New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
In his five and a half decade-long career that began when he was 16, the star international singer and musician, George Dalaras, has brought Greece to the world in at least 500 concerts outside of Greece.
He has performed in the world’s most famous concert halls, including two of the biggest, most prestigious venues in New York, Madison Square Garden and Rockefeller Center. But on January 28, in an interview hosted by Consul General of Greece Konstantinos Koutras and his wife Popita at the Consulate General of Greece in New York, the celebrity revealed he has had the goal of performing in two other places in New York City: the Apollo Theater, the legendary music hall in Harlem, and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
Dalaras reached the first goal three days later, on January 31, when with beguiling charisma he stepped onto the stage of the Apollo Theater for the first concert of his North American tour “Songs of Our Life” to cheering of crowds of fans longing to hear the voice that draws you into Dalaras’ world where you then discover your own.
Performing the first song with the other featured performers, longtime friend and collaborator, Michalis Tzouganakis, the great Cretan traditional music star, for whom there was thunderous applause, and his son, Alexandros Tzouganakis, who is continuing this priceless tradition, and the terrific recording star, Aspasia Stratigou, who began with a traditional song. The introduction of Alexandros Tzouganakis is another instance of Dalaras’ commitment to introducing young musicians to the public and keeping Greek music alive.
As always, Dalaras encouraged audience participation and they joined him singing his greatest hits of the last 50 years, which most Dalaras fans know by heart. Together with Michalis Tzouganakis, Alexandros Tzouganakis and Aspasia Stratigou’s performances of unforgettable songs and amazing technique, this concert was moving and wonderful. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America was in attendance at the concert.
January 28: Dalaras Charms the Greek American Media
It isn’t a coincidence that Dalaras draws the listener deep into his song. In person he doesn’t hold back either; he is the most approachable, humorous and philosophical of celebrities. At the Consulate General of Greece, he shared sensitive reminiscences of his lifetime, including thoughts regarding his own creative development.
Welcoming his “special guest,” Consul General Koutras shared a sweet memory from 1974, when he was a child in elementary school, and first “met” Mr. Dalaras “My father got a new car with a cassette player and we went to a record store where he bought his favorite tape, “Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland.” Until we sold the car, this cassette was playing continuously so it was disintegrating.”
Moved, Dalaras thanked the Consul General and his wife for their hospitality, saying that he feels that the Consulate is a special place. “And you began telling me about something that made a big mark on my soul: “Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland” by Mikis Theodorakis and Yiannis Ritsos,” he said to the Consul General. “I was 22 years old. I had just been discharged. It’s when I first met Mikis Theodorakis, and the illegal recording of the album in the Columbia studio during the riots of 1973. This record is very important to me, and it gave me the opportunity to fight what I had to at that time; I had to stop working in nightclubs. I had a sense within that something was going on in society that we had to see from another perspective. I remember that at the age of 23 I got a ‘divorce’ from a certain way of having fun and a certain perception, and I went to Plaka and started singing rebetika, as well as traditional songs; and I must tell you how much I was influenced by high poetry, because the Greek language at that time had brought about a profound cultural revolution. As long as I am still standing, I will continue with this logic and this mindset. I add that you can judge an artist by two things, the measure of his talent, and by his choices.”
Speaking of his own development as a singer, Dalaras said that he is always listening to and learning from other, younger singers, and examining and perfecting his own voice. Dalaras also spoke of his father, saying that he was a finer singer and musician than he.
“The songs in the upcoming performance, are not being sung for the first time… many fine artists have sung them,” he said, “But because I have always believed that younger singers have an obligation, somehow, when they love these songs and their tradition, to convey them to the changing generations who always ask for new blood.”
The classical repertoire must be constantly renewed in order to survive in the future, said Dalaras, noting a similar effort made by Vasilis Tsitsanis in 1960-62, “That’s why I say to my colleagues all the time: whenever you listen to nice songs by Kouyioumtzis or Spanos, please take them and change them to bring them into your era.”
During the interview, Dalaras introduced a man sitting among the rapt audience. He was not a journalist, nor, as it turned out does he understand the Greek language. Professor Branislaw, born in Serbia, together with a his friend, were invited to the press conference and to the concert by the star himself, simply because communicated to him that they live and breathe the music of George Dalaras. Branislaw, who told the GN that he and his friend own “every single recording ever made by Dalaras,” referred to the voice of the artist as being “the voice of a god.” Dalaras was within range of this compliment (with which we agree, as did all those present) and hearing this was embarrassed to the point of collapse.
George Dalaras, we anticipate a concert in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine either sooner or later. But as soon as possible, we insist on hearing you sing again… anywhere at all.