George Dalaras

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Georgios (Giorgos) Dalaras (Greek: Γεώργιος (Γιώργος) Νταλάρας and English: George Dalaras) (29 September 1949), is a Greek musician and singer of international fame. He is widely considered among the most prominent figures of Greek contemporary musical culture, with more than 70 personal albums and with sales of more than 15 million records to date. He has been selected as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency. He was born in Nea Kokinia, Piraeus. His father was Loukas Daralas (difference in surname spelling), a singer of rebetiko.

Early career

Dalaras’ first song, “Προσμονή” (Prosmoni, “expectation”), was recorded in 1967. The single never reached any popular status, in fact it was barely released. Dalaras even had to struggle to get into the studio, as ironically the day he began his studio career was the day that the Greek military junta took over the streets of Athens, and the roads were littered with tanks. After several appearances on various recordings as a guest singer, his debut album was released in early 1969, a self-titled album released on the Minos label. The recording included many compositions by Stavros Kouyioumtzis, who in the early years proved a fountain of help towards Dalaras achieving musical success. As Dalaras has said in various interviews, he owes the fact that he became a singer to Kouyioumtzis, who composed Dalaras’ first songs. His relation with Kouyioumtzis remained friendly until the sudden death of the composer due to a heart attack in March 2005.

The biggest hit of the record, “Που ‘ναι τα χρόνια” (Pou ‘ne ta chronia, “Where are the years?”), is still sung today, and is regarded as a mainstay in Dalaras’ large repertoire. In 1970, he released the album “Να ‘τανε το 21 ” (Na ‘tane to ikosi-ena, “If only it were ’21”, that is, 1821, a reference to the Greek War of Independence). The album was immediately more successful than his debut LP and included hits such as “Na ‘tane to 21′”, “Κάπου νυχτώνει” (“Kapou nichtoni”, Somewhere the night falls), and an instrumental version of “Pou ‘ne ta chronia”. The album was made up entirely of a compositions by Stavros Kouyioumtzis. The songs were mainly reinterpretations, as was common in the late 60s for new Greek singers; however, not all the songs on their first release (most of them on the smaller yet more distinctive LYRA label) had proved successful, and in many instances, even now, many people in Greece believe that the Dalaras songs are originals and not cover versions.
First gold album

In 1972, Dalaras, along with singer Haris Alexiou, received his big break in the Greek music industry when their LP “Μικρά Ασία” (Mikra Asia, Asia Minor) went gold, his first album to do so. The songs were written by Apostolos Kaldaras, a heavyweight in the laïkó scene of the 50s and 60s, who at this time decided to enter the political fray of Greek music. Dalaras and Alexiou were immediately thrown into the limelight. The LP was also recently re-released in both CD and limited edition LP format by Minos-EMI. The Mikra Asia LP was followed up by “Βυζαντινός Εσπερινός” (Vizantinos Esperinos, Byzantine Vespers) in 1973. The album consisted again of Dalaras and Haris Alexiou, and was composed by Apostolos Kaldaras, however the lyrics were by the emerging Lefteris Papadopoulos, who had written Dalaras’ first official recording. This was the last time that Dalaras officially worked with Apostolos Kaldaras in the studio, however, they worked together in live performances. Unlike Mikra Asia, Vizantinos Esperinos did not meet with exceptional sales, and is somewhat ‘forgotten’ in the repertoire of Dalaras’s songs.

Rebetiko revival

After several LPs and further collaborations with Kouyioumtzis, Kaldaras, Manos Loïzos, Mikis Theodorakis and others, Dalaras decided to release his own renditions of rebetiko songs on the double LP “50 Χρόνια Ρεμπέτικο Τραγούδι” (Peninta Chronia Rebetiko Tragoudi, 50 Years of Rebetiko songs), released 1975. The recording proved an immediate success, despite the toning down of the lyrics. However, as a result, a new movement was set to take place in Greek music, and the once forgotten rebetes were finding themselves performing, in some cases for the first time in 30 to 40 years. He followed up this work with an LP in 1980, “Ρεμπέτικα της Κατοχής” (Rebetika tis Katohis, Rebetiko (songs) of the occupation), which was a more gritty and meaty release, more faithful to the tone of the original rebetika as heard in the 1930s. However, again references to drugs were cut out, and only mentioned in passing. Unlike the previous double LP, this one contained some of the original musicians, Bayianteras and Genitsaris in particular making an appearance on the album.

Collaborations and styles

Since the 1960s, Dalaras has recorded more than 120 records. He has sung numerous different Greek music styles (e.g. rebetiko, laïkó, Latin, pop), Israeli and Arabic music, and religious music. He has collaborated with many contemporary Greek composers, including Mikis Theodorakis, Stavros Kouyioumtzis, Manos Loizos, Apostolos Kaldaras, Stavros Xarhakos, Manos Hadjidakis and Christos Nikolopoulos. He also discovered and supported young Areti Ketime, producing her first album. Apart from his prominent singing career, Dalaras is considered to be one a talented musician as he plays most of the stringed instruments of a Greek folk band with great success, including the guitar, bouzouki, baglamas, tzouras and outi. He has accompanied Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucía, among others. Dalaras’ most important projects include collaborations with several international singers, including British singer Sting, releasing together a duet of Sting’s song Mad About You. He has also collaborated with Pyx Lax, Bruce Springsteen, Jethro Tull, Yehuda Poliker, Emma Shapplin, Goran Bregovic, Apostolis Anthimos, Dulce Pontes, Andriana Babali and many others. Dalaras moved from his homestay label of Minos EMI in favour of Universal Music Greece in 2006, thus ending an almost 40 year collaboration.

In 2000, Dalaras discovered a new local orchestra that specialized at traditional Smirneiko (from Smyrna) and Rebetiko songs. The orchestra’s name was “Εστουδιαντίνα Νέας Ιωνίας” (Estoudiantina Neas Ionias[1] and it came from Nea Ionia, a city near Volos. Dalaras pulled Estoudiantina in the light of publicity and make it known to the Greek public. Since then Estoudiantina has become one of the most important and famous orchestras in Greece. Estoudiantina’s repertoire now also includes Modern Greek, Greek Laiko, and Mediterranean.

Concerts and sales
George Dalaras in Caesarea’s Roman theatre in 2011

In his almost 50-year musical career, Dalaras has performed in thousands of concerts, and in 1980, entered the era of the live Greek club. Two historical concerts occurred in the Athens Olympic Stadium, attended by more than 160,000 people. This was the largest attendance at a Greek concert, to the point where Rolling Stone magazine commented that Dalaras was responsible for the birth of the Stadium era in Greece.

Dalaras personal albums total beyond 70. He has sold more than 15,000,000 records in his career and is regarded as one of the biggest names in contemporary Greek music. He has toured extensively throughout the world and was even invited to sing for Nelson Mandela on his birthday.

His live albums, including tributes to Vassilis Tsitsanis and Markos Vamvakaris, all reached multi platinum sales, and resulted in being among the top 10 releases of 2005. In December 2005, he released a live recording called “Μεσόγειος 30ος 40ος Παράλληλος” (Mediterranean 30th 40th parallel) with various renditions of Greek, Italian, Israeli and Arabic songs, and famous musicians from Hebrew and Arabic backgrounds, which gained multi platinum status.