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.”
“Is community now a form of protest? Is expression a symbol of sovereignty? Can a drum solo bring us closer to peace on Earth?”
Young Steven Sedalia is digging deep into important questions with his new single that drops today, September 12th. In the song, Children of the Land, Steven explores the lifestyle of “shamelessly expressing compassion and love to everyone and everything”.
Steven moved from sunny North Carolina to even sunnier Hawaii because he felt called to the island. In order to explore deeper ways to express himself through his music he needed to explore alternative lifestyles as well.
From the farm where Steven lives on the island of Kaua’i he answered some questions of mine about the new single, the nature and people of Hawaii and the current protests taking place at Mauna Kea.
“She gives us shelter, we give her songs.”
What motivated you to move to Hawaii?
I moved to Hawaii because like many people, I felt called here, well what is it that called me? I’ve come to know it as the aloha spirit, a guiding intuition that moves through everything. I came to Hawaii because I wanted to cultivate my musical expression in a deeper and more thorough manner, so in order to do that I needed to move further into an alternative lifestyle.
So by that I mean I wanted to stop the cycle of paying rent and bills, and relocate to an organic farm where I could invest my energy into the music and into the land as an exchange for a roof over my head, and I could learn how to grow my own food.
Has your music always had a specific, earthly message?
Yes, my first love and fascination was nature, I was always outside as a child exploring and just being in the woods and the wonder, ya know. So as I got older my fascination admittedly expanded to include romantic love, and this emotional exploration was the initial guide of my writing, primarily through poetry.
Through change and heartbreak, universal love began to guide my expression and on these new horizons is where I discovered my songwriting. So my songs have always naturally combined organic imagery of the earth, the beauty of a lover, and the love that lives in all of us and guides us.
It seems to me that a lot of music out of Hawaii features stories and lyrics about the earth and natural powers. Why do you think the island brings out that energy?
Oh wow yes well these islands are extremely full of creative power, in Hawaii, we call that mana. I mean it is literal and figurative, the Big Island of Hawaii continues to create new land, and there is a new island in the process of being formed under the ocean surface right now! So this creativity resonates strongly through all of the islands, and that translates into the creation of song and dance through the humans!
Another factor is this land is so young relative to other land on earth, even the oldest island is still far younger than most of Earth’s land. So you have comparatively youthful ‘aina (land) and an ecosystem that is constantly in motion and change, and the tropical climate gives a dense feeling of fullness and life.
On another level, these islands are small outcroppings of land surrounded in all directions by the ocean. From all directions, the ocean is moving toward the center, with everything that it carries, it is bound to bring all sorts of mana that inspires art. So much so that I feel that these islands truthfully love music. They love to be sung to, they pull music from people. I have seen so many people who were never “musicians” learn insanely fast to express in this way.
My expression too has deepened in ways that I know come directly as a result of wanting to give love to this land. People are inspired by shear beauty, we love the feeling of awe, it creates elation and a desire to praise. These islands are alive and though we cannot understand it, they have an expression that is analogous to our emotions, desires, and feelings. She gives us shelter, we give her songs.
“This is the meaning of kapu aloha, to act only from love, similar to the proclamation made by Gandhi, of non-violence. Historically and contemporarily, many musicians in Hawaii use the power of song to express social consciousness…”
Music seems to have been a strong force at the Mauna Kea protests, how is that situation affecting you and the people of your island? Do you feel there are many musicians on Hawaii that use their voice in protest or for good?
Music is the universal uniter, so anywhere people come together to honor the sacred, songs are an integral factor in the community. Mauna Kea is a perfect example of how important music is to hold the human spirit in faith of the good.
What is going on is deep, and really painful for so many of us that love Hawaii. It is another example of the way that colonialism continues to cut and steal and desecrate traditional indigenous land.
I live on Kaua’i, and each of the islands hold several heiau (temples), and certain heiau are connected through the aloha spirit to Mauna Kea, so ceremony and prayer are held at these special places to move mana across the islands to the mountain.
Additionally, there are ocean protests where people paddle out on surf boards in huge groups in support of the Mauna. These kia’i (protectors/guardians) all over the islands gather and simply by gathering and sharing and holding space, the voice of the Mauna is expressed.
This is the meaning of kapu aloha, to act only from love, similar to the proclamation made by Gandhi, of non-violence. Historically and contemporarily, many musicians in Hawaii use the power of song to express social consciousness, for example, the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, better known as IZ, many may know for his song “Over the Rainbow,” but not as many know about his advocacy and activism for Hawaiian sovereignty and independence. IZ is a legend throughout Hawai’i, so the activism is woven deeply into the musical culture here.
What do people protest against on the island besides a telescope on a sacred mountain (for the outsider, Hawaii might seem like a blissful and peaceful place)?
It is blissful, and it can also be extremely turbulent. Most people around the world only think of Hawaii as peaceful, gentle, unreal, and as a heavenly paradise. And it can be all of those things! But anyone who lives here will know there is a deep tension that results from hundreds of years of colonialism and oppression.
An all too familiar story, Hawaiians were literally forced by missionaries to quit practicing their spiritual traditions. Not to say that they didn’t practice in secret, they did, but that is just one example of the kinds of oppression that occurred; and the building on top of Mauna Kea is an extension of that destruction of culture.
The telescope represents something more; the protectors are not anti-science, they are anti-colonialism. The widespread activism that lives here is based in the Hawaiian sovereignty and independence movement. More specifically, here on Kaua’i, we have companies that want to divert the sacred river headwaters for profit. The wai wai (water/life) is everything, even the language tells us that water is life.
As a result of our incredible year round growing season and isolation, unfortunately Hawai’i was used as a guinea pig for genetically modified crop testing, beginning decades ago. So there is damaged and contaminated land caused by these GM companies and their pesticides. It has been a direct cause of much sickness and illness, and it continues today.
Do you partake in any activism outside your music on a regular basis?
Other forms of activism are more personal, so we go into the mountains off of the trails simply to plant the kalo, not to harvest, but simply to give back to the land, and return the kalo to its home. I feel that every organic garden is a statement of rebellion against the industrial agriculture system and a proclamation of self sustainability, and a direct communion with the elements, mana, and the aloha spirit that give us life!
Additionally, I practice what I call emotional and devotional activism, which I define as shamelessly expressing compassion and love to everyone and everything. The song “Children of the Land” is directly inspired by this lifestyle.
Music is a profound expression of sovereignty, a weapon of peace, a tool for togetherness and truth, and a language of sharing love. It remains to be seen if a drum solo can help bring world peace, but if you ask me, I am without a doubt that it can!