Xylouris White is the meeting point of two cultures

Xylouris White is the meeting point of two cultures

Photo by Kim Hiorthøy
Words by Dan Watt

In 2020, one can confidently say that Melbourne is the cultural hub of Australia, with each inner-city suburb contributing in their own way.

For example, Prahran is strong on the nightclub front, St. Kilda has the al fresco scene wrapped-up and Fitzroy has the pub thing covered. However, a sleeping giant is finally awaking to the north – Brunswick.

Unlike the other aforementioned locales. Brunswick’s appeal, ostensibly, is hard to pin down. Experientially, however, what makes Melbourne’s inner north a truly unique place is that its inhabitants are as Aussie as they come, yet rather than be shaped by an Anglo-European heritage, they mostly come from Mediterranean origin, whose families migrated between 1950 and 1970.

For the past 30 years, the annual Brunswick Music Festival has managed to represent the area’s diversity through a series of performances at local venues, with most of the events culminating around Sydney Road.

This year’s festival sees two-piece Xylouris White performing at Estonian House on Tuesday March 17. The duo are the veritable personification of Brunswick’s cultural heritage, a meeting point of two cultures.

Georgios Xylouris, who sings and plays the Greek lute, known as a laouto, is from the island of Crete. His musicianship was passed on to him from his father Antonis Xylouris, or Psarantonis as he’s known in the musical world, a renowned Cretan singer and lyra player.

Drummer Jim White was born in Clifton Hill, and as a young man was at the forefront of the experimental rock scene in the band Venom P Stinger, which featured Mick Turner on guitar. White and Turner would later go on to form the Dirty Three together, with the addition of violinist Warren Ellis.

“You know how Melbourne is so Greek, right?” White begins. “Well, in the 1980s he [Xylouris] was brought out here to accompany his father and play to the Greek population of Melbourne.”

“As a result of that he ended up living in Melbourne for a few years, in Brunswick and Flemington, and that’s when I met him all those years ago.”

White’s introduction to the Cretan lute player coincided with the formation of the Dirty Three, which resulted in Xylouris joining the trio for many gigs at bars and cafes around the Brunswick area. Then, Xylouris returned to Crete, yet the bond formed during those performances kept the pair in contact. However, they didn’t collaborate musically again until White visited Crete in 2013.

“Since I had first heard Cretan music in my twenties, it appealed to me in an intrinsic way,” he says. “It appealed to me in a ‘rock’n’roll’ way.”

Crete is the large crescent-shaped island that sits at the southernmost point of the Aegean sea. It’s a country that has benefitted culturally from both Eastern and Western rule, as close to Cairo as it is to Athens.

“I think the fact that the lute is tuned to a lot of drone strings really appealed to me,” White explains. “So, when I finally got over to Crete to see Xylouris my interest had already been sparked and then I fell in love with the culture, the lifestyle and the people, so the next step was to form the band.”

Whether you’re a fan of old or new, White believes this show at Estonian House is the best way for anyone to enjoy their music.

“Live is our forte,” he says. “Cretan music comes from its people and in the squares of the towns that are dotted across the island.”

“Georgios and I are looking forward to bringing it to Brunswick.”

Catch Xylouris White at Estonian House for Brunswick Music Festival on Tuesday March 17. Head to the Brunswick Music Festival website for tickets and the full program.