Acclaimed Greek-Australian rapper Luka Haralampou – better known as Luka Lesson – used to hate poetry growing up, but today he is one of the best in his field globally.
Luka has toured internationally, released two collections of poetry and two full-length music albums and is currently working on two projects: Odysseus, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, and Agapi & Other Kinds of Love, which he will be premiering in Canberra next month.
“I didn’t like poetry in high school at all, the way it was being taught was just so dry and I didn’t connect with it at all,” Luka said.
“I was listening to hip hop all the time in my headphones in class and no one really built a bridge for me between poetry and the poetic devices that are taught in the English classroom with what I was listening to in my headphones. Then I realised it’s pretty much the same thing in a different context.
“It wasn’t until after high school that I started to fall in love with hip hop … then I started freestyling and busking on the streets in Brisbane on weekends and eventually started performing my raps acapella (without the music) and participating in poetry slams and poetry events.”
Luka has been writing for almost 20 years and said he most connected with rap and hip hop artists such as J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Akala, Eminem and Tupac, who he credits with bringing storytelling back and turning poetry into something everybody engages with.
“Listening, observing and consuming music and poetry stories by both Ancient Greek storytellers and modern hip hop storytellers and musicians are kind of my favourite things to connect with at the moment,” he said.
Luka said he is most interested in poetry that is vulnerable and authentic, that raises people’s consciousness.
“I write about vulnerable things, you know self-reflective things and I’ve written about political things and every time I see something that [gives me] a fire in my belly and that I need to speak out about, I then write something for that too,” he said.
With his love for Ancient Greece, Luka said bringing his show to Canberra and premiering it alongside the National Museum’s new Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes exhibition was an ‘act of fate’.
He was originally meant to premiere the performance in Melbourne in 2020 and then Brisbane in 2021, but these were cancelled because of COVID-19, allowing him to premiere it in Canberra this year.
The Northern Rivers poet said he was excited to perform at the National Museum, alongside all the remarkable artefacts.
Luka described his new performance as a futuristic and ancient hip hop spoken-word and music event that transports audiences to both ancient and modern Greece, while recognising different types of love.
“I decided that we need more love in the world,” he said.
“There are many different words for love in ancient Greek, some of them we still use in modern Greek, so I decided that it would be powerful to explore these types of love and give people a way of identifying the different types of love.”
Luka explores all aspects of love in his works, from the romantic kind, to the one we feel for family and friends.
The former Australian Poetry Slam champion, who has performed with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and had his lyrics studied across universities and schools globally, will be showcasing his latest performance Agapi & Other Kinds of Love at the National Museum of Australia from 27 to 29 April.
“It’s political, it’s vulnerable, it’s full of love, it’s full of beauty, it’s gentle and there are moments where it’s really intense, but it’s the most ‘me’ project that I’ve ever done without feeling like I need to tone anything down.”
Luka said people will be able to purchase a special limited edition copy of his latest book at Agapi & Other Kinds of Love at the museum, which won’t be released anywhere else until later in the year.
To book tickets to Agapi & Other Kinds Of Love, visit the NMA website.