Haris Alexiou (or Charis, Haroula- Χαρούλα Αλεξίου) never thought to be a songwriter. Even after her first successful attempts in the 1980s she considered herself only as a singer and that the art of writing and composing should be left to more talented songwriters.
Fortunately, she had not kept this notion, giving us, mostly since the 1990s, beautiful songs, very personal and very feminine that their melancholy captured the hearts of people, all without formal music education. A self taught woman. “I am what I have experienced” she says.I would say that Haroula and Eleni Vitali are the most personal, autobiographical, creators in Greek music.
Early years, mother and father
She was born in 1950 in Thiva. “I was feeling different since I was a child …like have nothing common with my place of origin …I knew I would do something different and I had a distance from the measures that life and my family defined for me”.
“I grew up in a family that all its members were singing in daily life. My father used to sing traditional songs, my grandma rebetika and my mother, especially after the loss of my father, although she was young she was singing songs of mourning”
As a child Haroula used to play with mud, making from it cups, plates, boats…”You have the makings of the earth!” said her mother Iphigenia. “I told you, with you I’m not afraid, my poor sweet mother”, she says to her late mother in the song “The ballad of Iphigenia”(Η μπαλάντα της Ιφιγένειας) which was written after her death in 1978.
She lost her father as she was only 8. Shortly after that the mother took her and her brother to Athens. They had hard life; short of money, they were moving from rent to rent for few years till they settled. Haroula worked as a seamstress fearing that her mother, her leader, would collapse; then as she grew up came the men: “And just when I started ruling, love came to rule over me… you worried that I’d get hurt”
“My mother was a woman in love who lost the man of her life. Sometimes, of course, she said “ah, when drinking, however, your father was aggressive, nervous”…in the song “Mother, my old friend” (Μητέρα, φίλη μου παλιά – 1998) she is asking “Don’t hand me over to your own destiny, mom”.
About her father she has not written… “I have lived more his absence than his presence. But I will tell you, that in very difficult moments of my life I have sought him, because I wanted someone to stand up for me and deal with some of my matters; the symbol of protection. It is one of those things I haven’t lived much in my life”.
A little about earlier songs
“I think I am a person, who can accept the absolute joy and happiness, but I am vulnerable at the same time against an incredible pain. I have learned to confront both of them. I am a person that I will laugh, break down or weep loudly. I experience everything to the extreme”.
We can see these characteristics already in her more early songs. In “It is dawning” (Ξημερώνει) of 1980 she wrote the lyrics to the music of Andonis Vardis :”I call you/ and you can’t hear me/It’s dawning/and you don’t want to come”. From the title of famous love song “Ask from me whatever you want” (Ζήτα μου ό,τι θες -1987) we already see the fullness she is asking in love, and:”What is left from the destruction I will give you as gift/ my last shipwreck/ before I live”
Nefeli Street 88 (Οδός Νεφέλης ’88-1995)
It was her first album that she had written most of the songs.
“These songs began to be written around 1988 in my rented house, in a neighborhood near Acropolis. When the silence was giving birth to its’ own sounds, my notebooks were filled with verses and sometimes on guitar, sometimes on piano they were becoming songs”.
The album reveals genuine feelings and situations of a woman in love. The songs are not romantic and she is not a heroine but a sensitive woman, warm and sensual, sad and strong enough.
The writing of “A little minor tune” (Μινοράκι) had begun as she was listening to two songs of Nikos Papazoglou during their common concerts in Tampere, Finland. “August”(Αύγουστος) and “Caryatids”( Καρυάτιδες). These songs inspired her writing the core lines: “My song is sweet and sad/I can’t be a Caryatid/for you to want me”
Here Haroula with Dimitra Galani (press for English caps in all the videos)
I think that there is no song that is more “Haroula” than “Full moon” (Πανσέληνος).”It is a monologue of a woman who is alone in her house. There, in full solitude, she thinks of past times, of choices that she had to make in her life and of the price she had to pay (one aspect of these choices is her loneliness). And of course, she’s thinking of a particular lover/partner, maybe the one that marked her life the most”. (Katerina)
“The need of a woman to have a man is never ending, no matter how old she is. Therefore it is a matter that will concern me till the day of my death”.
“The man in my life is something very sacred, starting from the relationship with my father till the relationship with my son. I couldn’t imagine my life without marriage … matching…”.
For a tango (Για ένα τανγκό 1997)
It is one of Haroula’s tango songs. And as a tango it is full of sensuality and erotic power, going on the edge …to the gates of paradise…
Come be with me tonight (Έλα κοντά μου απόψε – 1998)
A song from the album “The game of love” (Το παιχνίδι της αγάπης ) which is the second album with her own music and lyrics. A woman is calling for her beloved man who is not there (maybe he is not alive?). She is looking on love now from life’s bottom; he is the only one who can shed light on her life:”I start talking with strangers/ I become drunk with foreign pains/ and as a hidden gold/my youth has downed the drain…Come in the moonlight /so my soul to be lighten/ To the edges of the darkness/ I have taken my life”
“I have loved and I have been loved much. I had the need to be in a relationship and this relationship to be passionate. But when I was realizing that this flame and passion was fainted, when I was feeling neglected and not being the center of the world for the other, I was giving an end. But when something is finished you want it again. So simple it is.”
“To the edge of your sky”( ως την άκρη του ουρανού σου-2003)
The songs of this album were written by various songwriters, Haroula contributed to four of them. However I feel that this album is her most complete in the melancholy of the songs, their order, and the spiritual connection between them and of course their beauty.
The title is a phrase from one of the album’s songs “You know me better” (Εσύ με ξέρεις πιο πολύ). It is about the intimacy between a woman and a man that has known her for a long time. He is the safe haven for her…maybe he is not real but the one we fantasize that knows us…
Note the urban environment in the lyrics, typical to Haroula.
Here she sings in a duet with Dimitra Galani
My friends at down (Οι φίλοι μου χαράματα) is a song from the same album in which she “touches human weaknesses by revealing what we do not say out loud, the jealousy, that we can feel for others, when we lack the person we love …”
“I get power from the support of my friends, from the smile of my son, the good news; and if I create something beautiful and can be proud of it, this keeps me strong for long.”
Haroula Alexiou has more albums since 2003, we will write about them in the future.
1986 performance of “The ballade of Iphigenia”(no translation)
Song “Mother, my old friend” https://youtu.be/L4XzbjdSMik
Many thanks to Anastasia Thanela and Katerina Siapanda for their contribution to this post!