George Dalaras,
Oi Megaluteres Epitucies Tou (His Greatest Hits)
(Minos Matsas & Uios, 1987)

After I wrote the Grebenshchikov review and interview, a friend called and asked when I was going to do the same for George Dalaras. A few days later, someone who had read the same review on Rambles wrote to ask about Dalaras and asked which CD to get. There are 50 at least. Which one to get? Let's start with this one.

Every song George Dalaras sings is a love song. The styles range from ballad to tragoudia (songs of the working class), laike (popular songs), rembetika (like the blues) to paradosaiko (traditional songs), but they're all songs of love. Besides the kind of love that brings the skies down, he loves his friends, he loves his son, he loves his cafˇ, he loves to sing. He loves his land and his mother and he's very sad that they didn't get to plant the seeds because now there will be no flowers.

But there are flowers, especially the red rose that's there every morning when he's walking to work with the children on his way to school and there are the weeds flowering in the vacant lot on the corner.

Having lived in Greece, having been in love in Greece and having been in love with Greece, this album, taken as a whole, evokes cherished images for me. My friend Vasilis in his cafˇ. Akteon in Nauplio right on the beach where the fishing boats can pull up. The kamaki strolling by in his sea blue shirt, church bells on a remote hillside, long walking conversations with Maria. Little Yannis in his shop researching and repairing old puppets and making newer, more timely ones in his passionate mission to revive and continue the karageorgis tradition. In Herakleon, the caretaker at Kazantzakis' grave on the Ramparts who carefully guarded my time and space so I could have the bench with the best view of the sea to myself while I wrote. The way every road became an allee of margaritas and poppies for a week or two just at Easter.

"Don't be mad at me, I can't help it. I'm Greek." "A man must do these things." "You kill me with those eyes." "Don't say goodnight like that." Repeat each of these song lyrics with a laugh, smugly, passionately, tearfully and with as much macho as you can muster. If you make me laugh, I might tell you the whole story.

Dalaras is an excellent musician and a tragoudist of the first order. It seems he always has been. He cut his best selling first album at age 18. I've heard some of those early recordings. They're really quite good but time and experience have seasoned his voice and honed his musicianship. His delivery is truer now. He notices the little things and describes the grander schemes with more subtlety and understanding.

Tragoudist ordinarily is translated simply as "singer" but it means something more. Related etymologically to the French troubadour (and Cuban trovador), tragoudist carries that traditional connotation of someone who wanders from place to place singing the peoples' songs. Dalaras has devoted his life to keeping Greek traditional music alive and viable. And it is, even for the younger generations of Hellenes. Practically single-handedly, he has brought it out of the taverna and bouzoukia into venues large enough for 80,000 fans to revel as he bares the soul of their shared heritage. Dalaras is a true tragoudist also in the sense that his voice and his music can embrace the modern, more European musical styles as well as the older ones layered as they are with influences brought with the merchants of the Doge and the pashas of the Sultan.

Dalaras is an honorable man. His moral vision is reflected in varying degrees of subtlety in his music as well as where he chooses to perform and the causes he espouses. He has performed at the Youth Festival in Moscow in 1985, for the Nelson Mandela Children's fund in 1998 and in 2001, he performed with Emma Shapplin at the Theatre of Herod Atticus for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), marking the 50th anniversary of its foundation and collecting funds for relevant initiatives both in Greece and elsewhere. And he continues to perform at events promoting a peaceful solution to the division of Cyprus.

Dalaras has performed and recorded the music and lyrics of the best of Greek composers and poets as well as Spanish and South American composers. All the Greeks are here on this album, from Stavros Kouyauntzis to Mikis Theodorakis to Eleni Karaindrou, whose score for the movie Ulysses Gaze is stunning. When it's February and the snow is falling steadily, inexorably in big, fat flakes piling up until the windows are buried, I can put that CD on, lie down on the couch, close my eyes and suddenly, the cliffs are white, the water is blue and the sun is pouring down so hot that the sweat is running off us in rivers. Den birazi, there's a fresh water spring just below the boat. We can roll off into it, swim down to the source and surface, laughing and gasping from the cold and then crawl back up on deck for more.

Winter is coming. You need some Greek music. This Dalaras album is a good one to get.

[ by J. Higgins-Rosebrook ]
Rambles: 14 December 2001