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Mourning Maria Dimitriadi

by CHRIS PAPALEONARDOS

I am feeling very sad this morning.  It seems as if death is all around me;  between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day three people close to my  family have been taken from us by that bastard cancer.  And then this  morning, a bit of my youth was assassinated.  Maria Dimitriadi breathed  her  last breath in an Athens hospital.  I didn’t even know she’d been ill.  Cancer  according to some news reports; a rare lung disease according to  others.  Makes no difference, Maria is still gone.  My “other” Maria.

Maria Dimitriadi was a brilliant singer.  Born in 1951 in Athens, she  made  a  risky visit in 1968 to Mikis Theodorakis, then under house arrest at  the  seaside resort at Vrahati, breaking through the police presence  surrounding  his home.  Mikis gave her his songs, and urged her to go abroad and  join  Maria Farantouri and his band, to let the world know what was going on  in  Greece.  She did, and for several years toured Europe with Mikis’ band  (and  with Mikis when the junta allowed him to leave the country), and  recorded  some of his most-beloved anti-junta songs of the period.  But at Mikis’  side,  she always stood in Maria Farantouri’s shadow, always the “other  Maria”.

Dimitriadi really came into her own with the fall of the dictatorship,  when  Thanos Mikroutsikos, a new composer, chose her as his muse.  She was  the principle singer on his first 6 albums, issued in 1975-79.  Mikroutsikos  introduced jazz and rock elements into Greek pop music, and these early  works were very political — songs with lyrics by Turkish communist  poet  Nazim Hikmet, East German dissident Wolf Birman, Greek communist  Yannis Ritsos, Bertolt Brecht, Vladimir Mayakovsky and others.  Maria  embodied the genre of “political song” which dominated the early  post-junta  years.  She sang at demonstrations and rallies, on picket lines with  striking  workers, at leftwing youth festivals.

These were the songs of my late teens and early college years, when I  was  fervently energized by the communist ideals which swept up Greek youth  (even though I lived here in the U.S.).  While my fellow students at  OSU  listened to Springsteen (someone I would not discover til I’d been out  of  college for 4-5 years), Rush, and who knows who else, I was listening  to  Dimitriadi singing her red heart out, singing songs about Roza  Luxembourg,  about executed Greek communists, about peasant rebellions in Spain,  about how “the whole world would become red”.  I saw Maria perform live  a  few times, once in 1978 at a stadium rally to send off the Greek  delegation  to the International Youth Festival in Cuba, where she and Mikroutsikos  debuted their “Songs of Freedom”, later that summer at the Communist  Youth Festival in Athens, and a couple of years later at a small club  in  Thessaloniki the winter that I attended the University there, where I  sat  at a  table right up against the stage.  (Somewhere I have a cassette tape I  recorded of that show, though I have no iidea where it is, it’s been  twenty-  five years or more since I last listened to it.).  A couple of years  later, I saw  her perform with Manos Hadjidakis at another small club beneath the  Acropolis.

Maria’s voice was warm and tender when she sang softly, and crystaline  and sharp as steel when she let her passion rip.  She could spit out  the  irony and anger and disgust and fervent optimism contained in the  lyrics  of  the songs she interpreted.  Her voice called us to the revolution,  urging  us  forward in rebellion on behalf of the beautiful ideals Marx first  proposed.  In  the words of the Greek music magazine Difono, she was Greece’s greatest  rock voice, even though she was never part of the Greek rock music  scene.

This close identification with political songs hurt her career when  that fad  faded by 1981.  In the mid-80s she withdrew from the recording studio  and  her career (although she continued to sing at rallies, and for a time  was  a  city council member with the Communist Party in the working-class  suburb  of Tavros), in order to raise her son from her brief marriage to  Mikroutsikos’  brother Andreas.  In the last ten years she attempted a comeback,  recording a rock album that was a commercial bomb.  No matter.  I am  certain that Greek youth will re-discover Maria Dimitriadi’s voice,  full  of the  spirit of struggle, a spirit which has apparently once again embraced  the  youth of Greece.  In a wonderful coincidence, Mikroutsikos’ first 6  discs,  with Maria, have just been remastered and reissued in the last month or  so.

I mourn for you, Maria, and for my youth.  I grieve for Greek music  which  today lost a unique and powerful voice.  Thanks, Maria Dimitriadi, for  the  passion and beauty of your voice, and for your red heart.  I will never  forget  you.

I have uploaded a zipfile with 10 of Maria’s songs, where the beauty &
power of her voice are displayed in all its glory.

CHRIS PAPALEONARDOS can be reached at: ctp@columbus.rr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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