In our university, we have many successful up-and-coming musicians, and this rich talent is often displayed by STAR, especially by events such as the Bell Pettigrew Sessions. In this article, I’ll be exploring the most recent EP by Kristie, also known as ORPH€A, Rhapsody of Ogygia, with songs inspired by Homer’s Odyssey – so, as a classicist, it’s certainly right up my street!
But, first of all, I wanted to get to know her and her album a little more – so, during a socially-distanced meet-up in Rector’s Cafe over coffee, we had a little chat about it…
A: So – five quick facts about yourself. Go.
O: Okay, so… I speak multiple languages – Spanish, English, Cantonese – and I’m learning Arabic at Uni… I do fencing for the University, and I play the ukulele. My favourite series is The Shadowhunter Chronicles (by Cassandra Clare), and… Well, I’m a dog person!
A: Awesome – and very varied! Your musical name is ORPH€A – I wonder, where did the inspiration for that name come from?
O: The name was inspired by the myth of Orpheus, the mythical bard who could move rocks with the power of his voice. I thought I’d give it a female spin!
A: What was your inspiration behind the EP?
O: Well, I studied Classics at school, and that was where I came across The Odyssey, which really inspired me to tell the story of Calypso, a woman who’s largely been ignored by literature. I also read the Percy Jackson series when I was younger, which obviously had a role to play! But quarantine definitely helped birth this album – I was definitely stuck in isolation like Calypso when we were in lockdown, on my own little Ogygia.
A: And did you produce this album entirely by yourself?
O: Yes, I did! All of the instrumental, all of the vocals, and all of the lyrics were all me! (Sidenote: wow!)
Now, we get to the tracks themselves – but first, a little intermission for those of you who might be unfamiliar with the story.
Calypso is the daughter of Atlas (the one who holds up the skies on his shoulders), and as a punishment she has been cursed to live completely alone on an island, and to never have anyone who stops by stay (or be able to find the island again). The eponymous Odysseus, having been in an awful shipwreck, washes up after his travels on the shore of her island, and while nursing him back to health she falls in love with his good old Ithacan charms.
Then, things start to get messy.
Odysseus wants to leave to go back and reunite with his lovely wife Penelope and his son Telemachus, whom he hasn’t seen since the latter was a newborn baby. Calypso doesn’t want him to leave. Cue about seven years of crying on the beach, dubiously consensual sex, and then Hermes turns up and tells Calypso to let him go, which she does reluctantly after a long feminist rant about double standards in the mythical canon.
This album charts Calypso’s heartbreak as Odysseus prepares to leave her island, and now, if you don’t mind, we’ll dive right in.
The first track of the EP brings us in on a suitably-named basis (Homer’s famous epithet, Rosy-Fingered Dawn), and, listening to it is almost as if we’re floating into the world of Ogygia, Calypso’s isolated island in the middle of the Meditteranean. Kristie herself describes this track as almost like watching a sunrise – slow anticipation built up through quiet instrumental and muted vocals, and then the sudden brightness of the following song.
From an almost-Homeric perspective, Kristie’s gorgeous flutey voice tells us of what is going to happen – Calypso’s lover, Odysseus, will leave her – and this gives us a beautifully written double deeper meaning. The artist herself states that these repeated lyrics of loss could be Hermes, telling Calypso of the loss of her lover, and at the same time, Calypso knowing this was going to happen from the beginning.
The eternally-doomed lover. It’s enough to make you weep.
This track explores the love that Calypso feels for Odysseus, and, while I was talking to Kristie, this opened up a new track in our conversation – whether or not the two characters, Calypso and Odysseus, really did love each other.
A: So, do you think that Odysseus really loved Calypso?
O: Well, in a way, because he obviously really needed someone at that point. He’d lost all of his crew and almost lost his life in the shipwreck that preceded his arrival, so he certainly needed her help. But I wouldn’t say it was true love – more like a love of necessity.
A: Interesting. And do you think that Calypso really loved Odysseus?
O: I mean, similarly, I’d say in a way, because she’s so isolated and alone all the time, and having someone arrive who really needs her help would have brought up that love in her – but, again, it isn’t true love.
The drive of this track really comes from the heavy rhythm of this track, and the repeated melody in Kristie’s consistently dark tone of voice intertwining with the even darker, almost funeral-esque instrumental backing. Definitely gives a sense of doom to when Odysseus finally leaves!
Perhaps the gentlest song in the album, with a beautiful acoustic backing and pared back vocals, this is definitely my favourite. The perspective is Calypso’s, as she dwells over how she wants Odysseus to stay with her, but understands on a deeper level that he needs to leave. There’s a really deep sadness in the lyrics, with the wish to almost freeze time and keep the lovers in a tight embrace, away from the rest of the world.
The sea is mentioned often throughout this song, and the album as a whole too, and as well as the obvious reason of the setting of the narrative on an island, Kristie said that her inspiration came from our little town of St Andrews too!
Certainly a good song to listen to on a solitary pier walk.
(Drive Me) Mad
Now, if you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll know I have a strange compulsion to connect everything I can to Medea and my other favourite Greek women – this is no exception. This song, with it’s beneath-the-surface anger and snappy vocals, gives me the strongest Medea vibes – and I love how Kristie explores the anger of a woman (Calypso) who is so often given a more passive role in both popular culture and scholarship.
Kristie herself has stated that this song was inspired by reading about a lot of women being gaslit (often by men) in literature – too many to count or even remember, it seems – and it certainly works well.
You might notice also that these tracks are arranged in a very specific order, and this track is where this order really becomes apparent. We are moved through the five stages of grief as Calypso comes to term with Odysseus’ departure, and here we’ve most certainly gotten to anger.
Glad To Be Lonely
This song documents Calypso’s sadness at Odysseus’ departure, but in a sense she realises that maybe she’s better off without him. With a gentle but consistent piano backing, Kristie explores the absolute despair of her fictional muse, Calypso, through perfectly gentle vocals.
There isn’t much more to say about this one – except that it’s definitely a good break-up song, so take note!
The Ship on the Water
Finally, The Ship on the Water is a fitting end to the EP, finalising the trajectory of Odysseus leaving Calypso and her coming to terms with it. The question is whether she ever truly got over him – a question that Kristie herself answers with a definitive yes!
In my conversation with the artist, she spoke of the ship as a metaphor for death, as Odysseus sails out into unexplored waters, and effectively gives up immortality by not staying on Ogygia – which certainly shows that not only can she sing, but she can also create some pretty complex metaphors!
And there we have it – the ending of a beautiful EP and the beginning of hopefully many more to come. I hope to hear more from the wonderful Kristie – and if we do have another lockdown, maybe we’ll get another EP out of it!
Listen to Rhapsody of Ogygia here.