The troubador and the lyricist of humanity

“If I have written one hundred songs, eighty are her own,” said the singer and writer Kostas Chatzis (Κώστας Χατζής) on the lyricist Sotia Tsotou (Σώτια Τσώτου), it was a fruitful collaboration that reached the hearts of so many people.

A troubadour he is, Kostas Chatzis. For 56 years he has been traveling everywhere with his guitar, singing ballads, mostly and urgently about the necessity of social solidarity, about the state’s failure to achieve it, about human rights, and about love: to the planet, between people and between woman and man. He was a pioneer in this genre. No other singer attracted that huge an audience with just a guitar for his accompaniment, in both small clubs and in big concert halls and arenas.

He was born in 1936 to a musical Gypsy family. His origin had planted in him the sensitivity to social justice.”I belonged to a minority and I felt that for the first time when I went to school. I noticed that they singled me out”; teachers and pupils called him names, “not out of hatred, but out of ignorance – and as I was growing up events happened, that made me want to complain about and discuss human rights”. He distrusts any system, social, economic or religious.

His father was a virtuoso on the santouri (dulcimer) and in his youth he played with him in weddings and similar events. He had begun to write and sing about the suffering of the Gypsies.  In 1957, after touring all over Greece, he settled in Athens. Belonging to a minority group did not help him and he had a few hard years, a time of starvation, trying to survive and find his way – a time of sorrows and disappointments, all, as he said, “to serve music”. Gradually he and his songs became known and in 1963, as he was 27 his first album had been released.

Kostas performed and recorded his songs, believing that the song is a personal need of saying for the sake of one’s conscience; it is also the best way to sharpen people minds on how society deprives many of its members. But he preferred that others write lyrics to his songs. The dictatorship that rose in Greece in April 1967 had put on his way Sotia Tsotou.

Sotia was born in 1942 at Livadiea, her father was fighter in the guerrilla organization ELAS and as Sotia was a little more than one year of age he was executed by the Germans in front of his home. The family was prosecuted wildly by the Germans, who burnt their house so Sotia was given for adoption to a wealthy pair in Athens, Tsotou.

She  got the best education, and at 18 parallel to studying in university and in the drama school, she began working as a journalist. Her career rose nicely in the mid 1960s as she made political reports to the newspaper “Eleftheria” –Freedom. This finished abruptly, on one day –the Colonel’s Junta Coup of 21 April 1967. “Eleftheria” and other newspapers, in protest about the situation stopped their appearance in the same day.

Sotia sought a way to continue her career in a Thessaloniki newspaper, but as she arrived to Athen’s airport to fly there, she was detained by the Junta officers, and went under investigation for hours. She was eventually released, boarded a plan, and as it took off, released herself from the seat-belt before the light turned off, with a mixed feeling of relief and freedom, but also with anger – she looked down on her beloved country with its glorious past and culture, now under the boots of colonels, which from that height were no different than other people, “just ants”… she had promised herself that her first report will be on what she went through at the airport and her feelings at the airplane. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, no job as a journalist was available.

It was a tough time of unemployment and fear for journalists. One day she was invited by the lyricist and journalist Lefteris Papadopoulos and he urged her to write songs’ lyrics instead of journalism, just temporarily, to make a living. “But nothing is more permanent than the interim. Forty-two years later, in May 2009, and I give you an interview as a songwriter who apparently succeed,” she said in an interview to her journalist daughter Despina.

She viewed her song writing as a kind of journalism, expressing her experiences and her social and political opinion through verse. Indeed, her leftist views brought her to jail not once and not twice in the time of the dictatorship and even there they could not silence her voice. Here, on the paths of protest, the ways of Sotia Tsotou and Kostas Hatzis joined together.

The first fruits of their collaboration came out from the recording studio in 1968 (“The soldier”, “Don’t Bother, Brother”) and since then, during the Junta regime they created many protest songs like “From the Airplane” (Greek) which was released on record in 1973, few years after Sotia’s experience at the airport.

Life you gave me much bitterness

I’ll go far away some morning

I’ll get on a plane

to see the world from there above

 

When you are looking from up there

earth looks like a painting

and you took it seriously

and you took it seriously

 

Houses looks like matchboxes 

people look like ants

the biggest palace

looks like a tiny ball

 

And all these that made you feel bitter

if you look at them from above

they will seem so insignificant to you

that you’ll forget  them in a moment

 

My beloved don’t cry

we can go high together if you wish

that you will see the earth from the moon

it is a moon too…..

Kostas sings in front of  Sotia in a TV show:

Sotia and Kostas continued to create significant songs that were reference points to both of them. Here is their 1977 song – “The earth still lives”, as performed by Kostas Chatzis years later.

The journalist Theo Panyides asked Kostas during an interview in 2010 if he is a bit pessimistic about the human condition.But Kostas shaked his head. “My songs are always about a better tomorrow,” he demurred, and then thought for a moment, “Let me tell you something,” he said,and as an answer cited this song from beginning to end. “Then he looks back at me, his eyes brim with tears. “It gets me,” he explains in a shaky voice, then finishes the song.” *

Tracing Sotia’s lyrics, one can feel in these protest songs her humanity and compassion for people, and an optimism and hope for “Happy future here in the face of the earth” These are reflected beautifully in Chatzis’ art of composing and performing. “She has a disarming childishness. Behind each verse love is the sole request” They created together love songs. “Love in the sense of passion which is one of the expressions of love in the general sense” said Chatzis. These love songs reveal again the humanity of both artist and their love for people, and I think that in this sense they have social messages too.

“Love has no confines” is about a woman who is deeply in unrealized love with a man, a love that goes to the verge of worship.Kostas together with Elpida and Maria Alexiou:

Here  is a charming short duet with Marinella with a fast Gyphsy style refrain;This is a version from the 1990s, the original is from their recital in 1976, to which Sotia wrote many songs and that turned into a triple album that was one of the best sellers in all Greek music history.

Notes: English subtitles in the videos. Press cc on Youtube.

*http://www.cyprus-mail.com/costas-hatzis/prospectus-life/20101031
Sotia Tsotou passed away on 10/12/2011
Links:
http://www.enet.gr/?i=news.el.article&id=331640
http://www.tanea.gr/politismos/article/?aid=4679518
http://www.e-orfeas.gr/artists/interviews/1849-article.html
http://www.nafpaktia.com/%CE%B1%CF%80%CF%8C%CF%88%CE%B5%CE%B9%CF%82/interviews/1980/kostas-xatzis-trobadoyros-ton-anthropinon-dikaiomaton
http://www.protagon.gr/?i=protagon.el.article&id=11359
http://www.alexandroshatzis.com/biography_kh.html
 
Thanks Nata for translation and research, Katherina Siapanda and Shahaf Ifhar

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