The New Year is here again. And as with each New Year, humanity world-wide opens a new page, makes a fresh start, and envisions new and good things to come. As with each ushering of the New Year, people around the world celebrate with good music, dancing and most important of all, family and friends. At 2019's beginning a special Tribute to Leonard Cohen is fast approaching in my hometown Athens, in Greece.
Contemplating the upcoming tribute to Cohen in Athens, I can't help look up on Cohen for what he has accomplished. In Cohen's work I recognize his deep knowledge of his culture, so much so, as to be in a position to share it with others in a way that can speak to all, beyond nationality, race or religion. Cohen was in a sense an ecumenical High Priest, reaching way beyond the believers of his cultural village. His lyrics ¬– like a good ecumenical prayer book – speak to all: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists.
Part preacher, part poet, Cohen got on the altar with his microphone and addressed the "believers." He did it in Athens in July 2008. In song he rose to bless the community with his words, and to open wide the doors of communion between man and his God, between man and man, and between man and woman. I was one among the thousands who had gone to pay their respects, and receive the blessing.
"I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice
And twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond,
They tied me to this table right here in the Tower of Song."
Fortunately, Cohen was aware of his gifts and shared them with the world graciously.A great connector who bridged between sacred and profane; Cohen elevated the profane to the sacred and downloaded the sacred for all to be part of, with a DNA so very communicative that got straight into your heart.
In his words we bathe, in his words our hearts open to receive, in his words we are allowed to feel, sense and rejoice in being human; made of body, and soul. I ground myself back to the now and reach out to my interlocutor Moses Nahmias and ask: -How did you get involved with the Tribute to Leonard Cohen project?-"When Cohen died it kind of felt that I lost a “relative”. My wife mourned him for days and we started playing his records and reading articles about him in the way one looks to old photos of his own past. When I saw him tour in Athens in 2008, I felt he was much more than a performing artist, he had become more like a guru with serenity and kindness transcending through his presence. He really made a great impression on me and in a way reminded me of my father who is alive and kicking."Moses continues "Serenity and kindness are two characteristics that are missing from everyday life in Greece these days and we need them. I decided to try and produce a concert to honor him and reread his material in a fresh way. I chose three young female singers coming from different genres of music as leading vocalists and three excellent soloists who like to experiment. My idea received a warm welcome by artists that I admire and with whom I enjoy working with. The outcome is an out of the box tribute to his music.Nalyssa Green with a fragile innocence in her voice, the deep and expressive voice of
Sugahspank and the cultivated and versatile voice of Lou Is, along with
drummer virtuoso Seraphim Bellos , the excellent George Dellis on the keys and the melodic Adonis Goulielmos on the guitar created a unique live partnership in honor of the great Leonard Cohen." Moses pauses.
"We are now about to perform at the Municipal Theatre of Piraeus on Saturday February 2, 2019. Our very first show in Athens took place last September on Cohen's birth-day. We had picked his birthday to take off with the tribute in his honor."
-Why had you picked his birthday? I ask Moses.
-"This was a symbolic act, to somehow affirm that Cohen is still alive through his words and his music. Cohen is still so very relevant to all of us here in Athens, so very appreciated and loved; a legendary song master.
- Cohen is an all-time classic; In a sense a bit like Greece, bringing us all home to ourselves, aligning us to our essence, to our humanity.
-"Yes, indeed, and in his own special way he had loved Greece and recognized its gifts. Cohen was inspired by Greece's aesthetic beauty, simplicity and everyday people. He spent his summers on the island of Hydra where he met one of his muses, Marianne and wrote some of his best material."
I thank Moses and think to myself how today, in Cohen's absence, it feels so very urgent for new priests and priestesses to rise to the occasion, and fill the void this ecumenical priest has left with his passing.