Alexia

POPULAR VOCALIST ALEXIA SPEAKS TO MARIOS STILIANAKIS

As published in Volume 8, NO 3, SEPT 2011

Alexia PEN 3 (Final) copyAlexia was born in the now occupied city of Famagusta in Cyprus. She studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and has lived and performed in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Athens. She is currently residing in Los Angeles and has been a successful recording artist in Greece for over 20 years; she has released more than 20 albums there, most of which went platinum or gold. For most of the 1980s, Alexia was unequivocally considered the “Queen of POP” in Greece and Cyprus where she single-handedly introduced and popularized the genre.

Throughout her career, Alexia has collaborated with a number of distinguished artists. For a period of 10 years, she teamed up with the legendary Mikis Theodorakis (ZORBA THE GREEK) and his Popular Orchestra; during that time, and as a tribute to Theodorakis’s body of work, Alexia recorded a double album showcasing some of the composer’s most accomplished musical creations. In her jazz album, IN A JAZZ MOOD, Alexia collaborated with Chick Corea, one of the most important pianists and composers of our time and with the great bassist, John Patitucci. Alexia has also performed songs for the soundtracks of two films, THE ROAD TO ITHACA and SAFE SEX, both of which went platinum in Greece. Alexia has also worked with the contemporary dance theater company, OCTAN, in the performance of THE LADY OF THE CAMELLIAS by Alexander Dumas – a CD was released in Greece with music by Aristides Mytaras. Alexia has also performed in three artistic films, all produced by Track7 and its founder and manager Kyriakos Raptopoulos. BUNKER BUSTER, the first of these films (directed by Joseph Dadoune) is currently featured in museums and theaters around the world. Alexia’s triple album, RE-BE, has been recently release in Greece and Cyprus to critical acclaim (Alexia is credited with the music/lyrics and is the sole vocalist). Selected music from RE-BE was included in the critically acclaimed and box-office-hit play, WATER, performed during a six week run in Hollywood, California (Written and directed by Marios Stilianakis).

Following Alexia’s request, we decided to conduct this interview on the veranda of one of the operating hotels along the legendary coast of the occupied city of Famagusta, Cyprus.

We arrived at the hotel after having visited Alexia’s family home in Famagusta, which left us with an emotionally charged frame of mind; it all seemed a bit surreal, really; for the idea of being mere visitors to a space that used to be and still is our birth right, never quite settled with either one of us. We did, however, manage to settle in one of the corners of the enormous hotel veranda overlooking the compelling blue of the Famagusta seashore and tried to remain undistracted by the wire rods and the Turkish military observation posts that could not possibly be viewed as anything other than what they truly are: invasive…

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MARIOS: Alexia, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and for your brilliant idea to conduct it here: your home town of Famagusta. The interview today is focusing on life learnings – YOUR life learnings. Could you please share the three most important lessons you’ve come to learn in your life and perhaps the circumstances that led you to realize these learnings…

ALEXIA: Let’s see what song is played at the beach bar of the new tenants.

MARIOS: Whatever it is, I hope they won’t stay for much longer and that soon, we’ll get to hear some Greek tunes instead… perhaps some of your music!

ALEXIA: Thank you, Marie! Yes, let us hope so! Well, ever since you mentioned your intention to conduct this series of interviews, and it’s very rare that people are given the chance to talk about what they’ve learned in life, I felt thankful that you included me and thankful for the whole effort because I’m sure these interviews will help the younger generations but also the older people, all of us… My first thought was that I haven’t learned anything… NOTHING, NOTHING! That’s what I’ve been thinking so I didn’t write anything on the subject, just a few words to help me organize my thoughts, just because I love writing, probably as much as I love singing, so the first thought that came to mind is LOVE. The first thing I’ve learned and I’m continuing to learn is to love.

MARIOS: To learn to love, to express your love, what exactly?

ALEXIA: Well, I’ve learned that nothing is ever a mistake as long as it has love as its foundation.

MARIOS: It always takes you to a good place… doesn’t it?

ALEXIA: Yes! For example, if you want to say something to someone, and you don’t know how to say it, try to draw energy from or think of it out of love. Say it from a place of love. Let love be the source – and I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s something that needs to continuously be worked on. I think I try to always start from the intended final destination: love! And, as I said, it’s not something I manage to always do, it’s not something you can learn once and for all – it is something that continues to develop. The ability to come from love and to do it throughout your life is a process that is in continuous evolution.

MARIOS: So you’re saying that, when we’re trying to express ourselves, to people close to us or even to strangers, a waiter, for example who approaches our table to take a food order…

ALEXIA: Yes, to both: to strangers and to those closest to our hearts… nature, a building, whatever we do as long as our words and actions are drawn from love, we can be sure that whatever we do or say will be righteous.

MARIOS: Did something happen in your life that acted as a catalyst for you to realize this lesson?

ALEXIA: I think something happens on a daily basis to remind me, to teach me this. When the time comes for me to go to bed, when I lay down on my bed and think of the whole day, whatever it is that happened during the day or was said that was not right, it all comes back to me.

MARIOS: You think of these things consciously before you go to sleep?

ALEXIA: I think everybody does. Many stay up all night, thinking of what they didn’t do right… it just comes to us at night as an account of the life we lead every day. And what ever is not a product of love will come to us. It’s not one event that brought me to this realization – of the need to act out of love – it’s an ongoing experience for me, and this daily account of my actions is part of the process.

MARIOS: You strive for it, continuously…

ALEXIA: Yes but, as a friend once said to me, by striving you bring on more reasons to resist. Rather, things should come easy and natural, that’s the way to get to love, act from love.

MARIOS: This effort to face the world from a place of love was something innate in you, ever since you were a child?

ALEXIA: Yes, it was a need in me. This desire was indeed a part of me, just as I believe it is a part of all of us, yet so many times circumstance changes us and for me, after my studies, when I returned to Athens and started singing as a professional singer and had all these multiple interactions with people and other “music professionals”, this effort of being a professional singer had become competitive, the environment made it that way… Of course I never believed or was convinced that it had to be like that, it was simply how the environment worked, it led people, the singers, the musicians, everyone, to become competitive towards everyone else…  You had to have a huge ego! Your name had to be placed on the left of the sign over the door at the club or of an advertising billboard…

MARIOS: You had to be the final act and come on stage last…

ALEXIA: Exactly! This way of life was against my beliefs, so I never managed my affairs the right way – I was always out of touch with “the business” in that way. I mean I tried, because I had many advisors but somehow, I never managed to do well in that area of the music world in Greece and, of course, the whole process exhausted me because it did not reflect my beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, I had many valuable experiences within the sphere of musical creation in Greece, but I don’t feel they were sprouts from the seeds of true love, even though I had much love in my heart for my fellow singers and musicians and I always wanted all of us to work as a unified group, in the company of each other… So at some point, around 2000, when my musical contracts with the record companies ended, there was no interest to renew the collaboration, neither from my end nor from theirs – and I felt free. I was a free singer, finally in pursuit of her own expression. I began a process that empowered me to actually create things that were made or originated from a place of pure love. I always wanted to live and operate in that way but the system was not really conducive to that. We all wanted to exchange love but we couldn’t, on occasion we did… I always did, to be honest…

MARIOS: Would you suggest to somebody then, to look at their life and see if there are any negative influences that prevent them from going to this place of love?

ALEXIA: I will get there… but let’s start with this: by leaving the established world of music in Greece, I was able to exchange love. But, come to think of it, even during those years, prior to 2000 in Greece, I was always able to exchange love even though it wasn’t ancillary to the profession or to one’s professional benefit or conducive to one’s advancement.

MARIOS: So the first lesson is to strive to have your life, your everyday actions and words, stem from love.

ALEXIA: Yes! And for me, it was paused but then I was freed. And before I started to sing freely again or write, because for a long time I wanted to write, to draw, make collages, I wanted to explore, I wanted to think, I couldn’t sing easily… So we were in Delphi for some recordings of a group called ELEFSIS and they wanted to film there because their music is based on ancient Greek writings so we were there and all of a sudden, as they were performing and singing (I had gone there as a friend, not to perform myself), I noticed that five or six people went and sat on the “Castalian Spring” to watch the performance and when the filming was over, they bowed before our friends and kissed them and cried, especially a man, I forgot his name, he was a Kahuna, which is like a shaman in Hawaii, so everybody was asking him questions and he was willing to answer and my heart was beating very fast for I, too, was dying to ask him a question. So as they were getting ready to board their bus, I approached him and ask his permission to ask him a question, he had this kind look and encouraged me to go ahead and ask. I said: How can I sing and not be embarrassed, how can I sing freely in front of people, just sing, for them and for the universe… He took my hand in his and he put it on my heart and said, “it has to come from here!” And I said, “thank you, that’s very kind of you, is that it?” I mean, is that all, I thought to myself… But, yes, that is all…

MARIOS: So it has to come from love…

ALEXIA: Yes, and here we are many years later and, yet again, it comes down to that.

MARIOS: A realization that stood the test of time for you! Wonderful! Shall we move on to the second lesson?

ALEXIA: To trust myself…

MARIOS: To trust one’s self…

ALEXIA: Yes, I’ve learned to trust my thoughts, my desires my premonitions my moods. Just to trust me…

MARIOS: Whatever your inner being tells you…

ALEXIA: Absolutely! And also, once I started trusting myself, I started trusting others again anew.

MARIOS: When you say, “trust yourself”, do you mean…

ALEXIA: Also the pain, the discomfort that one feels when not being who they ought to be. When we are not following our heart. It all comes down to that: the heart and the love. I wish I trusted myself in that way back then… the heart and the spirit!

MARIOS: So the second advice is to trust yourself and to trust IN yourself…

ALEXIA: Yes, to trust myself. I remember that Julie Andrews song… “I have confidence in me”, I used to sing that song with my mother in Famagusta. By the way, this used to be called CONSTANTIA HOTEL and I used to have my birthday here as a child in pre-war Famagusta so it’s very strange being here again. There are all these voices, as we’re growing up, telling us what we should be doing… outside voices… [At that exact moment, a group of Turkish people arrived on the balcony of the Constantia Hotel and were trying to pull a couple of tables together to sit, their voices carrying over to our little corner.]

MARIOS: Talking about outside voices…

ALEXIA: See how annoying it can be! Not annoying but they take you out of your route, the path your are bound for. So, anyway, when we begin to trust ourselves anew, whatever that might mean for people, then every choice we make is based upon the previous lesson and all of our deeds. We are connected to our nature…

MARIOS: We are in balance…

ALEXIA: We are completely in balance, as it should be!

MARIOS: Is there anything that brought this…

ALEXIA: Everything!

MARIOS: …about for you?

ALEXIA: Everything! Everything!

MARIOS: You were born with this too?

ALEXIA: No, I don’t remember when the distrust, or mistrust or no trust in me began. But I suspect it was after the war. I don’t really remember but it’s just everything around us. Because it’s not anybody’s fault, it’s just how it is. I mean we all learn something and we try to pass it on, “don’t do it this way, do it that way because that’s the best way…” But in reality, there is not only one way to do things, there are many ways to get where we should get, and each of us should decide how to do it on their own.

MARIOS: So listen to your inner voice and follow the path that you believe is right for you…

ALEXIA: Absolutely! And I believe that you will eventually find your way and that there are second and third and fourth chances and that you learn along the way but, yes, we also end up wasting time and one of my biggest problems was that for many years I would, for example, have a desire and I would envision something and I would get to the door leading me to that desired place and my heart would beat fast because my desire would finally be realized and I would turn the other way and go the complete opposite direction only to eventually get there again because chances are given to us constantly by, I don’t know, the universe, energy, God… So now, I strive to please myself from the simplest things! For example: There’s a flowerpot outside my door that needs to be replaced, repotted or moved from there and every time I walk into my house I go, “Oh my God, the plant is still there, it still bothers me” but even though it bothers me, I walk into the house and I leave the flower there. So I started from the simplest things: I move that flowerpot and I put it where I think it should be or I give it away or… something!

MARIOS: Just do something about things that bother you…

ALEXIA: Yes, rectify or change or alter the little things that upset you, even if it is a small flowerpot outside your front door. If you start from that, then you can do it for more important things…

MARIOS: Is this part of the trusting…

ALEXIA: Yes, so in a sense there are two lessons in one.

MARIOS: So listen to yourself, trust what your inner voice is telling you and then take action…

ALEXIA: And nothing is too small to be significant.

MARIOS: Take action so you can bring yourself back to a state of balance… is that what you’re saying?

ALEXIA: Yes… yes!

MARIOS: Alexia, thank you for your time and for your wonderful idea to conduct the interview in the occupied city of Famagusta, the home you left behind thirty-five years ago. And for sharing some of your life learnings with us!

ALEXIA: It was my absolute pleasure!

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