A hip hop remake of an ancient Greek epic spreads a tale of human survival

20 June 2016
Hip-hop collaboration re-imagines Homer's Greek epic The Odyssey

Greek-Australian hip-hop artist Luka Lesson has teamed up with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music on an ambitious recording project and world-premiere event. The pilot project, Odysseus Live, re-imagines the 3000 year old Greek epic The Odyssey by Homer, shining a spotlight on modern day tales of human oppression and survival.

Odysseus Live sneak peek

Odysseus Live, re-imagining the 3000 year old Greek epic The Odyssey by Homer

In a unique collaboration between the self-described ‘conscious hip-hop artist’ Luka Lesson, composer and educator Dr James Humberstone, US music producer Jordan Mitchell and video artist Claudia Dalimore, around 70 student musicians are participating in the powerful new work that will be performed live in a sold-out event at the Conservatorium on Sunday 26 June.

Dr James Humberstone, a lecturer in music education at the Conservatorium, says a call out to students at the beginning of the year to take part in the voluntary music project immediately drew huge interest and participation. “The students saw this as an opportunity to be part of something that is unique, highly innovative in music-making, and has the potential to make an impact on audiences across the world.”

Titled Odysseus Live, the 85-minute long work sees a convergence of spoken word, hip hop, electronic and classical music that transports the ancient Greek poem into modern day. Through Luka Lesson’s libretto, he brings to light the lessons of ancient wars that echo current battles of human survival, as only recently seen by the displacement of millions of people in the Middle East and Europe.

“Today I see the world on the brink of impending disaster. I view the Syrian Refugee Crisis and the struggle that people face right now as they escape war, death and tyranny as a parallel journey made by the Greek King of Ithaca, Odysseus, during the Trojan War,” said Luka Lesson.

“I see the Odysseus battles with the giant Cyclops as a metaphor for our own struggles with dystopian governments that have a singular vision of profit over what is good for people. I also see the Sirens as the constructs in the world that are designed to distract and undermine people in their own Odyssey,” Luka added.

Not unlike the ancient Greek poets who performed to packed amphitheatres to educate, entertain, and to share stories and culture, Luka Lesson, with the backing of a 30-strong choir and 40-piece orchestra from the Conservatorium, aims to deliver a rousing performance that will allow audiences to find a new contemporary meaning in the ancient Greek text.

One of the lead vocalists and members of the choir is Assyrian-Australian Lolita Emmanuel. The third-year University of Sydney music student says that Odysseus Live has been an amazing project and she hopes that it will start a conversation about what is happening to Assyrians and other minorities around the world.

Black and white image of Luka Lesson with producer Jordan Mitchell pictured, blurred, in the foreground.

Luka Lesson, writer and hip hop artist, (with Jordan Mitchell, foreground) reimagines the 3000 year old Greek epic The Odyssey. 

“As an Assyrian the notion of displacement is very familiar to me and my community. I feel like there is this constant sense of displacement in the back of our minds. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire in 612 BC, we haven't had a country to call our own. Assyrians were spread out all over the Middle East and the rest of the world. Like Odysseus, we are geographically and temporally separated from our land.

“The story of Odysseus depicts a long, dangerous journey filled with hidden obstacles, which I see reflected in the current refugee crisis. Fleeing with nothing but the clothes on your back, being separated from your family, showing up on people's doorsteps and hoping that they won't turn you away. Refugees fleeing the Middle East are experiencing all this and more today,” said Lolita Emmanuel.

The artists’ collective vision for Odysseus Live is that the work will be picked up nationally and internationally through orchestras and other ensembles adopting the music score and performing it to packed concert halls across the world.

“The dream of the artists and musicians, who have dedicated hundreds of hours of recording and rehearsal time, energy and creativity to create Odysseus Live, is that the powerful piece of music will reach and unite people across the globe, and maybe even make its way back to the ancient foothills of Olympus in Greece!” said Dr James Humberstone.

Odysseus Live interviews with artists and students

Interviews with Luka Lesson, Dr James Humberstone and Con students featuring in Odysseus Live.