Known as the “Greek Bruce Springsteen,” the darkly handsome, leather-clad singer George Dalaras is one of Greece’s biggest contemporary music stars and a living folk legend. Famous early in his career for reviving rembetika —Greek blues music popular from 1917 through 1950—Dalaras’s music spans a variety of styles, from laika (popular) to paradosiaka (traditional). By 2002 he had released more than 60 solo recordings and collaborated with a wide variety of international artists, including Sting, flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, and jazz-fusionist Al di Meola. Throughout Greece, Dalaras is beloved for his political concerns and his commitment to justice; internationally, he won the John F. Kennedy Award for his humanitarian efforts. Although little known outside his native country, Dalaras has performed in some of the world’s most esteemed venues, such as the Olympia Theatre in Paris and Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Born in 1950 to a family of musicians, Dalaras grew up in the gritty Athenian port city of Piraeus. His grandfather, who lived in Thessaly (a remote region of northern Greece), played Byzantine music on the violi, a kind of fiddle. “All the men in the family—my grandfather had eleven children—became musicians,” Dalaras told Anemona Hartocollis of Newsday. “There were only
Born Yiorgos (George) Ntaralas in 1950 in Nea Kokkinia, Piraeus, Greece; son of Loukas Ntaralas (a musician); married Anna Dalaras (his manager); children: Georganna.
Began playing in Piraeus music clubs as a teenager; made recording debut on his father’s album, 1965; recorded first single at age 17, 1967; issued debut LP The Station, 1968; released Rembetiko, 1975, the first platinum-selling (100,000 copies) LP in the Greek record industry; performed two sold-out shows at 80,000-seat Athens Olympic Stadium, 1983; released The Very Best of George Dalaras, 2000; has released more than 40 albums.
Awards: John F. Kennedy Award for humanitarian work, 1994; Pan-Cypriot Union of America, Freedom Award, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —EMI Group, 4 Tenterden St., Hanover Square, London, England W1A 2AY, website: http://emigroup.com. Booking —Globe Entertainment, 30-97 Steinway St., Suite 206, Astoria, NY 11103. Website— George Dalaras Official Website: http://www.dalaras.gr.
two or three girls, and they had families, and even some of them produced musicians.”
Dalaras’s father, Loukas Ntaralas (pronounced “Daralas”), was a well-known bouzouki musician and a performer of rembetika music. Characterized by melancholy harmonies and subversive lyrics about class struggle, love, and betrayal, rembetika was suppressed and censored during times of political unrest. Ntaralas played with the best names in rembetika, including Bambakari, Papayioannis, Tsitsanis, and Ke-omitis.
As a teenager, Dalaras—who inverted the third and fifth letters of his last name—played guitar and sang and at Piraeus’s bouzoukia, or nightclubs, and made his recording debut in 1965 on his father’s rendition of “Wry Thorn.” Dalaras soon began to cut his own records, releasing his first song, “Prosmoni” (Anticipation), in 1967. The song made indirect reference to Greece’s political turbulence, and was instantly banned by authorities of the military junta that ruled the country from 1967 until the mid-1970s.
In 1975, upon the junta’s collapse, Dalaras released his first artistic success, Rembetiko, an album credited with reviving Greek underground music. Celebrating the working-class themes characteristic of rembetika, the release was an instant hit and the first platinum record (100,000 copies) in the history of Greek discog-raphy. “That was a very special moment for me,” Dalaras told Chris Nickson of VH1.com. “When I sang rembetika, which had been both censored and forgotten, I was able to bring it back for the young people. Since then it’s had a rebirth that has affected contemporary Greek music.”
Since Rembetiko, Dalaras has explored various styles of Greek music. In the 1970s he collaborated with Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, recording 18 Songs of a Bitter Homeland, whose text was based on the poems of Greek lyricist Yiannis Ritsos. Touring with Theodorakis to promote the album, Dalaras also performed his interpretations of the composer’s most famous songs. Soon Dalaras was considered a top performer of the country’s best composers and songwriters, such as Stavros Kouyoumtzis, Manos Loizos, Lefteris Papadopoulos, and Manos Eleftheriou.
“Paraponemena logia” (Saddened words), Dalaras’s 1979 hit, became the theme song for an entire generation of young Greeks. Following that success, in the early 1980s he became the first musician to take modern Greek music from small local clubs to large concert halls and arenas. In another first, Dalarus performed two sold-out shows at the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium of Athens. A live recorded album, Ta tragoudia mou (My songs), sold more than 700,000 copies.
In the mid-1980s Dalaras began performing internationally with a major European tour to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following this, he recorded 1987’s Latin, which mixed Greek music with songs from Latin America. The next year Dalaras participated in the Amnesty International Concert at Olympic Stadium, with Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and Tracy Chapman.
Always coupling music with social responsibility, Dalaras has supported causes associated with labor movements and discrimination. But his biggest concerns are those close to the heart of the Greek people. In the early 1990s he turned his attention to northern Cyprus, occupied since 1974 by Turkish forces. The invasion displaced about 200,000 ethnic Greeks, and the Greek-Cypriot struggle has become one of Greece’s most passionate concerns. In April of 1994 Dalaras traveled to the United States to support the cause, holding a benefit concert at the Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. That same year, Dalaras received the John F. Kennedy Award, presented by Senator Edward Kennedy, in recognition of his humanitarian work. “In Greece we express ourselves by being politically oriented and socially aware in our art; it’s our duty,” Dalaras told Chris Nickson of VH1. “Politis is our word for citizen. So if a citizen is political, imagine how political an artist must ben.”
The late 1990s brought more international exposure for Dalaras and other Greek musicians, as major record labels sought to introduce them to American audiences. Meanwhile, Dalaras continued to support political movements; he became particularly interested in the Kurdish cause, and spoke out against the war in Yugoslavia and the American bombing campaign.
More than any other cause, Dalaras has promoted the cause of Greek music, and has done much to bring these lyrical, danceable rhythms to audiences around the globe. For him, the process is not only political but also deeply personal. “I always had this idea that the song is not just a commercial occupation, more a process of the soul,” Dalaras told Bell of the London Evening Standard. “It might seem like a simple means of communication but I use music to find an answer for my own existence.”
Greek Voice, Tropical Music, 1991.
Greek Spirit, Tropical Music, 1994.
A Portrait, Blue Note, 1998.
Live and Unplugged, Tropical Music, 1998.
Latin, EMI, 2000.
Very Best of George Dalaras, Ark 21, 2000.
Tac chromata tou chronou (The colors of time), Vols. 1 & 2, EMI, 2000.
Running Roads, Ark 21, 2001.
Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 1998, p. B7.
Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), May 13, 1998, p. 28.
Evening Standard (London, England), June 4, 1992, p. 31.
Newsday, January 4, 1994, p. 38.
“George Dalaras,” All Music Guide, http://allmusic.com (September 2, 2002).
George Dalaras Official Website, http://www.dalaras.gr (September 2, 2002).
“The Very Best of George Dalaras Distills a Prolific Career,” VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/news/1123303/08222000/dalaras_george.jhtml (September 2, 2002).
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