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: email@example.com