Greek Cypriot soul singer DIMITRI thought his music ministry was behind him. God had other ideas. Tony Cummings reports.
With "Hypnotised" a catchy slice of pop soul by Dimitri currently scoring high on the Cross Rhythms radio playlist, now seems a good time to chronicle the life and times of one of the most intriguing figures in Britain's Christian music scene. Dimitri is the nom-de-disc of Jim Katsis, a Greek Cypriot born in the East End of London and now residing in Newton Abbot, South Devon. At 14 Dimitri made his musical start in a school band. His home life was far from happy. His eldest brother descended into alcoholism and also got caught up in the occult even becoming a warlock. Dimitri's next brother down was equally tortured, abusing LSD with disastrous results. Remembered Dimitri, "One night he thought he could fly and proceeded to jump out of his bedroom window. He came crashing down and broke most of the bones in his body. After two suicide attempts he would up in a psychiatric hospital." But things went in a very different direction for Dimitri when at 16 he had what he describes as his "first Christian encounter."
Recalled Dimitri, "My second brother down had found Christianity (after moving away from speed) and was heavily involved in a house group movement. He ran a Christian bookshop out of his front room. He was also fairly good at cutting hair which is why I happened to be round his house one day. During the course of this haircut he began talking to me about Jesus and the reality of God as he saw it. As the subject was already close to my heart, I felt he was talking about somebody I knew. He told me there was a way that I could get closer by giving my heart to Jesus and making a commitment. For me it was a fairly simple process but it set me on fire. From that point on I poured everything I had and everything I was, in to my faith. When I became an apprentice as an electronics engineer, I'd get to work 30 minutes before anyone else to put Christian tracts on everyone's chair. I was utterly fanatical. I read the Bible from cover to cover and devoured and expounded Christianity from every pore of my being. I went to a thing called Dales week in Yorkshire (I think) where I was baptised in the Holy Spirit. I felt plugged into some giant main frame. I was totally on fire."
Dimitri formed a Christian band called Life Wind and their funky rock attracted the attention of Kingsway Music. That deal never materialised but then in the early '80s a new but, as it turned out, short lived Christian independent label Window Records offered Life Wind a record contract. As Dimitri commented, "Several sessions followed but for a range of reasons they weren't pursued." The years rolled on and gradually Dimitri lost his spiritual zeal. He recalled with sadness, "I lost the energy I needed to maintain what felt like a battle. I began to lose sight of God's love for me and my love for him. For some years I remained in a wilderness."
It wasn't until the early '90s when Dimitri became a father to twins that his spiritual passion began to return. He started a Devon-based ministry, Trumpet Ministries, and began doing concerts. The singer recounted, "At the time I had no money or equipment whatsoever and I began writing material. As I moved forward I began to receive physical tools to move ahead. The songs were about man's talent for self delusion and God's ability to humble arrogance. I spoke about hypocrisy and hurt and the healing power of God's spirit. I needed to communicate a message of love to those that felt un-loved. As I went out and performed, I connected to more and more people. I felt I needed to do more than just sing."
In 1993 Trumpet Ministries released a cassette album of Dimitri, 'Surrendered', and it got a bit of Cross Rhythms exposure. The singer remained hugely busy, becoming involved in youth work co-ordinating youth ministry for nine churches in a Methodist circuit. He also became involved in Social Services and Education welfare involving using music to communicate with disenfranchised youth. Explained Dimitri, "Eventually after three years my work with Social Services took me over. I began to operate children's homes working with possibly the most disturbed and damaged children in the country. Kids that were sexually abused, violent and murderous. Although music was used as a mechanism, my own journey began to fade under the enormous weight of the issues these children had. After five years I had 35 staff including social workers, educators and care staff, several homes, a maintenance team and many, many sleepless nights. I considered that my musical days were over, that my work was my business and my business was my work. The vision that had fired up in my spirit of being the trumpeter seemed a million miles away."
But God hadn't finished with the blue-eyed soul singer. Dimitri candidly explained, "Two years ago the still small voice began to speak into my spirit. I have to say I didn't want to hear it. Here I was, with a major business, a 7500 sq ft building, state of the art recording studios and film facilities. Everything that a human being could want or need, and no desire whatsoever to lose any of it. But the still small voice wouldn't leave me alone. God was telling me that it wasn't over yet. That I hadn't completed the commission he had set me and now it was time to begin the next leg of the journey. If there is one thing I have learnt in my journey, it is that when God says go there is only one thing you can do and that's go. Wherever it leads, whatever you have to drop. No matter how big or seemingly important to your life. I had to respond."
Against all the odds Dimitri began to make plans to return to Christian music ministry. "I placed individuals in my company to take on the day to day management of my company and began this leg of the journey. Over the course of the next year I prayed and wrote, got frustrated and wrote, cried and wrote. Just basically wrote. During this time the message began to crystallise. In the following year I needed a record producer to help package the material. I became aware of Tim Powell Morris through a musician friend of mine. When we met, although he wasn't a Christian he completely understood what I was trying to achieve. My music roots are in the early jazz funk and melodic rock era. Incognito. Brass Construction, Stevie Wonder, Santana were some of my influences. Tim helped to create form and shape my music and was a joy to work with. So at the end of two years my album 'Natural High' was complete."
'Natural High' is a superlative mix of funky R&B pop with
insightful lyrics that can speak to Christian and non-Christians
alike. It has already been picked up for distribution by Integrity
Music and a mainstream distribution announcement isn't far away. It
will surely be the next step in fulfilling Dimitri's vision. He concluded our
interview by spelling out what that is. "My mission is about breaking
hard ground. That's what I have always done, whether it has been hard
hearts calloused over by indifference and piety, or hard spirits
scarred by abuse and violence, whether it has been fighting to
vocalise the pain inflicted on innocent children or fighting to have
God's call recognised by those he is calling. My music has been the
jack hammer into the hard spaces - breaking into the soft receptive
spiritual ground where God's love can grow again."