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Island Seeds “We are all with our eyes outside of the island, but then our hearts are really anchored in the island”

Alexis Sunder and Ezgi Akgurgen, members of the bicommunal group Island Seeds, say that the Home for Cooperation and “United by sound” project is to thank for the existence of the band.
They speak about their new album “Beginnings”. They say that it reflects the different music backgrounds of the group members, with “sunny” and positive melodies and lyrics speaking about self-discovery, communication and getting over obstacles in life.
They also mentioned that they “envy the Stray Cat”.
They stated that “there is a bit of a rebellious act to the way a stray cats sorts of wander around streets as if they own the place. Then you try to reflect your own life and how free or not free you actually are. That was an interesting contrast to explore.”
About the origin of the band, their new album, their inspiration and many more, we had the chance to discuss with Alexis Sunder and Ezgi Akgurgen, members Island Seeds, in an interview they granted to Voice International.

Question: Let’s start with the band itself. Tell me about its history and the origin of the name…

Alexis: We first got together in the spring of 2022. In celebration of the 10 years of Home for Cooperation. They did a concert here in the buffer zone and they have this project called “United by sound”. This project is supposed to create links between creators, musicians and artists from both communities. So, the idea was that the project coordinator Lefteris Moumtzis, who is quite famous in the island, was going to bring various artists together for one concert. But the chemistry was so strong when we actually met. So, we met here for coffee and started chatting a bit. It started with jams essentially, playing different things together. The chemistry was so strong and there was a really beautiful atmosphere, that very quickly developed into a much more settled line up with people. And then also into a more targeted attempt or effort to write songs and the album.
The name itself predates us. During the pandemic Lefteris and “United by sound” and Home ( Home for Cooperation) they wrote a song, with like 40 artist from both sides. The song was called “Time is ripe” and they recorded it from home when everyone was in lockdown. And so I think that they named it “Island Seeds” resembling the seeds of peace and hope I guess. I think that was the seed let’s say for Lefteris to then create something more established.
Ezgi: For me taking part in the creation of “Time is ripe” was very exciting. I got to meet Lefteris online for the first time and a bunch of other musicians, that I had no idea about, even those in northern side that lived on the island and on the south. It was definitely connecting artists.
Alexis: But that’s the thing right? I had no idea, I didn’t know any musician from the other side. I lived abroad though, so I was out of it. But coming here, I didn’t know anyone and it was really through “United by sound” and Island Seeds that I got to do it.
Ezgi: It is Lefteris to thank for that.

Question: On the occasion of your new album being released and presented on Wednesday. What shall we expect from you?
Ezgi: We are 7 individuals, initially 8, who started creating music by jamming together and we took a different direction with the next three songs. But I think you can expect to hear each individual’s kind of background, because we all come from different musical backgrounds. So, you can expect to hear just a mixture of different genres as Alexis describes it the “Mediterranean Soul”, which has soul elements, funk elements maybe here and there, psychedelic elements. So, I think each person brought their own taste and style to it.
Alexis: I mean it’s a modern sounding album, that I find it quite honest and quite sweet and it’s quite positive. If I listen to the melodies, they are all very sunny melodies. The lyrics are all about self-discovery, communication and getting over obstacles in life. So, there is a positive message without being too preachy. It’s a positive, sunny album that has Cypriot elements for sure but also quite western style. I make this joke of saying that it’s the album and the band it kind of reflects all of us. We are all with our eyes outside of the island, but then our hearts are really anchored in the island. So the sound kind of reflects that.

Question: Do you find inspiration in common tradition?

Alexis: When we started writing the songs the process was more “let’s get to know each other”. So we went beyond the bicommunal/Cyprus identity level quite early and kind of went deeper than that into more personal contact and personal struggles. For example, “what is your reality on the island?” kind of a thing. So in that sense not really. We definitely ‘ve been inspired by things on the island, like if look at “Stray Cat”, where the inspiration is only from the cats (laughs). I mean they are everywhere. Also the reality of the Green Line and the Buffer Zone, but at the moment I wouldn’t say that the inspirations were Cypriot traditions as such. I’m not excluding it in the future, but as a first “beginning” (laughs), I think the source of inspiration was different. It was more like “okey how can I know more about this person?” and write a song about the common feeling, it might be different scenarios but the common possesses might be similar. So, that was the idea.

Question: Speaking about your song “Stray Cat”, you told us about the origin of it but do you also “envy the stray cat”?
Ezgi: One hundred per cent(laughs). Alexis, Cemre and I are the three biggest cat lovers in the group and yes, we always say how much we envy not just the cats, stray dogs as well, who can freely cross the borders. But its also by the movie “Smuggling Hendrix”.
Alexis: I mean its all a bit tongue in cheek of course, but there is a bit of a rebellious act to the way a stray cats sorts of wander around streets as if they own the place. Then you try to reflect your own life and how free or not free you actually are. That was an interesting contrast to explore.

Question: All your songs are written mostly in English. Shall we be expecting either a modern version of a traditional song or a bilingual perhaps song in the near future?
Alexis: We managed to stick a few expressions, Turkish and Greek in “Stray Cat”. That was quite a funny process to do in the studio. I don’t exclude it. To be honest this album wasn’t really written with a particular target in mind. So, I think the concept came out after we wrote the songs.
Ezgi: It was very natural. It went very naturally to that point where we got where we said that it would be fun to add(Greek and Turkish). But I am not excluding it either in the future.
Alexis: I think it kind of depends on what triggers our fantasy, intellect and inspiration. I think that’s a first step. We focused on the personals. But I can sense the whole bicommunal situation is in the room. It’s in the atmosphere that we create. I don’t exclude that there might be something revisited. I don’t think it will be as clear cut, let’s say Monsieur Doumani or something.
Ezgi: Yeah, I would like to say also, and I think I speak for all of us, we have our own music separately outside Island Seeds. I personally don’t write Turkish and I know that Cemre also doesn’t, so we all naturally write in English. So, I think that is also why 90% of the lyrics are in English. Personally, it will be a challenge for me, but I would definitely love a challenge like that.
Alexis: I think there are bands that do it quite well already without us, so maybe that’s just not our place, in the musical spectrum of the island.
Ezgi: As long as it will sound natural and honest.

Question: From your experience of this bicommunal collaboration, do you think that it could be an example to the people of the island and can music be a path towards peace in Cyprus?
Ezgi: What we are doing, in my world at least is not something new. Looking back, I had other examples like Cahit Kutrafalı, always collaborating with Marios Takoushis or Stelios. I had other examples in the music world, where people collaborated with each other from both communities. Well, that has inspired me, so 100% this is going to inspire someone else. That’s kind of how I see it. It’s inevitable in my opinion.
Alexis: I think our mere existence is and can be an inspiration if people choose to see it in that way. You can choose to see things in different ways and derive your own conclusions, but I think the fact that there is a band that operates across the Green Line and brings musicians from either side together that’s already an interesting proposition. Whether that translates into something bigger, I don’t know. I know the music plays a part, because we are human and human nature dictates trying to communicate and music is an absolute wonderful form of communication. So, I think it’s also how much of intention goes behind this sort of things and how you link them all together. But I think bottom line is what we do and I think maybe that’s how it works so well so far, like I said before we moved very quickly beyond the bicommunal nature thing which might sound fancy or a novelty and I get that and I respect that. For us though, we just went like “okey you are just another human being, we are going through the same stuff”. And I think once you start focusing on the human interaction the one-on-one, one-one-two etc, I am not going to say the rest becomes noise, but then the essence isn’t in everything else. The essence is in that one-on-one, reminding us of the human element.


Kallis Antounas-Voice International 2023

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