‘The blues is very empowering’: Anthea Jewels Band bring Rebetiko to Regional Victoria

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‘The blues is very empowering’: Anthea Jewels Band bring Rebetiko to Regional Victoria

Words by Tammy Walters

“Every kind of music starts with the blues,” Anthea ‘Jewels’ Sidiropoulos states.

As the frontwoman and namesake of Melbourne homegrown and traditional blues act, Anthea Jewels Band, and a Janis Joplin tribute artist she knows a thing or two about the building blocks of the broad blues genre.

The blues is a vital organ of the music industry anatomy. A genesis of the Deep South of America, the blues holds one of the richest histories of music dating back to the 1860’s. Its derivative from African-American culture of blue devils – melancholic verse and solemn spirituals in the form of chants, work songs, call-and-response – the blues offered basis for structure in form, song-fabric and field. 

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The combination of its dense sonic-palette, sombre undertones and supermassive delivery allowed the blues to divide and conquer, evolving into a superorganism for subgenres throughout the south. There’s the classic three of country blues, Delta blues and Piedmont blues, but the expansion into livelier settings opened the blues up to a world of variation including rhythm and blues, swamp blues, bluegrass, boogie-woogie, electric blues and blues rock, which would of course form the foundations of genre pinnacle, Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The blues family tree has continued to grow but there is a distant cousin that also deserves recognition.   

As the twelve-bar blues blew into the 20th century, across the Atlantic, a rumbling ruckus was shaking up in Asia Minor, more specifically in Smyrna and Constantinople. Following the 1922 occupation and devastation in Smyrna, refugees fled to Central Greece with not only their suitcases, but with sorrow and song, a genre and cultural movement we now refer to as Rebetiko, or the Greek Blues. 

Playing instruments of Ottoman tradition like the bouzouki, Rebetiko too was birthed out of marginalised lifestyles discussing social stratum atop of doleful chords but has evolved to be an expression of traditional urban music in Greece, intertwining the blues rhythms with dance music of cross-European influence like flamenco, tango and bal-musette.  

Rebetiko has a rich reputation in Melbourne with Anthea Jewels holding the flame for the bluer shade of the genre, with her heritage leading her music journey.

“I do consider myself as a blues singer and of course I have an audience to vouch for that so to speak. I believe you never own your reputation, it’s always out there in the ether and people kind of observe you and either love you or not. I’ve been very privileged to have a life where I can be diverse, and I guess that’s where I can celebrate my Greek lineage. The Greek Blues, Rebetiko, is now very prevalent throughout the music scene in Melbourne because Con Kalamaras reached out and then spurted it everywhere in mainstream Blues,” she explains.

Like the blues origins, hardship centres the songbook of the Anthea Jewels Band. A cancer diagnosis and treatment regime in her late 20’s, Sidiropoulos’ story is one of survivorship, sang out through songs like ‘Chemo Blues’ and ‘Life Keeps Me Moving On’, with additions to the collection in the works.

“I’ve written, I guess, life inspiring songs that I’ve experienced in my life. There is a song cycle that we’ve recently produced and recorded so I have been very busy. At the moment I’m putting the songs down that I wrote when I was a cancer survivor in my late 20’s and which is very, very many moons ago and thankfully I’m still here to tell the tale. To be inspired from that experience – you gain a lot of strengths in types of darkness, if you like. And that’s basically how the blues were born,” Sidiropoulos explains.

The Blues Train Celebrates ‘Women In Blues’ with a New Concert Series

As the groundbreakers before, Sidiropoulos uses the blues as an outlet and creative catharsis, but her aim is ultimately to uplift her audience.

“Every hardship and every chaos that we experience in our lives, we have to have the need to express it. In my profession, it’s singing and songwriting, that was my way of to paint a painting, and expressing in other ways. So it’s always about what you can do for yourself, but you also do it for others and what they can bring to the table and how they can be inspired and do something for themselves to better themselves and get themselves out of a pickle. The Blues is very empowering. People think you sing all these sort of downtrodden songs but I find it really empowering and as a woman especially, we’re sidelined so this is my way of empowering myself and others.”

The Anthea Jewels Band will be sprinkling that empowerment to crowds at the Queenscliff Blues Trains Women In Music concert series.

Joining the likes of Laurel and the Painkillers and Andrea Marr, the concert is a celebration of the females that make up our local blues ecology, and a chance for Sidiropoulos to share the Rebetiko way with the local community. 

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