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Who is George Dalaras? If you’re not Greek, a Cypriot, or a Greek hyphenate in diaspora countries such as the U.S. or Australia, there’s an excellent chance you don’t know this singer, although at home he is nothing short of a living legend. He does visit the U.S. regularly, though, and has a tour set for this November.
So why should you know him? Well, for starters, consider the statistics. Since his 1968 debut, he has released about 55 albums under his own name: for an artist who’s 52 years old, that averages out to just over one records per year for each year of his life. And that figure doesn’t even take into consideration the 45 or so additional albums he has either produced or on which he has appeared as a guest artist. George Dalaras has sold more than 7 million LPs, cassettes, and CDs. It’s unlikely that the current crop of Western pop stars would ever record music setting poems by, say Seamus Heaney or Joseph Brodsky, but Dalaras is closely associated with some of the greaetest names of twentieth-century Greek poetry, such as Oddyseus Elytis and Yannis Ritsos. He has also managed to help revive interest in one of Greece’s most important and influential musical traditions: rembetika, which first flourished in the 1920s through the 1940s. In its original incarnation it was largely music of the Greek underclasses, greatly beloved for its earthiness and depth of feeling as well as its intricate melodies and rhythms.
But Dalaras is not just a revivalist he is the undisputed king of laoki (pop) music. A longtime social activist, one of his primary concerns is the plight of refugees worldwide he has performed on behalf of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He has toured the globe several times over-making stops in such diverse countries as France, Russia, and Cuba. Over the years, he’s appeared with such disparate artists as the Israel Philharmonic, Peter Gabriel, French pop-opera phenomenon Emma Shapplin, and Bruce Springsteen. Still, in America, the question remains: George who?
Into the breach steps impresario and Ark 21 head Miles Copeland, whose Mondo Melodia imprint is geared towards offering records by topselling local talents to wider audiences in the United States. In 2000, the label released a “best of” Dalaras compilation on the basis of that success. More recently, Mondo Melodia issued a single-disc version of Dalaras’ album The Running Roads [I Asphaltos Pou Trechei], originally issued in Greece by Minos-EMI as a two-CD set. Along with an array of songs in Greek by some of Greece’s best-known pop composers and lyricists are two tunes featuring internationally acclaimed stars that bookend the album. The opening selection is a duet with musical nomad Sting together they perform the Englishman’s “Mad about You.” (Label founder Copeland is Sting’s manager the former Police frontman often appears on Mondo Melodia projects these days.) The closing selection is a fiery Spanish-language rendition of Carlos Puebla’s “Hasta Siempre,” an ode to Che Guevara that features noted guitarist Al Di Meola.
“The practical reasoning for cutting it down,” says Dalaras, “was that two discs with 28 songs was too much material for a foreign edition.” But there were other considerations as well, he admints. “For the American and European versions of The Running Roads, the album became a selection of what could be characterized as ‘ethnic’ songs, in which there are modern sounds but at the same time-paradoxically-Greek instruments. What we took out were the songs that were chiefly for the Greek public, who has a deep knowledge of Greek music from its roots. For the foreign version, aside<