Living in the middle of capital city riots will surely influence anyone. For Xenofon Razis, an Athens native, the riots and protests in his city went hand in hand with a change in his career and gave birth to his solo music efforts.
Razis has a mother from Marocco and a Greek father and a very strong and open view of the world. He firmly believes we are all citizens of planet earth and should not claim any land as something that doesn’t belong to others than ourselves and should not deny to immigrants the chance to live anywhere in peace. This, and more, is what he sings about, passionately.
On my nomad travels around Europe I was fortunate enough to catch up with Razis in Thessaloniki, on the other side of Greece. Razis normally gives out interviews extremely sparingly so we consider ourselves humbled and lucky to have caught a moment with the singer-songwriter.
Thessaloniki has a dear place in Razis heart and I got to chat with him for a short while in one of his favorite venues where later that night he’d play a 3 hour gig. Below is a transcript of that interview.
[Recorded audio interview transcript:]
Why the concert here [in Thessaloniki]?
“I have a very nice relationship with Thessaloniki people. The guy that has the bar, we used to bring bands together some years ago. Rover Bar is really a nice place. Overall it’s one of the nicest places in Thessaloniki that does punk rock shows and stuff. These guys [playing through the sound system] Vodka Juniors are one of the biggest punk rock bands in Greece and they also played here once.
Other bands like Despite Everything also played in this bar and of course a lot of punk rock bands still play here once in a while from Greece and from abroad. It’s a nice a place, a small venue, with no entrance.”
How long have you been performing?
“Well, I have been performing with this project as a solo singer-songwriter from 2011 when I stopped playing with my main band and some of my songs from when we used to play they were recorded differently and then I made them acoustic because I didn’t have any bands to play at the period from 2011 to 2013. For two years I was only with this project. So I re-recorded songs from electric to acoustic. And that’s how it started. From the time I recorded I started touring in Greece and main Europe. In pubs mostly, and in places like social communities, and stuff like that. I always support these places.”
Has your music always been political?
“Partly yes. In Greece as in many other European countries the rise of right wing parties, patriots and nationalists is already flourishing unfortunately. My old house used to be downtown Athens, I was living right across the Greek Parliament lets say two streets below it. Many riots and big protests against the radical and cruel decisions of the Greek government towards the working class took place almost right outside the flat I was renting next to Syntagma Square , so I was already taking part in these protests not only for living pretty close but mostly because as everyone else I was deeply affected by these harsh government decisions and new laws. All my life I’m part of the working class, in between low salary jobs and not quite good working conditions so you can’t just avoid all that and pretend that everything is going well. You must react and fight back raising your voice.
Technically my acoustic project and its music started together with all the main riots… because of living around them. So a lot of stuff that I wrote came from these things. Many of my songs are about working class struggles, with anti-racist and anti-fascist lyrics and especially for not being so possessed to patriotism… or I don’t know… you are from a place right? It doesn’t mean you own the place. If it’s a city or a country or whatever.
In my opinion we are citizens of planet earth. And that’s what one of my songs is about. If you read the lyrics for example of Athens City Prison and the name of my previous record, it’s about this. I believe that by coincidence you were born in a place and you are named as Athenian or Norwegian or whatever. It doesn’t mean anything. Just happened that your parents met there and had you born where they lived at that moment.
We are all human beings, we should be all equal. We all have to remind ourselves about stuff like that and of course remind it to others cause there are people that consider themselves better than other nationalities or better superior because of skin colour or coming from an older or richer nation or whatever which is wrong to think like that.
Many Greeks immigrated through the years from many places that they used to leave like in the 1920s from Micra Asia and Smyrna and coming to Greek mainland they were treated with respect. Same thing happened when lots of Greeks immigrated in Australia or all over Europe and the US. As a nation with strong immigration background we should respect immigrants from other countries that are mainly stuck to Greece for a lot of reasons (mostly because the EU closed the borders etc) and treat them as human beings and not as illegal aliens or whatever.”
What drives or motivates you to put something into a song?
“Many things. For example I write about war, I am an anti-war person, I don’t like war. When someone wants to create war he wants to create hate. I used to write songs when the Afghanistan war started. And the Syrian war. I also write about social life, I am a human being, I have feelings. So I write about relationships and experiences and adventures. Emotion is something that goes around my songs, the feeling of friendship, solidarity, equality and also stuff for the underground scene. All this and much more is in my songs.”
What about the protest music scene in Greece? Are there many artists using their voice for good?
“Yes, a lot of bands from mostly the punk rock scene and even the metal scene. Mostly they are anti-fascist music groups , you know, they don’t like the music scene of Greece which is mainly very commercial. This kind of stuff that I sing and that I write and the stuff that other bands from the punk rock scene or the punk hardcore scene write it might not be that popular but they are in a good place. They do it because they want to get away from the everyday life, say something different about all the shit that goes on around us and be different from the mainstream stuff on the radio and all that.
Whatever happens to other countries in the underground scene happens also here. We have a very strong underground scene in Athens and some other Greek cities. In my opinion we’re getting better than the past. Unity is strong, stuff is getting more and more organised. There are a lot of things that should be solved. Even in community places but we’re in a good way, on a good roll and lots of shows are going on almost every weekend.”
What about other protest artists that inspire you?
“One of my favorite singer songwriters among others is Woody Guthrie. He was a white American anti-fascist and anti-racist musician in a period where white supremacy was taking over and all the African Americans were oppressed and treated like slaves. That guy in that period , in a way of his own, was against all this brutality and all the racism that was going on around America something very brave for this period of time. And his music apart from being inspirational in lyrics is also really nice. He is like the root of many anti-fascist musicians. He was a guy in a place where everything was very tricky and very dangerous for people who weren’t white and he wrote songs in solidarity of the oppressed African Americans. So this guy and his music was something that was stuck in my mind for many years.”
What is coming up for you?
“This album came out last year from two labels, one from Germany, Mad Drunken Monkey Records, Noise Effect Records which is from Thessaloniki and with the help of MacSlon’s Radio, a German guy that has a web radio with a kind of celtic punk music. And also the other big help I had was from Germany again from Tape or Die, they made the same record on cassette. This happened last year. Now, I have been touring around ever since. I did a tour in Germany, some months before. The plan is now I stop playing that much because I have some other stuff going on like the fact that I have a child now, I am a dad…”
“Thanks. I also have two other bands that we’re going to release our records within 2019/2020. So I am focusing mostly to the other bands and my family. I am going to put this project on a hiatus and maybe only play for some specific shows around Greece or Europe when the time comes.”
So it was lucky to catch you?
So finally, is there anything you want to Shout from the rooftops?
“Well according to my style, I don’t know how to sing, I just shout. So, it’s something that you don’t have to be afraid to do, just shout your guts out to whatever that is inside you and eats you and don’t be afraid to shout to what you think is wrong.”
Check out Xenofon Razis’ music on Bandcamp.