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Culture

Dimitris Halaris Talks to TNH about His Music

October 8, 2018

NEW YORK – From a very young age, musician and composer Dimitris Halaris knew he wanted to play music. Born in Keratsini, a suburb of Piraeus, Greece to a musical family, with roots in Syros, Halaris is related to the iconic composer Markos Vamvakaris. He spoke with The National Herald about his life and work, musical influences, and Greek music today.

“When I was 7, a friend had an instrument and I was playing a song I heard on the radio,” he told TNH.

His father noticed this remarkable ability “and took me to the Odeio Peiraia where I studied and then I continued my studies at the Odeio Attikis. I also compose for myself, as well as composing for others,” Halaris said.

A member of the Greek Musicians Association, he takes his work seriously and is inspired by the Greek music from the 1930s to the 1970s. Among the Greek composers whose work he especially appreciates, the iconic Manos Hatzidakis and Mimis Plessas.

Giorgos Dalaras is among the many well-known musicians he has worked with, and when asked about artists he would like to work with in the future he said “Antonis Remos, Paschalis Terzis, and Natassa Theodoridou,” among others.

Halaris also told TNH that he has family on his mother’s side in the United States and first visited for a cousin’s wedding. He performed at the wedding, and since then, has had the opportunity to visit the U.S. on and off. Halaris is married and he and his wife Natalia have two young sons, Stelios and Mitsos (short for Dimitris).

While visiting the U.S., he has performed at fundraisers for the Pancyprian Association and also at the United Nations, volunteering his talent free of charge to help worthy causes. In Greece, he has also performed for free at charity events and for seniors, sometimes paying the band out of his own pocket, especially for seniors

He always wanted to be a musician, he told TNH, adding that he has worked in other fields, because “in Greece you can’t only be a musician.”

“I would like to do other things as well, to write music for film, commercials, theatre” Halaris said.

A multi-talented musician, he plays piano, guitar, and percussion, as well as “bouzouki, just for my friends.”

Of his famous relative Markos Vamvakaris, “the patriarch of rebetiko” as he is known, Halaris said that his grandfather’s parents and Vamvakaris’ parents were siblings, noting his family’s roots in Syros. He pointed out that Vamvakaris, unfortunately, did not live to enjoy his fame, passing away at the age of 66 in 1972.

Also among the musical family members, Halaris’ mother sings and an uncle plays bouzouki and was well-regarded. His mother sang he said, but had five children [Halaris and his four sisters], so she never pursued a singing career. The family all live in Greece.

When asked about the performers he listens to, he mentioned Haris Alexiou and Dalaras, as well as Giannis Haroulis, the singer/songwriter and lute player from Crete whose music is a fusion of Greek folk, traditional Cretan music, and rock elements for a modern sound.

Of Greek music in the U.S., Halaris said, “It’s a tough question, because many came here to play music as a business, to make money, and it’s not about money, if you want to make money, be a waiter, so the people here learned about Greek music like they learned about Greek food, halfway, they only learned Vasili Karras, so what they hear is not really Greek music, it’s what is played in the bouzoukia… we have much better music to introduce non-Greeks to, just as we have much better food than just moussaka, there’s also stifado.”

He continued, “There are very few people who are working on music as music, many are working on how to sell it, how good they look on Instagram, perhaps because there are few people who want to listen, they would rather dance.”

When asked what his favorite song to play is, Halaris said “Nostalgia by Yanni,” adding that he missed seeing Live at the Acropolis in person at age 14, but he bought the album. He pointed out that the song was part of the final test that year in music school.

Of non-Greek musicians and music, the late Ray Charles is a favorite and anything to do with jazz, Halaris said, adding that he hopes to visit the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, one day.

He told TNH that he prefers composing at night, “I like the quiet and I like to be awake when everyone else is asleep.”

Of the musician’s life, Halaris said, “Music is math, mathematics never ends, its endless, so music is the same because there are all types of music, you can’t ever say you know everything there is to know about music, the learning never ends, you might hear another type of music and want to do that, so you have to study it, listen to it, get inside it, this never ends… It’s hard work for years and years and years, and if you’re not in the mood, you have no choice, you have to go and perform. My pappou, my yiayia passed away, but I had to go on and perform, it’s not easy.” When asked what inspires his music, he said, “Love,” adding that he has written about social issues as well, but “love is mainstream in this business.”

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