Sokratis Malamas(Σωκράτης Μάλαμας) is a famous singer and a song writer, considered as part of the “Thessaloniki School”.Many of his finest songs are accompanying me from my first years of interest in Greek music. His life story as he tells is painted with dark and bright colors, as I feel about his songs…
“I was born in 1957 in Sikia of Chalkidiki, a beautiful village situated on the end of a mountain. It was a fabulous place with old stone houses, mansions, two-storey and three-story with wooden terraces. My parents were farmers. My father was occasionally lumberjack. He cut and brought down the pines of the high mountains with mules and horses.
When I was five years old my parents decided to immigrate to Germany, to Stuttgart. The first image I saw there was like a nightmare. Suddenly from a place I was one with the earth, I found myself, after a 45 hours journey by train, in the heart of industrial Europe, among furnaces and a polluted river with barges to transport coal from nowhere to nowhere. We lived in an apartment with three other Greek families, each family in one room. Quickly I became seriously ill for about a year. My organism could not adapt to the climate.
At 12 I return to Greece, to high school. I was an undisciplined student, constantly changing schools, I was making up craps until they kicked me from all high schools.
When I finished school I went back to Germany (mid 1970s), straight to the preliminary semester in electrical engineering, stayed there for two and a half years, while continuing my musical studies I had begun in Greece. But I was not convinced about this university subject. I was playing music since my childhood, liked to read what I wanted, to see paintings, to watch theater when I can and studying poetry.
At that time in Germany I heard the entire classic repertoire; Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival. We were going to various youth clubs, where there was unrestrained freedom. You could drink, smoke, have fun, and do whatever you wanted (there were state clubs and illegal clubs)…. We tasted everything, losing the horizon , and many young suffered…. I fell into a labyrinthine interior environment and often I was spending many days in silence, stopped talking, not communicated with people and in the school felt like an outsider.
One snowy day, on my way to school, I came out of the subway and saw the two parallel buildings of the university. Immediately I came back home, got a bag with five outfits and went to the railway station, back to Greece.
I come to Thessaloniki and after that to Athens to register at the National Conservatory. I was a good student but necessity for money made me start working in bouzouki joints.
These shops were very underground then. All the underworld and transvestites gathered there. Every night there were a lot of violence, tension and emotion. I spent many years to understand why people were tormented so much. After finished the job, I took the 800 drachmas of daily work thinking that now I’ll get a taxi, go home, open the gas, and will never wake up.
I was like whores, who don’t like their job. Returning home, I was writing songs for leaving my mind completely from all these ugly scenes.
What Greece means for you? “There is no harder thing to discuss. I want to discuss it only with my friends and once to use bad language and once to laugh. If you go out and say what Greece is for you, you risk becoming graphic. Greece is the place where we were born and it watered us with its strength and color. What I have in me is Greece. The aura that has the power of the place is Greece. It is my stigma. It’s a place you think to leave and live elsewhere but it is not possible.Being a social human being within this country costs in money and in soul. When you are a sociable man and live in a city, only the fixed costs that you have to pay is a huge salary that you never collected…and this is the miracle….How come the Greeks to live without taking what they pay?”
For Greece (Για την Ελλάδα). Press on Youtube buttom for English subtitles*
….Then, I found shelter in the nightclubs of Plaka. They were coming from all the suburbs …the girls to show their beauty and men their cunning. I was singing there also and after three and a half years returned to Thessaloniki (about 1980) and got a job as a teacher at the Conservatory of Northern Greece, but I was getting a salary of hunger. So I started working again in clubs in Thessaloniki, writing also my own songs. I started playing my own tracks in small spaces and then Nikos Papazoglou showed interest in my songs and told me to go into his studio to record them.
At my first performances were coming a very few people, but I considered it as a gift. For five years I lived without money… It was so much the passion to go out, to perform, that this thing exceeded all my needs. I was 48 pounds. When I wrote a melody, I didn’t have the need of drinking or eating.
I have been taught by many artists: Panagiotis Tountas, Bach, Tsitsanis, Mozart, Papazoglou, Haydn, Chick Corea, Gavalas and Ima Sumac…
In 2001 I left the city and went to stay in a village in the mountains of Pindos. Now I need sobriety, peace and tranquility. To go for horse riding with my kids on the mountains. I love the quietness and the unknown at each step, to lie down on the soil and say a prayer”
Now I’m more conciliatory. Understanding is a primary element. You are not counting people with tape measure. You accept them as a huge gift that the time brings. I don’t sigh for anything and never will; maybe for the future.”
“Labyrinth” (Λαβύρινθος 1996)
Sokratis Malamas’ first attempts in discography were not successful as “Lyra” rejected his material. Only in 1989 it released his first album, which was recorded in Nikos Papazoglou’s studio. It was the first album in Papazoglou’s series of albums which gave a stage to young singers. Gradually Sokratis had gotten wider and wider audience.
His fifth album of 1996 is a milestone. “Labyrinth” was the original title, but it had been removed due legal reasons and only the name of the singer left. “In this album are some of the most significant and most listened moments of Malamas. It’s his most important album.Although it was his fifth album in the row, many Malamas fans found in it moments of their own worlds and acknowledged him as the important songwriter of his generation. Although his songs are not so melodic and don’t have lyrically cliché, they have strong melodic themes and intelligible lyrics, which, however, are expanded into a more complex versification”**.
I think that the first song “Labyrinth” is one of his great ones. It resembles Malamas art in many ways. First there is an outside observation which the artist learns carefully. Then he connects it to his inner world adding his rich imagination, so he “defines a personal space, playing with the boundaries of art, logic, imagination and surrender only to life itself.”** *The music and Malamas’ deep voice make his songs to be seemed nocturnes. They are introverted and most of them have the moisture of the night. “yet the lyrics of my most beautiful songs are written in the daylight” so the light sneaks into the lyrics “playing” with the darkness…
Sokratis tells: “I was returning from a concert in Armenistis of Halkidiki. It was noon and I was driving on the Highway sleepless and tired. I felt my strength leaving me and I turned on the right in a dirt road. It was spring and I lay under some pines, falling asleep for a while and when I opened my eyes, the first image I saw was a pinecone. In the beginning, it seemed huge before my eyes. It took me time to see it in its real dimensions. I spent about two months observing pinecones. I took samples from various places, opened books and learned about them. The pinecones have 7 or 8 clockwise spirals and 13 counterclockwise. You lose yourself by observing them. It’s like being in a labyrinth hence the title of the album. At that time I was feeling really in a labyrinth and it minded me a lot but not now” Is he hints in the line “The gold of the world is dim” to the mathematical “golden rule” by which many things in nature are arranged including the spirals of the pinecone?
The Garden (Ο κήπος)
This is another great creation by Sokratis Malamas .”The Garden” shows brilliantly in music, singing and the concentrated orchestration the dark, nightly atmosphere with some daylight coming in….
The Letter (Το γράμμα )
The lyrics of “The letter” were already ready, but Sokratis struggled for the music…it was going hard. One day he was staying in a flat nearby a hospital. An ambulance siren was heard…and Sokratis composed the music instantly, inserting the siren as the violin’s part…and all the rest is history of this great song.
It is Malamas’ most popular song which is been loved by the audience and by other singers who make cover versions.
A part from an interview:
Have you ever had a misjudgment about a song and then you changed your mind and this vindicated you later?
-In a sense, so it was with the “Princess”! I wrote it as a birthday gift to a woman, because I had no money to get her something. She was cooking for us lentils to eat as nothing else was left, and while I was watching I thought: “this is a scene that is worth to be a song and show it to the people”. I Made the lyrics and music in no time and sang it …but it seemed to me funny and I laughed a lot. My girlfriend, who had nothing to do with music, put down the spoon and told me: “When did you write this song? You know of course that is too good…I wonder why you laugh”
This was the woman I married.
(The last two videos are from 2006 Difono concert with Haris Alexiou and Alkinoos Ioannidis)
All the songs were written by Sokratis Malamas
* In the translation of this song we translate “one time as a depraved European” Actually, we can give a stronger meaning to the Greek Lyrics, that Greece loses her original identity and acts like a “cheap”, European woman or even prostitute, , trying to attract “customers” while at the same time she forgets her value and ideals..
Malamas biography was ediited from http://www.lifo.gr/mag/features/2570
I would like to thank a lot to Anastasia Tanela for the research and to Katerina Siapanda for the explanations!