For centuries, we’ve celebrated Greece as the fount of knowledge and tradition. But now, finds ALIX NORMAN, it’s time for Cyprus to shine

“From a very young age, we were told that it was no good to be Cypriot,” says Constantinos Kyprianou.

“We were taught that we shouldn’t speak in our dialect, shouldn’t celebrate our culture.

Instead, we were directed to be Greek; informed that Greece was the motherland and we, as Cypriots, were somehow less worthy. We grew up being told that Greece was the fount of all knowledge, history, and culture.

“In short, we were taught to be ashamed of our Cypriotness. And that’s very wrong.”

As one of the co-founders of non-profit organisation Alternative Brains Rule (the other being Martha Georgiou) and the AfroBanana Festival, Constantinos has been championing Cypriot culture for years. He’s passionate about everything that makes the island tick – from its crafts to its customs, its cuisine to its community.

“And especially its culture,” he adds. “Because Cypriot culture is unlike any other. Yes, we draw strong inspiration from Greece. But we’re proud to have a culture that’s an amazing amalgam of nationalities and influences, of histories and perspectives that converge right here on this island.

“We’re a place that’s been enriched by many hands and voices down the centuries. And I believe this not only distinguishes us, but also enhances our collective identity, making Cyprus a living, breathing example of cultural synthesis and innovation.”

Cyprus ranks third in the EU (after Luxembourg and Estonia) for foreigners. At nearly 16 per cent of the population, this total is nearly twice that of Greece.

“It’s always been this way, hasn’t it?” asks Constantinos. “We’re an island, a strategic location, a trading nation – throughout the centuries, Cyprus has been an incredibly cosmopolitan country. In the past, that may have been seen as a bad thing. But now, younger generations are embracing difference – and Cyprus is full of diversity.”

The point Constantinos is making is that, in terms of culture, Cyprus is a force to be reckoned with – and he believes Greece is now beginning to recognise and appreciate the island’s growing cultural influence.

“Instead of this one-way street of music, art, food all going from Greece to Cyprus, it’s become more of a two-way process. Greeks are interested in what we’re doing now, what our culture has to offer. And I think that’s an amazing thing.”

The AfroBanana Festival is proof positive of this. This May, the award-winning Cypriot festival will be moving to Athens for the very first time.

If you’re a long-time devotee of the ABR, don’t panic! The festival will also be taking place as usual in Cyprus this summer, where it will light up the Lefkara area between July 4 and 7. But two months ahead of this local iteration, it’s going on the road: showcasing Cyprus at the ‘This Is Athens’ City Festival; sharing its unique brand of Cypriot culture with the Greek capital.

“On May 25, we’ll be flying the flag of Cyprus culture in Greece,” says Constantinos. “Working with local partners ‘&Beyond’, the ABR will be proudly exporting its blend of Cypriotness; bringing our music, our food, our art to Greece. It’s an important moment,” he continues. “Because every one of our musicians, artists, chefs, is strongly influenced by Cyprus – by its past achievements, present dynamic and future promise.”

feature3 2At the top of the bill is Monsieur Doumani, one of the most well-known bands to come out of the island in many a long year. Headlining ABR Athens, the ‘avant folk trio’ are known for their Cypriot approach to contemporary music: lyrics in the local dialect and traditional instruments are a feature of their work.

“Once upon a time, you’d go to see a play from Greece if it came to the local theatre, because it must be ‘good’. And you only really listened to Greek singers, because that’s what was ‘cool’,” says Constatinos. “But in the last few years, we’ve seen a culture shift – things are starting to move the other way, and bands like Monsieur Doumani have garnered a huge following abroad.”

Also amongst those who will be part of the ABR Athens is Cypriot rapper JUΛIO KOMPOLOI, whose lyrics are exclusively performed in the Cypriot dialect. Then there’s Limassol DJ duo Afrofox, who share a passion for dance music both traditional and modern. And DJ Vanesha, who represents Cyprus’ multiculturalism, her Cypriot and Mauritian roots lending her music an eclectic mix of styles and influences.

“This is what Cyprus is, isn’t it?” asks Constantinos. “We’re a mix of everything. And it’s time to celebrate that – time to revel in our diverse culture.

“For instance, one of our key participants is PASHIAS – a visual artist whose latest work is a video intervention based on Cyprus’ heritage. His incredible installation challenges the long-held notion that identity is something fixed. Instead, he’s suggesting we’re all an amalgam of fragments, a merging of experiences and influences.”

ABR in Athens will also be screening films from Cyprus’ award-winning Animafest, as well as showcasing the tastes of island.

feature3 3“For years, Greek and Cypriot cuisine have been lumped together as a whole,” says Constantinos, “But our island has a gastronomy all its own.”

At ABR Athens, the Fokou brothers, pioneers of modern Cypriot cuisine and the creative team behind Tersefanou restaurant To Patriko, will be serving Cypriot street food. And various local boutique wineries and distributors – including Vouni Panayia, Volta Wine Bar, and Mr Vertigo – will be inviting Greece to enjoy our island’s indigenous vintages and varieties.

“There’s simply so much that Cyprus’ culture has to offer, and the ABR Festival is a great vehicle for showcasing our island’s authentic, unique, diverse character,” Constantinos concludes.

Over the years, the ABR has taken place in Kiti and Kornos, in Gialia and Lefkara. And now, for the first time, it’s going overseas – bridging the cultural dialogue between Cyprus and Greece; transforming what was once viewed by some as a one-way influence into a vibrant exchange.

“Yes, we can thank Greece for a great deal of our knowledge and our tradition, our language and our legacy,” Constantinos concludes. “But now it’s time for Cyprus to shine. Time for Cyprus to step out on its own and show Greece – and the rest of the world – what we are worth!”

ABR Athens takes place on May 25 at the Mayor Dimitris Beis Park in Neos Kosmos. For more information, visit the Instagram account @afrobananafest or the Facebook page ‘AfroBananaFestival’