Archive for June, 2012

Three Chapters in the Life and Work of Dimitris Lagios

June 30, 2012


Yaron Enosh is a broadcaster in Israeli radio. In the autumn of 1990 he came to Corfu to live there with his family for one year, to take in the green island and its people, in accordance with Cavafis’ advice in his famous poem “Ithaca”, that every man should not hurry in the journey of life but must open his eyes and his other senses: to know, to feel and to learn from all what he experiences.

Giorgos was his best friend among the locals, “like my brother,” he says. One day he opened his gramophone and played a record. Yaron was enchanted. Giorgos went to the kitchen, returned with a bottle of wine and asked whether he would like to hear other music by Dimitris Lagios… So Yaron became acquainted with the tunes that have been his radio programme’s theme for years.

Not many months passed and one day in April 1991 Yaron found his friend devastated with tears. “You didn’t hear?” said Giorgos… “Dimitris Lagios had died…”

He was only 39 in his death from cancer. Despite the beautiful music he wrote and his vast initiatives in music, he never saw himself, till his last day, more than a novice in music and in life, a pupil, “I have not grown up inside me…I am interested in the path and the road that I will find as a creator, therefore constantly looking for”

Dimitris Lagios of  Zakinthos

Dimitris Lagios was born in 1952 in Zakinthos (Zante), one of the Ionian Islands, like Corfu

He was born to the blue of the sea, the green of the vegetation and to the deep rooted musical tradition of the Island. His first love was the sea. His family had lived just two hundred meters from it and they had a small boat. Dimitris dreamt of becoming a sailor. His second love was music. His father was a baker with a wonderful tenor voice, as Dimitris recalled. He would take his son to the taverns where traditional music was played. “In my youth when I visited the taverns I was impressed by the ethos and the seriousness with which the folk people sang”From early childhood he would play music with various instruments and sought to read books that were scarcely available.

Zakhintos has a rich musical tradition, different than that of the mainland. The years of Venetian rule had given their traces. The mandolin and the guitar are the plucked instruments here, not the bouzouki, and the local folk song the “Kandatha” has an Italian influence. It was in Zakinthos that wind instruments were first incorporated in music; the first opera and operetta in Greece originated here, as well as the first music school.

From Zakinthos originated serveral great poets like Dionysios Salomos (1798-1857) and Andreas Kalvos (1792-1869).

Lagios had been moved by the view of his homeland, the true autentic traditional melodies and poetry, “allowed to drift by the sounds, which were absorbed creatively in his diverse work”

A short poem by Solomos, with its (typical) “sweet mystery”, composed and sung by Lagios:


Even a single wave is not heard

in the deserted seashore

as if the sea sleeps 

in the bosom of the land

and here is his “Barkarola” –a “boat song” without words:(audio)

The 80s – A most fruitful decade

After several years at the University of Illinois, Chicago, Dimitris Lagios settled permanently in Greece in 1980, mainly in Athens. I don’t know if he knew that his time would be so limited, but he created and made so many musical projects as if “time were the enemy,” as he put it in an interview. Maybe it is because he had lost his mother at a young age, but he also felt that in the immense field of art and creation time is never sufficient.

His projects were numerous. He organized, mainly but certainly not only in his native town of  Zakinthos, music festivals, established bands, founded music study centers, gave concerts, researched and collected Zakintos’ traditional songs and poems (folk and religious), and released them in a series of albums. “He was the idol of young people here… [he] brought together the art of  Zakinthos… we had a door to knock on, a man to come together with” (Dimitris Avouris).

Since 1985 he would be involved in the Cyprus Struggle feeling a deep devotion to it, actively organizing festivals, musical performances and demonstrations with his endless energy.

But his creativity had not been limited to his island’s style. The 80s found him composing music to the poems of Odysseas Elitis (In the album ” O ilios o iliatoras” -The sun – the source of life, that dominates our existence) and to other first rate poets, lyricists and performers whom he loved and whose art, he felt, is complementary to his art.

He considered art as a shelter to escape to whenever he needed peace and tranquillity. “To escape from a society where politeness and discretion count as a weakness, in which the one who shouts loudest or speaks incessantly is considered as the most powerful. We hear noises and not just words. The soul asks an escape. Art is now one of the only refuges of modern man, where you can find substance, authenticity and truth.” He said in his quiet voice in a famous interview with the late Malvina Karali.

“Passing and silent” is the fruit of his collaboration with the lyricist Mihalis Bourboulis and the soul singer with the unique voice, Sotiria Bellou:


The last work

To dream, out of the window to travel

to get inside you to be destroyed and die

My salvation is death and your body

To get inside you to be destroyed and die

These are the opening and the closing lines of Dimitris Lagios’ last album, “Love Rehearsal”. In 1987, he wanted to try and examine something new in his art. He wanted to write a song cycle in which he would be the lyricist too, and that the music will be fit for dancing, a ballet. His beloved wife, Peggy (“my eternal partner”) tells:

“With the big brown eyes of his soul, he had imagined this project, which at first he cheekily called «Love rehearsal to death»…. It is true… He did not fear death. He was looking at it on its face, was touching it and was challenging it… as if he were getting the measures of it… as he had his suspicions about death… He had no aspirations of becoming a poet. He wanted to write lyrics that would express him, telling about his own relationship with life, love, loneliness, death – lyrics for his music. So he wrote the rehearsal… as an attempt, a test, a need to describe his world with lyrics. So he did the rehearsal of his death too without suspecting or knowing anything yet…” So despite the word “Death”, Peggy says, it was his life’s work.

But as he worked on this album Dimitris understood that his time is too short. But he found great artistic strength to continue, maybe through seeking redemption to his soul. In 1989 he said: “these songs are more personal… they are characterized by introversion. I prefer to incorporate them in a performance that my friends attend, who would like this kind of music and sound… I do not think I’ve done something so great. Art is so great by itself – anything a man creates is so small in front of it”.

Few days before his death he stopped the release of the album demanding to omit the words “to death” from its title. When the album was released a few months later, it was titled “Love Rehearsal”.

I think that the above lines are a kind of a motif to this work. As it turns out in these lines and also in the other songs, the love and the passion are not only a cause of instability to the soul, but also they lead to destruction all the way to the end.

From the album, the song “What a passion” sung by Pandelis Thalassinos:

And Giorgos Dalaras sings “Do not believe in love”, the video ends with Dimitris Lagios sings the above four lines of  “To dream”


Dimitris Lagios passed away on 11th April 1991. “I will not go, it is too early!” he wrote less than two month before to his beloved daughter Hyacinth (Υακίνθη) who was named in dedication to his Island. According to his will his ashes were scattered half in the sea of Zakinthos, and half in the sea of Cyprus.

 An interview by Malvina Karali  a list of his albums of  Zakinthos’ music
Thanks Nata Ostria for translations of the songs and texts and research, Katherina Siapanda, and  for Shahaf  Ifhar and Dany Matz for editing.

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