NEW YORK – The people responsible for the recent concert in honor of the late beloved Greek singer Stelios Kazantzidis at Manhattan’s Town Hall proved that when done right, few events are more enjoyable and touching than a night of great Greek music.
The concert, presented by the Greek Cultural Center (KEP) featured a special appearance by Kazanzidis’ wife, Vaso, who was deeply moved by love inspired by her husband’s memory, and singers Gerasimos Andreatos and Giota Nega. Andreatos thanked KEP for the invitation “to be with you to celebrate Stelios.”
“I don’t want to speak long on the stage. I prefer that Stelios speak to you through his music – and he has a lot to say,” Vaso Kazantzidis said as she was presented with a plaque.
Still photos and video clips of the singer were projected above the stage throughout the concert and after Kazantzidis was shown intoning the words of his song “Eimai Tragoudi, Eimai Laos, Den Eimal Sklavos Kanenos – I Am a Song, I Am a Nation, I Am a Slave of No One,” and the concert began when Spiros Exaras, music director and guitarist, gave the signal.
The clapping from the enthusiastic audience began immediately – later members of the audience were seen dancing in the aisles.
The first song was “To Pelago ine Vathi – The Sea is Deep” with words and music by Manos Hadjidakis and the music of Mikis Theodorakis were also well-represented; one guest noted that some of the loudest applause was for the songs of composer Christos Nikolopoulos, who will visit New York for a concert in his honor in 2016.
After the intermission, the dance troupe of the Pontian Society Pontos of Norwalk, CT offered a dramatic presentation that brought down the house. They were accompanied by Christos Tiktapanidis on lyra and Vasilios Georgiades and Sokratis Togridis on Ntaouli. Vasiliki Tsanaktsidou, the narrator, told of the Pontian genocide and expulsions, intoning, “They would not let us live in our homeland, in the beautiful villages of Pontos,” but the spirit of Pontos lived on through people like Kazantzidis she added.
The children’s vocal ensemble directed by Areti Giovanou was another highlight. The upbeat songs – the audience again clapped along – and the talent and spirit of the children prompted many to speak with optimism about the future of Hellenism in America.
With their remarkable rapport, Andreatos and Nega pleased the audience who clapped and sang with them, throughout the night, especially with duets like “I Proti Agape Mou – My First Love” and “Zinguala.”
“Afti I Nichta Meni – This Night Remains,” with its tsifte teli beat and lyrics and music by Kazantzides himself signaled the program was drawing to a close.
The final piece on the program, “I Zoi Mou Oli – My Entire Life” with lyrics and music by Akis Panou triggered a standing ovation and two encores, beginning with the poignant Kazantzidis hit, “De Tha Xanagapiso – I Will Never Love Again.”
The event began when Iraklis Kremmidas and Eleni Drivas, the president and vice president of KEP, respectively, welcomed the audience and spoke about the significance of Kazantzidis, who had an international following, but not only in the Hellenic Diaspora. He was called “The Troubador of the Diaspora” and “Ecumenical Stelio.” He was loved by the people of Israel, especially among Jews with Greek roots.
Above all, Kazantzidis was a proud Pontian, and George Tsiflidis president of the Pontian Society spoke of the honor and joy felt by those with roots in Pontos for him.
The musicians were exceptional, including Exaras, Yiorgos Kostopoulos on bass, Dimitris Lambrianos on keyboards and accordion, drummer Yorgos Maniatis, and Kostas Psarros and Christon Papadopoulos on Bouzouki.
Thanassis Psarros did an excellent job as the sound technician for a venue that was not designed for concerts and dancers Petros Fourniotis and Sotirios Vangelatos spiced the music with zeibekika on the stage.
Singer and composer Seraphim Lazos was thrilled with the event. “It was one of the best concerts in the community in recent years,” he told TNH.
Vaso Kazantzides, Nega and Andreatou visited TNH headquarters and said their hearts and minds were flooded the love they experienced in New York. Speaking about how pleased she was with all the performers, Kazantzidis began with the children of the Vocal Ensemble. “They were fantastic…there are no words for me to describe how touched I am.”
Nega said “we will carry much love and joy back to Greece…we thank the community for this wonderful experience,” and Andreatos said “Our memories can’t fit in our luggage, we will carry them in our hearts and mind…in Greece, there few who have lived the diaspora and who can understand what we experienced. It was fantastic.”