Aphty Khea may seem like she belongs in outer space, but her attention is very much focused on Planet Earth. Adopting the persona of a ‘chameleon humanoid’ extraterrestrial who is dismayed to find a planet ‘poisoned by a myopic perspective and destructive world view’ (sounds about right), Aphty Khea adopts the role of a ‘sonic healer’ set to ease the world’s pain and refresh our perspective, with spacious, downtempo compositions that sound like fka Twigs, Banks and Zero 7 being beamed from beyond the moon.
‘Peacebloom’ is one particularly restorative track. Taking its name from Aphty Khea’s spaceship, the mixture of delicate melodies and heavily swung beats is a combo that will soothe the hardest of hearts. Now ‘Peacebloom’ has a new video, following the artist in full space exploration mode, and we’re delighted to exclusively reveal it to the world today:
Aphty Khea doesn’t just talk a good game when it comes to the planet’s problems though, she walks the walk too. A Greece-born, London-based activist who is unafraid to approach social issues both in her music and her actions, she’s spent extended periods volunteering in the refugee camps of Calais. We asked her to tell us more, and give us some insight into the experiences that have shaped her music and her attitude.
Oh yeah, and we also got the shopping list for the ‘Peacebloom’ video:
MusicMap: The name Aphty Khea – what does it mean?
Aphty Khea is a mish mash of a few words… It’s a combination of ‘afti’ (‘she’ in Greek) and Khea is a mix of my real name and ‘Gaia’. The pronunciation is different however, leaning more towards the Greek sounding way… So yeah, rootsy and mythic…!
In your music you inhabit the character of an alien visitor – in this persona, what are your first thoughts about our planet?
Varied thoughts really… Tremendous beauty is encountered, and equally tremendous ugliness and corruption. Intrigue, curiosity, and beauty at first, I’d say… But the more Aphty gets to experience Earth, the more of the latter she will encounter. She will most probably use her chameleon skills to merge into her environment and gain a deeper understanding. Future music will reveal this or not, however…
You spent time volunteering and teaching music in the refugee camp known as ‘The Jungle’ in Calais – tell us a little bit about your experiences.
When most people ask me this, I usually ask them if they have 3 hours to spare haha… This is always such a hard question. It’s one of those things that you just cannot reply in a few sentences. Well at least not in order to paint an accurate picture. The ‘Jungle’ was a horrible yet very special place, where cultures and religions and people merged into this special little community built on suffering. It’s so weird now that it no longer exists. Talking about a place that once was, and so many aspects of that place, sadly, truly understood only by those who experienced it. And the beautiful aspects of that place were present only because of a lot of suffering.
Assisting in the maintenance of the camp aside, teaching music and English, and just through socialising with the refugees I feel gave to a lot of them a sense of ‘normality’. In particular with one of my very good Sudanese friends, I managed to teach him a few tunes on the guitar, and that gave him such satisfaction and sense of worth. He was so dedicated to learning the tunes and would come every afternoon to practice and learn more. I think he’s one of my best ever students! It definitely added a little bit of light to his darkness… And he was very thankful for it. I really can’t get deeper into this subject in reply to such a broad question, as I will end up writing a thesis..!
The camp has been dismantled since you were there, how much do you know about what happened to the people who were living there?
I’m actually in Calais as I write this. Winter in the northern hemisphere is generally an awful time to be a homeless person, let alone a homeless refugee. I do realise it’s no longer winter, but in Calais it might as well be. When the camp got dismantled, the French government arranged for busses to send people to ‘CAO’ camps around France, without telling them where they were being sent to. Not to mention that they only sent enough buses to accommodate roughly 6,000 people, rather than the actual amount of the refugees that were living in the Jungle, which was closer to 10,000, leaving a few hundred people with no place to go, and as a result getting arrested for still being in the general area of the dismantled camp. Very poor handling by the French government, it was more like sweeping all the dust under a carpet and pretending it’s not there.
I have many refugee friends from the Jungle that I have no idea where they are right now or how they are. Some I couldn’t even keep in contact with, as they were children. During my current Calais visit however, I received positive news about two refugees that I hold really close to my heart (one of them is a child), which brought me great relief and happiness. But to return to the current state in Calais, the vast majority of refugees still there are all underage, unaccompanied minors, some teenagers as young as 13, a lot of them 13-17. My sister is 15, and I just could not imagine her going through what they do on a daily basis for such an extent of time in the freezing cold.
With the organisation I frequently join in Calais (Utopia 56), we distribute food, sleeping bags, clothing, whatever it takes for them to survive the cold nights. Seeing such young faces in such horrid conditions is really disturbing and really highlights how society has failed them. A lot of them, unfortunately, have a romanticised idea of the UK, and because of their great effort and tribulations, it seems like a sort of ‘paradise’ to them. But the current Tory government is nowhere near helpful or has any interest in helping out with this humanitarian crisis, let alone to help out its own UK poor, disabled and minority citizens.
How important is social commentary to your music? Do you feel high-profile artists should be speaking out more?
Every artist has a right to write or create art around whatever subject they feel they relate with and can express themselves through. I do kind of feel, however, that there is not enough focus on social commentary and worldwide issues in recent years, at least in my eyes. For some reason, I sometimes get the impression that there is a notion of it being ‘uncool’. Why? I’m not really sure, maybe because it makes people feel uncomfortable, or dare I say, guilty even, sometimes? Especially in mainstream art, I think existentialism doesn’t really ‘sell’, because it doesn’t make people want to buy, so in return it’s not really promoted.
A lot of popular culture now feels like it’s more about tuning out all the stuff that make us feel uncomfortable and creating a peachy bubble. Now, I really feel that art, in this case music, must provide people with the opportunity to tune out and create their own escape bubble, I really do find it necessary, from personal experience as well. However, when we find ourselves to have so many of these bubbles, mainly due to social media, where you see what you want to see and everything you come across has been tailored to your interests, you’re most probably not going to be confronted with issues that you don’t like or that make you feel uncomfortable. The discomfort in having to ‘deal’ with social issues, especially those of great importance, I feel can be interpreted as the echo of our western privilege. The fact that we can choose to tune out all these issues and not ‘deal’ with them is solely because of our privilege, especially since we are not the ones actually experiencing or truly ‘dealing’ with them.
I don’t really think there is currently a balance between escapism and social commentary in music, but then again this is just my opinion, and I am no art-subject-dictator. Art is meant to liberate people. But, like Nina Simone has said before, ‘an artist’s duty… is to reflect the times’. Social commentary is not the main focus of my music, but it plays a major role in it, especially recently… And I will continue to experiment with ways of expressing it… And keeping the balance, as well.
You currently live in London, how has the city influenced your music (if at all)?
When I first came to London, I wanted to front a rock band… How my aspirations have drastically changed! The city has inspired me and influenced me in many ways, and the people I have met here have all influenced me in their own way at different periods of my London life. From soul and hip-hop, to experimental and noise rock, to electronica, techno and house. And it will hopefully continue to influence and inspire.
What sort of music were you exposed to when you were growing up?
Some of the first CDs I ever owned were ‘Justified’ by Justin Timberlake, ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child, ‘The Eminem Show’ by Eminem and ‘Fallen’ by Evanescence..! But I grew up with my mum playing a lot of Pink Floyd and 80s music. I was also exposed to a lot of musicals and especially a lot of classical music, due to my classical studies from when I was 10. When I was a teenager I didn’t really appreciate electronic music… Now I can’t imagine not listening to it! I do love me some techno, any time of the day.
You’ve represented Greece in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest – can you tell us about that experience? How did it affect your perspective on the music industry?
The Junior Eurovision. What an experience. One that kind of haunts my past. I can never seem to escape it, as hard as I try! At the time I wanted to participate in the competition, because other than my music studies, that was the only musical related thing I could do on a professional level. It really taught me a lot. A lot about the entertainment industry, and especially TV. I really did hate TV by the end of it all. It was a really ‘dirty’ industry. Everyone was constantly out to stab you in the back for their own personal gain, you couldn’t trust anything anyone would say… it was tiring. But at the same time I had an amazing experience, and learnt all the right things about the wrong things, if that makes sense, at a very early age. Something that I am extremely grateful for. I now know what to not waste my time, aspirations and energy on as an adult and artist.
TV is all about the views and the show. Even if it is a music contest/show, as much as you’d like to think it’s about the music, it’s most likely not, but it would be more about the ‘story’, even if the story isn’t really that real, cos that’s what brings in views. In addition the Eurovision in general is all about politics, believe it or not, hah! Whether it is about the politics of what country you’re representing, or to do with the relations you have with those in the entertainment business. I just didn’t expect it to be so ingrained in the kids’ version as well. But again, it was an experience that taught me a lot and one that I am extremely grateful for.
Are there any Greek artists past and/or present who’ve particularly inspired you?
There are actually! But it’s usually specific songs of theirs, rather than their whole discography. Usually I get inspired by greek folk songs that have been done by many artists throughout the years, one specific song is ‘Thalassaki Mou’, because it reminds me of my dad, since he sings it all the time. Whenever I get homesick, I use some manipulated Greek elements in my music, it’s my form of paying tribute (again, you will hear this more in future releases).
But some Greek artists I really respect and sometimes find inspiration from are Stelios Kazatzidis and Haris Alexiou.
What/where next for Aphty Khea?
Social commentary will be evident in my next releases, if you know where to look, or listen… Musically, there are some progressions and ventures onto deeper electronic grounds, but done quite subtly (I won’t be releasing a one-hour techno set, if that’s what you’re thinking!) Also in the near to further future, there might be some further clarification and experimentation on Aphty’s story/past/future… We shall see!
Aphty Khea’s Aphty Khea EP is available now on The Sound Of Everything UK.
‘Peacebloom’ Video Credits:
Creators: Charlie & Ben
Assistant: Ashley Robinson-Dodd