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Του Jim Antonopoulos


His world is toned a calm, nostalgic sepia - the world of a soft spoken and modest man who avoids the spotlight. A world lined with more than 7 million album sales, thirty years of experience in an industry, which he has taken out of Greece and placed in a stadium with the whole world as its audience. Yet he is a man who will appreciate a certain silence. Jim Antonopoulos speaks to a man who has come to appreciate a certain silence.

This is George Dalaras.

I picture him walking the streets of an unknown city. I see him standing on the side of one street in a dark overcoat singing something Greek, something romantic, and something beautiful, something with a purpose. The conservatively and casually, well dressed man speaking to me emanates something more of gentility than of the political darkness or danger he has sometimes sung about. I listen to him and think to myself that this man has been to the four corners of the world and back, in 1996 alone he toured Greece, both North and South America, Cyprus and Israel. In 1997 he begins the year with a visit to Australia. The tone in his voice paints a calm and lucid landscape not just of love, but of the passion this man holds not just for music, but for the message. The message his music communicates; that is where his passion lies - the communication, the song, and the finally without fail, the love. Something natural of a man born in the era of the 'rebetiko' in the port of Piraeus. "I was born into music" he speaks with an unusual ease, his voice is gentle. "There has been one thing in my life which I have immersed myself in, and that is my music."

At the age of 18, George Dalaras recorded his first, self-titled album, since then he has worked on over eighty albums, half of which he has acted as interpreter, musician or producer expressing a unique and diverse creativity. Working with the greats of the Greek music world, poets and lyricists, as well as collaborating on projects with renowned international artists such as Sting and Bruce Springsteen, George Dalaras has set a standard that others can only use as a reference point. Forever experimenting with different musical backgrounds and expanding his artistic horizons, thanks to his remarkable voice and instrumental skill, Dalaras has been able to accomplish what other artists yearn for - the exploration and fulfillment of their skill. "I grew up listening to the likes of Mikis Theodorakis, Kouyoumtzi and the great poet Odysseus Elytis. As a young boy I held a strong fascination with these people. To work with them and be able to call them my friends is not only an honour but a friendship I hold close to my heart." His influences are many and span worlds full of life, colour and harmony. "The Flamenco style of music has made a great impression on my life, the names Al di Meola and John Maclaughlin and Paco de Lucia have also played a profound role in my style of music throughout recent years." "This is a rare breed of people and th ey are worth more than just 'something'."

His words are few, yet chosen with precision, he speaks quietly, yet with an artistic potency which we as an audience admire through his music. Working in an industry, which he has helped to shape, George Dalaras speaks of the past as the lying of the foundations, an example to be set. He holds it in his hands and caresses it dearly. One begins to wonder at what drives him to keep working, to continue, thirty years into his musical career. "I don't see my music as work, it's not a nine to five job like everybody else. It takes something special to say 'I love what I do' and I can say that with ease." He answers without hesitation, then pauses, his voice wavering as if he hasn't really thought about it and finds the thought somewhat troubling. "Like anything we do, we have our days when we can sit back and listen to absolute silence and find that silence beautiful. It becomes a part of you - music is my soul."

As I sit and listen to the man who accepted the 1994 John F. Kennedy Prize - I wonder at the great achievement he has made, of introducing a musical genre to an age group capable of ignorance to the styles of the rebetiko and smirneiko. Bridging the gap between generations, he has been able to expose and teach an entirely new generation to appreciate musical trends which otherwise would be lost. With albums spanning various musical collaborations and tastes, the mid seventies saw George Dalaras release albums "Mikras Asia", "Mikres Polities" and the controversial "Fifty Years of Rebetiko Song", a double album of the 1930 - 1950 rebetiko style blues considered 'revolutionary' at the time and subsequently politically censored in Greece. How long will it last and when will the compulsion to create music with a voice so powerful see its end? "As a musician with my experience, I have an obligation, as do all musicians, to set a good example and a standard for any young musician with an aspiration or a dream. Everything has a life span; what I have to do is make sure others learn from the mistakes the 'seasoned ones' have made and give them the opportunity to express themselves in their own way." "I don't see an end to things, rather, as time goes by, an improvement - we grow and learn. Life is a learning process and when we can come to a point where people see the beauty of life and dissolve the barriers of racism and sexism, then, we can say that we've achieved something." "Too many people are willing to reach into their pockets to give help, but are they going to reach into their hearts and give an equal amount?"

George Dalaras has painted us a picture of a world only his eyes can see, on a nostalgic canvas of contemporary music with an aesthetic and patriotic quality only a man of his creativity can create. A strange tranquility seeps into his voice as I ask him who 'George Dalaras' is. He laughs and tells me in the words of someone who may have been a poet in some other life. "The audience will always create an image in their minds of who I am - I can't, and won't change that. Dalaras is the name and face you have - George is the human side I keep close to my heart, the side that listens to silence."