It’s been hard to write something in memory of Irini since her passing on 20th November 2020. She is such a gentle soul who achieved so much in such a short lifetime. In addition, aside from the difficulty of writing, I discovered so much I never knew about her life, music and achievements.
Born in Cyprus, Irini and her family emigrated to England following the coup and invasion of 1974. Growing up in London was vastly different from Cyprus and from a young age, Irini used to write songs. An astounded schoolteacher once told her mum that she was lying about a song she wrote at the age of seven. She told her mum about the incident who assured the teacher, who was very shocked, that she had in fact written it. The lyrics, the teacher said, were something a grown up would write. Little did that schoolteacher know… Irini had one dream from childhood and it was simply, to become a singer.
The young Irini had many creative talents. She could dance and do graphics before the computer age. Her graphics doodlings had a unique calligraphic character, so much so that someone could now take that and make a new digital Irini Font!
As a teenager she had a street dancer’s mentality, challenging anyone who dared compete with her and leaving no survivors standing. She also modelled and it is something Irini could have easily stayed in with her looks and confidence, but music that was the real draw, the thing she wanted to do the most.
It has always amazed many people how Irini got her real break in the music business but before we get to that a rewind to age 15 and her first demos with Everton McCalla from Light of The World and Freeez. Everton, who lived in the neighbourhood, asked her parents George and Carol Toufexis if he could record her. They consented and her first songs were recorded. One of those songs ‘Heaven’ was written during this time. It is one of her finest tunes but it remains a mystery what happened to those demo’s.
She featured in a few videos by famous artists as a dancer, including The Pasadenas, and modelled clothing by Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier for Blitz Magazine. The image below was lifted from one of those many modeling shoots. She was around eighteen when this was taken!
While doing all this, she linked up with keyboard player and producer, Chaz Koshi (Spartacus, Steve Walsh, Gipsy Kings, Culture Club, Mica Paris and many more). Chaz introduced Irini to music manager Martin Levitt who immediately offered her a contract. She soon found herself going up and down the UK doing PA’s and gigs promoting songs which didn’t really express her 100% as a soul head. Her voice ended up on some big tune by Capella called ‘Push The Beat’ (1988) It’s quiet an annoying patchwork of a tune, with everything and anything in it as far as hooks go, including a bit of the Blue Peter theme, Pump Me Up (Trouble Funk) and riff that sounds like Pigbag’s ‘Papa’s got a brand new pigbag’ with that infamous ‘da da da da’ horn line. Her voice sampled, pops up every now and then saying ‘push the beat.’ She always told me this was her pop phase and she didn’t really like the constraints of the contract she had signed. Her idea of music was not simply to be sampled on hi-energy dance tracks so luckily, she got out of being a pop star. Many people respected this artistic integrity and she could have easily gone down that hyper commercial route to fame but Irini had style and things she wanted to express from her soul.
A couple of years later Irini became a bit of a local soul legend by complete accident. Staying up all night with Marina, they co-wrote the lyrics to the song that would make her famous. The next day, at the session, the singer who was meant to sing the ’24/7 Love’ didn’t turn up, and by chance, it was Irini’s time to step to the mic and shine. It was one of those dream come true stories, when things just happen, not by scheme or plan, but just because they do. That year, 1993, ‘24/7 Love’ (Stone Cold Gentleman Records) produced and released by John Emmanuel, was blasting out of dozens of soul and reggae pirate/community radio stations, in dances, booming out of cars and on sound systems. Irini had become a star and yet every one was looking for her. What most people didn’t realize was her parents went back to live in Cyprus, and Irini and Marina followed. So there was this record being played everywhere, topping charts, but the singer, even by the record sleeve, was not around.
That was also the year that I met these two soul sisters, in London initially, through a common friend who told me to ‘check this tune’ (24/7 Love). Simon Mitchell had grown up in the same neighbourhood and he popped into my brother Perry’s ‘AutoAcoustics’ shop in Haringey. Following Simon’s lead I was fortunate enough to link with Irini and Marina shortly after. We did also did few shows together, some radio interviews and hung out a lot in Cyprus. After that I became smitten with Marina, we started dating, and later got engaged and eventually married. At our wedding Irini was broti koumera (head bridesmaid) and she sang her heart out for us with a special version of ’24/7 Love’. Irini and Marina also presented a radio show the previous year on Radio 1 in Cyprus called ‘The Mystery Ladies’. When Irini went back to London following the success of ’24/7 Love’ Marina became ‘The Mystery Lady’ and on air, thats how she got her DJ name, spinning ecclectic rare grooves and soul to an unsuspecting public in Cyprus.
Irini returned to the UK to release a second single, ‘Don’t Let Them Know’ which also topped the soul charts.
She also got an award for best newcomer at The Black Music Industry Awards, which she shared with Jill Francis. The award was the equivalent in today’s terms of a MOBO, a feat no other Cypriot singer achieved in England. She was up on the same stage as Shaggy, Apache Indian, Omar, Mica Paris, Jack Reuben and many others. That achievement and fame was not recognised nor respected in Cyprus sadly. The media here, with a couple of exceptions, like Tasos Michaelides on Radio Proto, were more into over-hyped and rather lame Greek artists. In the UK, as evidenced from the crowds that night at the awards, the Cyprus born soul goddess got a eurphoric reaction.
Things were really happening and the next phase was the development of her own label and her first LP, produced by Eric Pascal of New Shoes and Socks Productions. Irini also wanted to start a studio in Hackney for local talent. Pascal brought out the best in her voice during those sessions and she worked hard in the studio in London, while her family had moved permanently to Cyprus. The LP ‘Don’t Make Me Wish’ came out by 1995 on her own ‘Here It Is Records’.
Irini had finally arrived. It was hugely different from being sampled on Capella, she was finally doing her own soul and rare groove thing, just the way she had dreamt of as a child. You will also however find her on a ton of remixes as well, none of which she knew about until much later and none of which she ever got paid for. Jungle, cheesy and handbag House type of remixes. I find a lot of that stuff quite annoying because it just took the whole soul vibe out of her vocals and art. She laughed a lot of it off many times saying the real tunes were the ‘boom choons – the original grooves’.
It was around this time that she started showing the first signs of a condition that would dramatically change the course of her life. Numbness affected her hands and she began dropping things randomly, not a good thing to be doing as she was working part time as a waitress in Vrysaki Restaurant in Bounds Green. She visited numerous doctors, had many tests but they found nothing. On returning to Cyprus in 1995, that winter which was particularly harsh, with snow falling in her father’s village of Lythrodontas, her leg went numb. I took her to the local doctor who said perhaps she had MS, which we both dismissed as this had not been diagnosed in the UK. But an MRI confirmed the worst. For the next 25 years of her life MS drained her strength and abilities. It took away the best years of her life and her passion, music. The last interview she did was a testament to her determination and spirit. Skev (Soveks Lo) my life long friend wanted to do a podcast. The end result is one of the best things ever done on Irini, who still had that sparkle in her smile when she said ‘all I ever wanted to do was sing.’ Tune into it below.
When that call came on the morning of 20th November that Irini had passed away, a very big part of life, felt empty all of a sudden. We wanted her to live forever but at the same time, the way she had become as a result of MS had drained her away year by year. I am not sure what to say beyond her eternal longevity as an artist and the fond memories many of us have of Irini will remain forever with all of us. Her charm, unlimited sense of humour and perfect timing. She was the kind of person who smiled and the whole place lit up. And that voice, so fine, so unique and full of her soul. There’s no better way to get that in full than the song ‘Heaven’.
Irini means so much to so many people. She reached far and wide with her wonderful voice and in a short life time she achieved so much and yet, so much was taken away from her. Despite all that, she always smiled, never complained and fought on…A beautiful soul is now flying free…We will miss you, always, Irini xxx
Haji Mike 3rd Dec 2020
Everton McCalla – musician/producer – Light Of The World & Freeez – Irini, the beautiful, charming, talented artist and songwriter was just a baby of 16 or 17 years old when we were introduced as neighbours. I was blown away by the love songs and melodies she wrote at such a young age. So I met the family and asked if I could produce a few songs in my studio with her. And they said yes and that’s when we knew she had real talent. Motown inspired love songs were oozing out of her WOW! Then shortly after she had a hit record entitled “24/7 Love” that made the British Soul Charts which she performed up and down the country… Irini your a star, singing with Angel’s R I P, Never forgotten!
Hayley Bailey – Friend & Photographer I met Irini in 1986 when we were teenagers as her and her family lived around the corner from my family plus we went to the same secondary school. On first meeting Irini, I was blown away by her natural beauty and artistic flair. Not only was Irini beautiful but she was also so funny and always made me laugh with her crazy jokes over cups of tea in Northfield Road. I remember when my cousin got married and Irini came to the reception on Holly Street estate and wowed everyone with her dancing moves. Irini had rhythm! She definitely stole the show albeit unintentionally but even my cousin (the bride) loved Irini’s dancing. I was last in Cyprus 2017 but didn’t get to see Irini at that time due to her illness although, on previous visits we did spent time together which I’m eternally grateful for. Thank you for being in my life Irini. I’ll never forget you. RIP beautiful.
Skevos Loizou friend/podcaster/broadcasterWe can all be so proud of Irini, beautiful, stylish, poetic, writer, singer, performer but what stands out most was her fearless courage. Whether it would be to stand up and perform in front of crowds in clubs or being in Lythrodontas in a coffee shop full of men. None of that bothered Irini who in her own elegant way just walked in and owned the stage and the coffeeshop. Not scared of the stares she had a style and swagger second to none. Her family should also be so proud of as Irini’s illness progressively worsened, they really stood by her and made her life more comfortable. Irini was a blessing so just think about those wonderful moments Irini brought into all our lives that soulful spirt we all know as 24/7.
Junior Giscombe – Singer/Songwriter I never had the pleasure of meeting Irini but I heard her music and felt the warmth of her soul as she sang. I learnt later that she had MS which was the contributing factor to us not hearing more of her work and that individualistic voice. She has left great memories for those who use her music as a tapestry to their life, something rarely achieved by artists whose careers where cut short. The love she shared lives on, her spirit and courage I’m sure has left it’s mark, forever in embedded in the minds and hearts of those who knew her best and enjoyed her art… Music has the capacity to realign and heal the inner soul. She will never be forgotten….
Lorraine King – Journalist & Radio Presenter -Irini was truly loved. Whether you had met Irini in person or not you fell in love with her because of her beautiful music. We spoke to each other through her older sister Marina for years and years and I know she was a warm, loving and wonderful person. Her very close bond with her family and friends also makes that clear. I was so looking forward to meeting Irini in April but coronavirus put a stop to that… but her music is her legacy and I will never forget her.
Jimmy Mixologist – Sound Engineer, Producer, Spartacus Band/Boy George/Culture Club -I was around Irini when I was growing up as a young man. Irini was a beautiful soul with an amazing talent in singing . She sang with her heart and soul and you really felt it when she sang, her voice touched people. She was a great person, always smiling and laughing and that’s how I will always remember her. RIP Irini….
Michael Minas – Bouzouki player/music producer Minas Studio – I had the pleasure of working with Irini at my studio. She had such a great and unique voice and was such a humble soul. Being in the studio with her was always a pleasure…Irini will be sadly missed RIP XXX
Marios Avraam – DJ on Greekbeat Radio
Remembering you is easy I do it every day
With love and respect
For the beautiful music
You sent my way
Rest in peace
My sweet angel your memory be eternal
For now and always
love you Irini for your creativity and joy
We will have that feeling in our hearts…eternally….
Jack Reuben – MC & MD at Launchpad Multi – Media – I first met Irini back in the year 1993 at The Black Music Awards at a Venue in Trafalgar Square London. I actually heard her before I saw her as Irini was making an impact on Urban Radio with her song ’24/7 Love’ which was fast becoming a Club hit. We both collected Awards that night and struck up a friendship which has lasted up until her passing. After Irini set up home in Cyprus I saw less of her but always held her dear in my memories as she was warm, funny and talented. I will miss her presence and her flame will never go out in my heart and mind. Thank you Irini for gracing us with your talent, personality and warmth. Until we meet again Rest In Paradise.
Don-e – singer/songwriter/musician/producer – Irini was a lovely person inside and out. I met her on the music scene in the 90s as we were both out at the same time. I remember ’24/7 love’ it was a massive choon! We both connected at various soul shows in London and she always rocked. Irini will be greatly missed, she is a UK soul legend and I’m sure she is singing with the angels now. God bless her.
Helen Mitchell – friend/Blue Enigma – My memory of Irini is jumping… and all consuming. I remember her modesty most… her beauty, her ease of self. I remember her dancing, wearing trousers more than dresses, modelling, clubbing, smoking (whilst popping polo mints) singing and being happy. I remember men drooling over her, and women wanting to be just like her. I remember her great love. I remember her being paralyzed in bed (on more than one occasion) and not knowing what was wrong. I remember her going to Cyprus to re-join her family and learning there that she had Multiple Sclerosis (MS); the doctors in the UK misdiagnosed her. I remember speaking to her after her first bout of being in a wheelchair unable to walk and she telling me point blank that by hook or crook she will walk again; and she did, with a limp that she stylized. She fought MS with so much faith, confidence and courage. I will always miss you, Irini, but am thankful that today you’re at peace, out of pain and renewed to your former self. Irini’s star shines brightly over everyone now.
Paul Funksy – founder/MD Greekbeat Radio – I would like to wish Irini eternal peace now that she has ended her struggle, now being able to enjoy the afterlife … the next chapter. I am not aware of how the condition effected her but I just pray that she didn’t suffer too much. I know she had loving people around her and I hope that had some effect. I did not know Irini personally but I certainly knew and played her music. I would like to send my condolences to all the family and friends. I am proud to refer to her as our original and unique Cypriot Soulstress when spinning those special tunes in her memory. Sending all our love from Greekbeat Radio.
Tony Matthew – music producer – I first met Irini at the very beginning of my own music career while I was training alongside her sister Marina at the School of Audio Engineering in London many years ago. I remember that we begged Marina to bring her younger sister in to class one day so that we could record her vocals after the lessons finished, just to practice our amateur engineering skills. When Irini walked in I remember being totally speechless, a little shy and completely blown away by her beauty and presence and maybe a little star struck as I knew who she was at the time. She was a friendly, confident and a talented artist to work with and I was totally hooked as a fan from that day onwards. I was lucky enough to stay good friends with the family including Haji Mike over the years, who I went on to work with when I flew over to Cyprus a few times and spent lots of time with the whole family as well as working with Irini again in the studio. There’s not many artists who I have worked with over the years who totally had it all in my opinion, beauty, brains, personality and the ability to light up the room when they walked in and who was totally down to earth and funny at the same time. We’ve lost a beautiful soul, an angel and one of a kind, and I for one will never forget her from the very first time I met her.
Dave VJ – Presenter Mi-Soul Radio – Its taken me a while to know what to say. Irini’s passing has been a massive shock. I have known she was I’ll but it doesn’t stop that jolt of not wanting the truth to be different. Irini thanks for leaving us good music lovers with melodies to remember you by and making your family and the world proud of your contribution in it. You were called by the creator to continue your calling elsewhere and we’ll see what you been doing when we meet again in your new role.
Isabel Roberts – Friend & Singer -I met Irini and her sister Marina in the early 90s when we had been booked to tour Cyprus with a band. I was struck at how sweet and lovely she was, so very beautiful and so funny and talented, and blessed with a great voice when we shared a stage together. We spent a few months on a tour living and working together and it led to us forming a lifelong friendship beyond work. We hung out in the UK After the tour, and she decided to return to Cyprus with the family. With her MS diagnosis she remained confident resilient and determined. I saw her finally in 2017 and spent a very special Christmas with her and her lovely family. Despite her illness she had that eternal playful Glint and zest for life in her eyes and was as quick witted as ever. I feel so very privileged to have known her and to call her my friend. She rests now pain free and in glory RIP special girl.
Jennifer Williams-Baffoe – friend/Associate Lecturer/Director at Willberforce
My darling RiRi (Irini Toufexis) words can’t even begin to explain how I feel right now. Irini mou, such a shining light, a beautiful, charming, funny, cheeky and incredibly talented person. I have known the Toufexis family (my second family) from a very young age as we lived directly opposite each other and RiRi and I struck up a special friendship early on in our infancy. We shared a lot of experiences, our first jobs, stories about boyfriends, dancing, our love of art and of course fashion all dissected over copious cups of tea in her basement bedroom in Northfield Road. Irini always made time for everyone and was there to listen, help you figure things out, cheer you up if you were down, again, always over a cup of tea.
She was an amazing singer and songwriter and of course is known for ‘247 Love’ and ‘Don’t let them know’ which she penned. I remember her always writing not just lyrics to many songs but poems and her love of calligraphy. Irini was incredibly artistic had the most beautiful handwriting and I remember her spending hours doodling in her notebooks. I was overjoyed to see Irini and the Toufexis family for my birthday in 2016 and last year when my sister and I travelled to Cyprus. As ever Irini had us giggling and laughing at her Irini-isms. There are far too many beautiful memories to share here but what I will say is how fortunate it is to have a friend from youth – A friend is forever. Irini my darling RiRi don’t just rest in power, but sing my sister sing….
Irini has a Facebook Fan Page – updates and memorial events to be posted soon. ‘Don’t Make Me Wish’ will be re-released in the new year, 2021 on all digital platforms….RiP…