a young man Luka Lesson is at the microphone reading from a large book

Making love and making music in a new Greek-Australian story

28 February 2024
A hip-hop theatre show inspired by the Greek words for love
Composer James Humberstone and award-winning slam poet and rapper Luka Lesson have come together to create a new Greek-Australian work combining ancient poetry and modern hip-hop to explore every aspect of love.

Sydney Conservatorium of Music teacher and composer Dr James Humberstone is working with Greek-Australian slam poetry champion Luka Lesson on a research project exploring ancient Greek stories and modern-day politics. The project includes a time-collapsing stage show filled with passion, romantic love and the “good sweaty stuff” of love making.

The new show called Αγάπη (Agapi and Other Kinds of Love), opens in the Lennox Theatre at Riverside Theatres this week as part of the Greek Festival of Sydney.

The work is inspired by the Greek words for love and shows us how love prevails despite the trials and tribulations of the ages. It is equal parts rap concert, poetic musical and classic history lesson.

“Agapi is universal love,” said Luka Lesson, performer and creator. “Agapi is that which binds the universe together. It’s what makes up every cell of our bodies. In my belief it’s what makes us follow our passions and find inspiration.”

“Eros, on the other hand, is a romantic kind of love. This is making love, this is flirtations, this is all of the good sweaty stuff”.

a stage setting in a theatre, one man is at the microphone speaking with two musicians standing behind him.

Luka Lesson on stage with musicians in Αγάπη (Agapi and Other Kinds of Love).

Based on Plato’s The Symposium, Αγάπη (Agapi and Other Kinds of Love) begins with Socrates telling a banquet of friends everything he learned from a mysterious lover named Diotima. The gods then take the audience on a journey – collapsing time and space to arrive in modern day Athens, where the two reincarnations of the Ancient lovers fall in love (again) in the midst of a riot.

The stories are told in verse by Lesson, who is supported by two onstage live musicians. The work was co-researched and composed by Lesson with Dr Humberstone, who has a creative practice in experimental composition.

“Collaborating with Luka Lesson has been an exhilarating journey where two distinct musical worlds collide, merging contemporary composition with ancient instrumentation and sound worlds, with the raw power of hip-hop storytelling,” said Dr Humberstone.

“In Αγάπη, Luka is connecting with his Greek heritage and telling stories that are set in both ancient Greece, and modern Athens in the midst of riots. It’s truly a transcultural work,” he said. “It will be thrilling for audiences.”

Hip-Hop and musicology

photo of a map sitting at a piano with a laptop open

Dr James Humberstone, composer and researcher.

Αγάπη is part of a wider research project looking at hip-hop culture and ancient Greek musicology. The stage show premiered at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra in 2022 alongside the Ancient Greeks exhibition from the British Museum, and will tour Australia before heading to Athens in October.

The innovative small-scale show, co-created and researched by Humberstone and Lesson, merges hip-hop beats inspired by the Athens underground low-bap scene with music for ancient instruments such as the Shah Kaman (a type of Persian spike-fiddle) and the violin, and modern instruments such as the Theremin, synthesisers and Ableton Push, an electronic instrument. The performers are drawn from the pop and world music scenes.

“I wanted to see how these ancient types of love, from romantic love, to friendship love, to universal love, would react to being thrown in Molotov cocktails and beaten by batons of police in the gutters of Athens,” said Lesson.

“Working with someone of the calibre of James Humberstone meant he was sonically able to go to those places with me. He researched Ancient Greek musical modes, modern Greek underground Hip-hop (lowbap) and even looked to Greek composer Vangelis (Bladerunner) for inspiration,” Lesson said.

“What we have created is a clashing of times - flipping from 416BC to 2024AD - a poetic piece of art that transcends definition - where poetry, rap, classical music, ancient history and modern politics are brought together by love, light, music and lyrics.”

Agapi and Other Kinds of Love

The work was initially commissioned by the La Boite theatre and the Brisbane Festival, but was postponed due to the pandemic. It was then sponsored by the National Museum of Australia who co-produced the first three performances in April 2022. A solo performance was later produced for the Red Dirt Festival in Alice Springs. The work has many future bookings, as well as a related album and book release.

Dr Humberstone and Luka Lesson have worked together on a number of projects before, including Odyssesus in 2016.

“Luka is such a musician that in many ways I just feel like I’m “filling in the dots” because his poetry reads like music,” Dr Humberstone said. “And Luka has taught me that this makes sense, because in Ancient Greece, storytelling and music were part of one tradition. I like to think that we’re respectfully following that tradition, but also saying something very new, through the merging of our different cultural experiences. It’s definitely a passion project.”

Agapi & Other Kinds of Love plays at Riverside Theatres from 29 February to 1 March and then tours Australia. Bookings for Riverside here.  Photos: James Humberstone.


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