In November 1994 the New South Africa welcomed a Greek hero to its shores.
He is without doubt the most recognisable Greek singer in the world, his name never besmirched in a world where entertainers have no principles; he seems at one with the people.
He sang and promoted songs by Mikis Theodorakis, who had been exiled to France by the Colonel’s Regime, a military junta that overpowered Greece in 1967. Exiled because he was a Communist, Theodorakis’ songs were about the people and freedom. In 1974 he returned to Greece to power a left wing coalition. In the 80’s he founded a Greco-Turkish friendship organisation.
Much as he was loved for his music, in South Africa Theodorakis would not have been welcome under the Apartheid Regime. Nor by people living under the regime.
Daralas, as he was born, anagrammatised his name to Dalaras. He was instrumental in the resurgence of the “rebetika”. According to an academic expert on Rebetika, Elias Petropoulos, “The womb of rebetika was the jail and hash den. It was there that the early rebetes created their songs. .. The early rebetika songs, particularly the love songs, were based on Greek folk songs and songs of the Greeks of Smyrna and Constantinople”.
Furthermore, a perhaps overemphasised theme of rebetika is the pleasure of using drugs, especially hashish. These songs have become known as the “hasiklidika”.
One of Dalaras’ more energetic concerts is memorable. He introduces the “hasiklidika” as simply that: “ta hasiklidika”; my spine tingles when I hear it.
So that is the background to my father welcoming Mr George Dalaras at the Jan Smuts International Airport of Johannesburg in November 1974. A singer whose LP’s lived in my father’s record player, a box as big as a server, along with one or two records of Theodorakis, but were played by my brother and I in secret. I don’t ever remember my father listening to them; he loved the more traditional and nationalistic music of Samos and Kalamata, although he did a really good “tsifteteli”.
Dalaras and Theodorakis were in conflict with my father’s conservative upbringing in South Africa and from Greece. Yet they were both massive vehicles for pan-Hellenism, a cause close to my father’s heart. So he embraced them.
My father could always see the bigger picture. He arranged concert tickets for Caterina, my sister-in-law (who is Italian and loves Dalaras) and I. He invited us as guests of honour to the post concert cocktail at the Carlton Hotel.
I was shy in those days and just wanted an autograph. I remember my father pushing me, saying “go talk to him”. I was so nervous and in awe of Dalaras. I met his wife, who loves horses, and have a framed autograph of the program in my study: “Ston Vasili, me agape, Giorgos Dalaras”.
I am so proud my father could “walk with kings nor lose the common touch”. And that he could see beyond the smoke and mirrors of politics.