“Listening to the songs from the beginning I feel them like candles that are still burning. I pass my hand over their flame and want to feel its burning. They are all alive…” in 2005 the singer Charis Alexiou writes about the new re-mastered edition of the album “Ta tragoudia tis chthesinis meras” – “Songs of Yesterday” that she and Dimitra Galani recorded in 1981.
This Album was one of my deepest and most exciting experiences in the first years of my interest in Greek Music. It contains simple melancholic songs, sung with a modest accompaniment of two guitars and a harmonica, and was a great success with over 100,000 copies sold. I was so moved by the album that I offered its songs to anybody I knew, and I even started my first and last initiative to distribute an album commercially in our country (which did not work out).
The singers, Charis Alexiou and Dimitra Galani have been of the most distinguished singers for over forty years. Dimitra is little bit younger than Charis, but she came to singing before, and so it happened that somewhere in the beginning of the 1970s she was told about a new singer that performs in a club. “I was so amazed by her voice, that I threw on her all the flowers that I found in front of me”, she told, and thus begun a wonderful friendship, both personal and artistic. “With Charis we reveal our souls, our love for singing and for the people, by the way two good friends can do.” In 1978 they appeared together with great success in the famous “Zigos” club in Athens.
In early 1981 the two singers began to think about a kind of repertoire which would include songs of various writers from the 1960s and 1970s with this kind of minimal accompaniment. They proposed it to the notable TV presenter Lilan Likiardopoulou, to be performed in her show “Little Night Music”. The show made a big impression on its viewers, who mistakenly believed that there is already an album of these songs, searching for it intensively in the shops… Thus was born “Songs of Yesterday”.
So, in one afternoon, they entered into the studio with the three accompanying musicians, Vardis, Rakopoulos (guitars) and Ganoseli (harmonica), and began their “musical confession”. It was a spontaneous, “no plan” recording, in one session, which left its influence on the artists for long after. Dimitra Galani tells in 2005: “I remember the wet eyes of Charoula (Charis) when we picked the material while we were playing the guitar. I remember the photo shoot at Seih-Sou and the twilight sun that fell on our hair. We believed at that time that we’ll have a lot to remember and thankfully we do remember. And the songs weren’t only of yesterday… the songs are songs for every day, every moment… that we will recall our innocence and our friendship”. Elsewhere she writes: “We were testing every idea that was coming into our minds; we were recording in-between making miscellaneous comments. We were laughing crying, remembering, and each of us expressed himself.”
I love you because you resemble me
you do not calm for a single moment
as if you have a heart
my own small heart…
I have a longing
that eats me sweetly and melts me
I have a longing; I will come to you to tell it
my sister, sea that I love you
to the distant travels you go
take my secret sorrow
and from there far away
bring me joy
Here is an audio of the song about the old clock in the station which stood still at the time of goodbye…
The producer Achilleas Theofilou writes in the liner notes of the album: “‘Songs of yesterday’ is pretty much our heroic loneliness that changes neighbourhood, passport and face every now and then. It is something between soldier shifts, one who falls in love and the moon… Sometimes Dimitra and Charoula stopped time and said that would be nice to tell to the people how much the voice and the loneliness grow during the night. That’s why the songs they chose have good but also cruel moments. They are simple songs, distant, utopian, from the past, to create their own language. It’s no coincidence that they sang all of them in an afternoon. If these songs had a colour it would be purple that is fit for all the afternoons of the year. These songs always stay awake, caressing our loneliness.”
I have a feeling that what makes them, in Theofillou’s words, “stay always awake, caressing our loneliness”, is the deep friendship of these two artists and their sensitivity, both are delivered so gracefully to the listener of this album.
Thirty one years later, in 2012, these songs were sung again by the two in a series of concerts of their broader repertoire that attracted huge audiences. They felt the same unity of their spirits just as before, as their friendship never stopped, “I feel stronger and safer because I will share the stage with my dear Dimitra Galani with whom we share a precious past”, said Charoula, and they have a “new perspective on the emotions and situations that these songs represent”. Dimitra feels that this is thanks to the songs’ depth; like in any great piece of art one can always find new sides, and that they are part of the Greek singing culture which is a kind of a platform that helps individuals to be connected to society and to move forward in life, connecting past to the present and the future. “The Greek cries, laughs, happy, loves, is passionate, enjoys with the song, so that should never stop.”
Here are Charis and Dimitra in our days, 31 years later, with two more “Songs of yesterday”:
Come with me
No, we should not meet
A song is from the movie “A dream of passion” by Jules Dassin. (1978)
Why “Songs of Yesterday?” We asked a person who was close to this production, but unfortunately did not get an answer up until today… So we can only assume. Nata Ostria, our friend and researcher, suggests that it is simply because all the songs of the album had been sung before already. Our friend Katherina Siapanta guesses that maybe it is because these songs were aired one day on a TV show and just after that they were recorded. My own guess, which is not confirmed, is about the style of the songs which is reminiscent of a kind of American music from the 1960s like that of Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, etc. Baez’s “The House of the Rising Sun” is included in the album. If further information arises, I will let you know.
*Click cc on the YouTube videos for on/off English subtitles (for all videos)
1. Jamaika (Tzamaika)
Lyrics: Lefteris Papadopoulos
Music: Manos Loizos
2. Wide Sea (Thalassa Platia)
Lyrics: Giorgos Rousos
Music: Manos Hatzidakis
3. The old clock (to palio roloi)
Lyrics: Lefteris Papadopoulos
Music: Manos Loizos
4. Come with me (Ela mazi mou)
5. No, we shouldn’t meet (Ochi den prepei…)
Lyrics: Geiorgos Chronas
Music: Giannis Markopoulos
Sources are the booklet of the 2005 edition and the following links:
Thanks very much to Nata Ostria for the material and translation, to Katherina Siapanda for the help, to Shahaf Ifhar and Dany Matz for the editing.
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