Theodorakis and the Greek Folk Revival

March 11, 2010

Greece has had it rough recently, at least according to the mainstream media. Such national angst prompted me to devote an entry to some Greek folk music dumped on me by my buddy and former college dorm neighbor Theodorus Papatheodorou during a massive mp3 exchange back in 2005 in London where we were both studying. I emailed Theo, who is back in Greece, about a batch of unintelligible mp3s that didn’t make the transition from the Greek alphabet to the English in the transfer and ended up stuck in some bizarre binary no man’s land.
Not only did I hear back from him promptly, he also provided me with a response about the origins of this song by Mikis Theodorakis and ergo saved me from doing the leg work. After reading about Theodorakis, I can’t help but finding connections between the Greek folk music revival and that of the nueva canción movement in South America. Both incorporated folk instruments (zithers and bouzoukis in the Greek example, charangos, zampoñas, and drums in South America) and idioms into the music, both used impassioned, polyphonic singing to express political and social dissent, both were subjected to the brutality of military dictatorships, artistic censorship, imprisonment, and torture. It makes for a fascinating entry, so many thanks to Theo for the insight! Check out his radio show Around the World in 90 minutes (warning – I hope you read Greek!).

Great track!

It’s from the Album called “The songs of the struggle (Τα τραγούδια του αγώνα)” (cover above). The album was written by Theodorakis while in exile within Greece and abroad. It was published in 1974, the year the military dictatorship lost its grip on power in Greece. When the coup d’etat took place in 1967 lots of left wing activists,
politicians and sympathizers were rounded up, jailed, tortured and killed. One of those was Theodorakis who had been a known communist and anti-fascist during the WWII and civil war. He was sent to exile on a Greek island-prison where he had a tough time like all the other prisoners. After spending a few years like that and amid mounting international pressure he was allowed to leave for Paris. During his stay there he was actively campaigning against the dictatorship and he put on paper the music he had written during his stay in exile.

The album is full of songs about the struggle. The themes are the pain of death, the rally to revolt and even the funny language the dictators used to describe the state of affairs in Greece. The specific song is called “Today in Greece” (Στην Ελλάδα σήμερα). As the title suggest it describes the situation in Greece, the failed but “holy” attempts of people for freedom, eyes full of tears, “the seed of anger that has fallen on the soil”, “a spark that lights in the middle of darkness” and “the new struggle that is calling you”.

The dictatorship finally collapsed in 1974 partly because of the public outcry for the tanks entering and killing unarmed students in the Athens University. Even today the issue is very sensitive in Greece and as a result, by law, the police is not allowed to enter University premises. Anybody who enters is offered asylum. Today if you enter the university there are lots of vendors selling contraband DVDs, clothes etc because they know police can’t enter. This also has negative repercussions because each year, on the anniversary of the student uprising, the building is trashed by the extreme left, for what purpose I have never understood.

Anyway, in July the junta was toppled and two months later this album came out. It would have been impossible to do it before because of very very strict censorship rules that existed. All songs published during that era are cheesy love songs even though there was an orgasm of creativity which was revealed only after freedom was restored. This led this artist: to write a song with non-lyrics. The lyrics should mean as much to you as to me as they sound like greek but they are not… the words don’t exist. It was written and published at the time in order to prove a point and the track is now considered a classic. This version is the most popular one and it’s performed by a Cretan musician thus the scenes from Crete.

Well, I hope it helps. Thanks for waking up my dormant taste for Greek music on this chilly Wednesday morning.
– Theodorus Papatheodorou

Today in Greece – Mikis Theodorakis

Here’s another one for good measure. I like this tune a lot. Here are Theo’s comments:
It’s called “Διότι δεν Συνεμορφώθην” which translated means “Because he didn’t comply”. It’s the type of track that I told you is making fun of the funny official language of the dictators and their bureaucracy.

“Further than the blue sky, the blue wave, a mother is waiting for me for years to see her”

It describes the pain of the prisoner on the island-prison where the left wing activists/politicians were kept and then it interrupts the words of longing to say “Because he did not comply with the designated instructions”, creating a sharp contrast between the poetic language of the rest of the song and the words of mouthpiece of the dictators.

Because He Didn’t Comply – Mikis Theodorakis


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