the Cavafy Team. (Photo: Courtesy of Babis Koulouras)

TNH: What makes the show C.P. Cavafy – Apexo kai Tragoudista (‘Sung by Heart’) with the Cavafy Group of the Culture Society of Ano Syros stand out and be distinguished not only in Greece but also abroad for more than 18 years?

Babis Koulouras: I believe that Cavafy himself with the power, Greekness and universality of his poetry makes the show attractive from the start. Then, come the great musicians of the Group and the excellent singers of the songs Chrysoula Kehagioglou and Elpida Gad, my recitation of the poems by heart, the short narratives and reports from the expressive voice of Nicoletta Roussou, the spoken time that lasts without slowing down or tiring. That’s how this performance – this tribute became so beloved and that’s how it travels through time and the world to this day.

The Cavafy Group in Syros with Babis Koulouras. (Photo: Courtesy of Babis Koulouras)

TNH: Recently your CD was released with the title C.P. Cavafy – Apexo kai Tragoudista. How did you select the musical compositions and recitations included?

BK: In every manifestation of my life, inspiration has always played a decisive role. Thus, in composing and reciting the poems of my CD, inspiration was what determined my choices. I refrained from setting to music and reciting poems by the Alexandrine poet that have become iconic by some authors such as e.g. the songs Polis and Apoleipine o Theos Antonion by Dimos Moutsis or the exciting recitation of Ithaca by Sean Connery. The CD with 16 songs and 14 recitations of Cavafy’s poetry is already available on Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3OxhMXJ.

TNH: We enjoyed you three times in New York: In 2011 at the Stathakion, in 2013 at the Chiotiko Spiti with your tribute to Nikos Gatsos, and in 2017 with Cavafy and Gatsos at Stathakion and also at St. Demetrios School in Astoria. What impressions did you get from your contact with the Greek-American community?

BK: The enthusiasm with which we were welcomed and embraced by our compatriots in New York and Boston, but also throughout the world, flooded our souls with joy, pride, emotion and Greece. The community wants to party, sing, dance, celebrate, but they are also “as if ready for a long time, as courageous” to welcome and listen with attention, love, and respect to our poets. I saw at our performances eyes teary with nostalgia and emotion. In the Diaspora there is a more sensitive Greece than the ancestral one, and has a lot of light and a thirst for what is truly worthy.

Archbishop Elpidophoros of America presented the medal of honor to Babis Koulouras at the Theological Scholl of Halki. (Photo: Courtesy of Babis Koulouras)

TNH: In this period, you are again preparing a personal CD with love songs, one of which is ‘Pistepsa’ (‘I Believed’) performed uniquely by Georgina Karahaliou. Will you tell us about this CD?

BK: I have started a CD with 15 love and social songs, six of which are already on YouTube with great and beloved performers such as Kostas Karafotis and Karahaliou- https://youtu.be/4F2qcc2rvMQ, Ilias Vrettos, Anastasios Rammos, Loukas Yorkas, Giannis Solaris, et al.

I have chosen 15 of the many songs I have written and with the cooperation of my sound engineer-director son Frangiskos at the end of the year I believe it will be completed and released.

Babis Koulouras in Syro. (Photo: Courtesy of Babis Koulouras)

TNH: You have been involved in theater, singing, television, radio, and sports and you continue your creative path with enthusiasm and passion. What inspires and motivates you?

BK: Opportunities and dreams have no age. Passion plays a dominant role. It inspires me that it is beautiful, worthy, and fair. Like the love for our Greece that gave the first light of Democracy and Civilization to humanity. At the age of 60, I started our travels around the world. Today, at 75, the journey continues.

Performance in historic Delos. (Photo: Courtesy of Babis Koulouras)

TNH:  What is your next artistic step?

BK: I dream of returning to New York and presenting our Religious Cavafy at the reborn St. Nicholas Church at the World Trade Center. In the presence of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, of course, before whom we had presented our Cavafy at the Theological School of Halki.

I want to thank you and the archetypal newspaper of Hellenism, Ethnikos Kirikas/The National Herald, for the great honor of presenting a tribute to my life and work. In closing, let me confess to you that without some “human angels,” as Nikos Gatsos says in his Amorgos, i.e. the benefactor of our homeland shipowner Thanasis Martinos, the Amorgian Greek of New York Nikos Gavalas, the New York businessman with roots in Syros George Mandilaras, Helsinki native Kimonas Papadopoulos and Blue Star Ferries, our trips might never have happened. We thank them!

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Great School of the Nation, the Patriarchal Academy of Constantinople, with the Cavafy Group. (Photo: Courtesy of Babis Koulouras)

Babis Koulouras is a composer, lyricist and performer from Syros. He was born in 1947. He is the president of the Cultural Society of Ano Syros and member of the Culture Committee of the Municipality. He is married to Nicoletta Roussou and has three sons.

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