Harmony Week provides an opportunity to celebrate Australia’s diversity and recognise the things that bring us together.
As part of the Library’s Harmony Week blog post series, we spoke to Griffith Alumni Camilo Lopez. Camilo is Co-Founder and Artistic Coordinator of Voxalis, an organisation dedicated to presenting exciting musical performances in Brisbane. Originally from Venezuela, Camilo spoke to us about the path that brought him to Australia and his experiences in leading and collaborating with a diverse group of musicians.
What path brought you to Australia?
My reason for coming to Australia is probably one that many people can relate to. Unfortunately, my home country Venezuela has been going through a very difficult time over the last two decades, which has led to an enormous migration of Venezuelans across the world. My older brother has always been in love with Australia (I think partly because of the movie, Finding Nemo), so in 2012 he decided to move to Brisbane to pursue his dreams of becoming a marine biologist, and for a chance of a better future. This was a huge change to our family life as my brother was moving to the other side of the world, and to a country we did not know much about.
Later, around 2017-2018, it was my time to decide what I wanted to do, which ended up being music—opera to be specific. Considering my brother was already here, I applied to the Queensland Conservatorium, and was accepted to start in 2018. I must admit, I did not know much about Griffith or the Con (as we call it) but it has been probably the best decision I have made in my life so far.
Moving to Australia obviously came with a lot of sacrifices and it required an emotional strength I did not know I had, but part of me is very glad that the circumstances of my life have led me here and towards the people I now call friends and family.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you got here? How did you overcome these?
I think I really struggled with the accent in the first two weeks. No offense to my Australian friends, but it can be tough sometimes.
I am extremely grateful to my parents as they always encouraged my brother and I to study languages from a very young age. So, I already knew how to speak English. The issue was that coming from a Spanish speaking country, I did not speak much English in my daily life. This meant that I had to quickly get used to it through my daily activities.
It is funny because when you move to another country you realise that sometimes you cannot remember the English name of simple basic things like a vegetable or a kitchen utensil. These days it is the other way around—I keep forgetting words in Spanish!
‘We really try to create a sense of collaboration and emphasize that Voxalis is not just about us, but also the diverse artists we have engaged over the past two years.’
As a Co-Founder and Artistic Coordinator of Voxalis, you must work with artists from all around the world. How do you support your team to feel at home and comfortable in Australia?
In my personal and professional life, I always try to follow the principle of – ‘Treat others like you want to be treated yourself’. I am an immigrant myself so I will always treat people as an equal and with respect. Through my time in Australia, and especially my time at Griffith, I have really developed a great sense of appreciation for people’s traditions and cultures. In fact, three of my closest friends, whom I met when I was a student, are from Albania, China and Ukraine (incredible singers themselves!).
Voxalis’ 2023 season has an incredible group of artists participating from different backgrounds, age groups and levels of professional development (both emerging and established artists). We have people from the United States, China and Albania; as well as people with Polish and Cuban heritage.
Matthew (my Co-Founder) and I are incredibly grateful to them. We make our best efforts to ensure they feel comfortable performing and enjoy the process of creating these concerts that are so needed in the Brisbane operatic scene. We really try to create a sense of collaboration and emphasize that Voxalis is not just about us, but also the diverse artists we have engaged over the past two years. Ultimately, they are the ones performing and helping this project have a go.
At my young age, I still find it surreal that I am able to work side by side with these incredible singers. Music and passion are the elements that brings us together, and in a rehearsal room we are all equals constantly searching for our best and most genuine interpretation of these operatic and classical works.
What advice would you give to any international students just starting out at Griffith?
I have a few pieces of advice:
- Work hard. Only a few people have the chance to move and live in an incredible country like Australia. So, I think we always need to be grateful for the opportunity we have.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. The first few weeks—even months—can be terrifying, but there are definitely very kind people out there willing to help you.
- Try to enjoy every single second. Two or three years will go by in a blink of an eye!