The singer Dimitris Mitropanos passed away on 17.4.2012 at the age of 64. Being one of Greece’s greatest singers, his death naturally saddened millions in his country. Huge crowd attended his funeral to say a last goodbye.
Dimitris was Greek in body and soul. His songs were aimed at the Greek, and related to Greek and universal human aches and miseries, and he danced on stage the most Greek of dances, the Zebekiko. As modest as he was he didn’t hesitate to say clearly and sharply his leftist social and political views, his belonging to the ordinary people and his distrust of politicians.
Dimitris was born Red, in 1948 in Agia Moni, a district of Trikala in central Greece. He had been raised with the belief that his father was killed in the Civil War, but when he was 16 his father was found in Romania. It would take another 13 years until he met him.
Agia Moni was a poor place. His Mother was making rugs and Dimitris, like all children, worked after school to help his family. “All were leftists,” Dimitris said “They used to call Agia Moni ‘Little Moscow’”. Members of his family were imprisoned “for political reasons”. The Gendarmes used to visit his home regularly. “Between the ages of 12 and 13 they called me for the first time to the police department, explained to me what my father, my uncle, my family were, and recommended I do not study, because with such a history as my family had, there was no reason to go to school… this was the reason of my getting involved in politics.”
In 1964, when he was 16, he moved with his uncle to Athens, continued his high school studies, but before finishing school he was already singing. Three great artists started and drove his career forward; Gregoris Bitikotsis who discovered him and urged him to become a singer (“Slowly I begun to like the idea…”), and Georgos Zabetas with whom he would sing in a club; he was his mentor, also guiding the teenage boy how to react mentally to success. “He was my father… he let me work until midnight because in the morning I had to go to school” and when Dimitris was 19 Zabetas set music to his first hit, “Thessaloniki”.
Here is the song, which is still popular today, sung by Dimitris Mitropanos 39 years later:
But above all, the singer who influenced him most was Stelios Kazandzidis. Ever since his childhood, Dimitris admired the singer who rose from the simple
people and sung for them, and whom he considered to have the greatest voice in Greek Music ever. In that time, still in his teens, he was lucky to meet the adored singer at his home. “For me it was a myth. He had taken a guitar and told me “come to sing.” I didn’t sing, I sat and listened. It was something magical. I have not felt so much before for humans.”And this admiration prevailed until his last day. “If somebody tells me Kazandzidis is not worthy I will break his head,” he said in an interview.
He believed that every man and woman has a duty to listen, speak and fight for the vital problems of their time, which also goes for the artist that appears on stage. “He marched alongside the Communist Party having the conviction that the only weapon of the people is resistance and the effective, daily struggle. He was always present at the festival of the Communist Youth of Greece, stating his support for their organization.” Already in the beginning of his career, as he was a soldier aged 24, he took part in an important album –”Holy February” which was about the tragedy of the destruction and deportation of the Greek community in Smyrni, but has wider universal meanings of the cycles of catastrophe and rebirth that people live through.
“Rosa” maybe is the song that is most identified with Dimitris Mitropanos. “Rosa” is Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919). She was a Marxist charismatic political activist; philosopher and economist in Germany from about 1900 until she was murdered in 1919 by rightist militias after the Communist Party of Germany launched an unsuccessful revolution, trying to imitate the Bolsheviks in Russia. For Thanos Mikroutsikos, the composer of the song, the personality of this woman is “one I appreciate most after Karl Marx…she was a revolutionary woman at a time that women didn’t get out of their homes”. I think the lyrics of Alkis Alkaios reveals an adoration and a passion, erotic even, to Rosa and to what she stands for – her values, humanity – and a pain for her loss and the loss of that era, far from our cold and impersonal days. At the same time the words can be for any beloved woman; ideology and love go here hand in hand…
My lips dry and thirsty
are looking for water on the asphalt
vehicles passing beside me
and you tell me that a storm is waiting for us
and pulling me into a damp cabaret
We walk along the same road
but our cells are separate
we keep wondering around a magical city
I do not want anymore to know what we are looking for
it is enough to grant me two kisses
You gamble me in roulette and you lose me
in a nightmarish fairy-tale
a voice of an insect is my voice now,
a climbing plant is my life
you cut me and throw me into the abyss.
How need becomes history
how history becomes silence
why Rosa are you staring at me being numb
pardon me that I don’t understand
what the computers and numbers say
My love made of coal and sulfur
how time has changed you so
the vehicles are passing over us
and I inside the mist and storm
sleep hungry on your side
All this is sung in the rhythm of Zebekiko, the rhythm with which Dimitris Mitropanos has a great personal and artistic relationship. He had danced it from childhood. “I think zeibekiko and tsamiko are both eminently masculine dances containing the pride, the dynamism, sexual frustration, and sexual success. Zeibekiko is a solitary dance… It’s an internal dance through which you express your pain or pleasure and you improvise”, he said, and electrified the audience…
(Click on cc for English subtitles)
He was a modest man, who did not see himself as a star, but wanted us to see him instead as a man who comes in to do a good job, and nothing more. He had to admit, contrary to his belief that his voice had been gifted to him by God, but “after that you should work”. Celebrity gestures were far from him; he stood on the stage and sung, sometimes with closed eyes, and he was not interested in his album’s covers, only in the singing. Indeed, “the singer is the most expressive instrument of the orchestra because he speaks and addresses the people,” but he should remember that he is only a singer, who serves the material of the writers and “without repertoire we are nothing.”
My life is an excursion: (Click on cc for English subtitles)
Music: Georgos Zabetas
Lyrics and Music :Giannis Miliokas
The material for this post is from three interviews with Mitropanos. I didn’t bring the exact references for not to make this post too “academic” here are the links:
From “Forum Dalaras”
Another story on a song of Mitropanos on my Blog
Thanks Nata Ostria for the research and song’s translation, thanks Katherina Siapanda who kindly gave me her views on “Rosa” and to Shahaf Ifhar and Dany Matz for editing.
The posts appear fortnightly.The next post on 18/5/2012