NEW YORK – A press conference was held on January 28 at the Consulate General of Greece in New York, welcoming George Dalaras for his North American tour which begins on January 31 at the Apollo in Harlem and continues with stops in Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, and Atlantic City. Proceeds will benefit the charitable organization the Ark of the World.
Dalaras spoke candidly about his life and the highlights of his career and his previous appearances in the United States. Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras gave the welcoming remarks noting how he first became acquainted with Dalaras in 1974 when his father bought a new car with an eight track tape player and the one that was the favorite was 18 Lianotragouda Tis Pikris Patridas (18 Little Songs for the Bitter Homeland) with music by Mikis Theodorakis and lyrics by Yiannis Ritsos, and featuring vocals by Dalaras.
“We went to a record store and got his favorite tape. The 18 Lianotragouda Tis Pikris Patridas. This cassette was melting, it was constantly playing. I met this George Dalaras at that time,” said Mr. Koutras, welcoming the famous artist.
Dalaras said of his arrival in New York, “The emotion is great. It’s been a long time since I came here to our city. And it is our city, isn’t it? Like Chicago and Toronto and Melbourne. I’m glad our meeting was here, at the consulate. I feel this is a special place.”
In response to Koutras’ introduction, he said, “You started talking about me saying something which is a great stamp on my soul. The 18 Lianotragouda Tis Pikris Patridas of Theodorakis and Ritsos when I was 22 years old.”
Dalaras then spoke about Mikis Theodorakis and how he first met him. “When I met him to hear me sing, I remembered a story. When I was 12-13 years old I had gone with my mother to his house in Nea Smyrni to give him a record to hear my father who was a musician living outside Greece. At first, he [Theodorakis] didn’t remember it, but then he told me that yes, something reminded him of that story. And he said, ‘Come on, let’s sing along to see what you know.’ We sat down at the piano and performed almost all his songs. He then told me, ‘From what I see you have studied.’ And I replied, “No, not studied, I’ve loved these songs.”
He continued, “I remember in 1973 we recorded illegally at Columbia studios, we did not leave at all from there. This record is very important for me and gave me the opportunity to state the change in my mentality at that time which I had to fight for, choosing not working in nightclubs. I felt within me that something else is going on in society. You can judge an artist by two things. One is talent and the other is the choices they make.”
Dalaras then spoke about the younger generation of artists in the music industry and the importance of continuing to perform the great songs of the past, noting that the 1960s were a particularly special time in music when artists like Tsitsanis and Bithikotsis made huge strides in the industry drawing on the forgotten songs from 78 rpms and a whole new generation began to listen to these great songs through these beloved artists and their voices.
“That’s why every so often I say to young colleagues, when you hear new songs by Kougioumtzis, Spanos, please take them, adapt them, and bring them to your age,” Dalaras said.
On January 31, George Dalaras will be performing at the historic Apollo Theater along with newer artists, the Cretan Michalis Tzouganakis and his son Alexander Tzouganakis, as well as vocalist Aspasia Stratigou.
Dalaras said, “Michalis Tzouganakis is my friend. We did a tour of Europe a few years ago and he enchanted me and the audience. He plays jazz with his lute and is rooted in traditional Cretan music. It’s like the way flamenco artists play, have you seen flamenco musicians playing and dancers? So is this man with his music. And while he was born in Belgium, something drew him to tradition and the first instrument he learned was a Cretan lyre and then a lute. And his son Alexander has a great voice and walks in the footsteps of his father. Aspasia Stratigou will also be with us, who also started with traditional music and is very talented. It’s been many years since I have heard voices with such precision, Haroula Alexiou early in her career, Eleni Vitali, and Glykeria, for example. She is following in the footsteps of these great voices.
“We will also play some old songs that I neither want nor can break away from, songs by Loizos, Theodorakis, Spanos, Kougioumtzis.”
The inherent nature of music to transcend borders was also noted by Dalaras at the press conference. “Music has no borders,” he said.