Eleftheria Arvanitaki belongs on any list of the world’s greatest singers. It’s a shame that Greek pop music is hidden away by an unfamiliar alphabet (even though it stems from the original alphabet – Eleftheria’s name – it means ‘freedom’ – is really Ελευθερία Αρβανιτάκη) because, along with many American genres such as heavy metal and rap, it includes electronica by such artists as Vangelis Papathanassiou (Chariots of Fire, Bladerunner) and Yanni Hrysomallis (Live at the Acropolis): and something called laika, a unique combination of pop music and traditional dance metres, whose practitioners include George Dalaras, Melina Kana, Glykeria, Haris Alexiou – and Eleftheria Arvanitaki.
Eleftheria has a face that Sandro Botticelli would have loved to paint, and a voice that has been compared to a bell: a clear, plangent tone ringing out over the blue Aegean Sea calling all who hear to experience something wonderful. This is a singer of surpassing skill, with a clarity, control, emotional depth and infectious quality that few can equal. Astonishingly many of her live recordings feature backing artists as good or better than she is, such as Arto Tuncboyaciyan, the Turkish percussionist featured on the track played at the Athens Olympics, Dinata.
The music is often traditional Greek dance metre, often well known traditional songs. Modern songs can be extremely lyrical to an extent not usual in Western countries today, and sometimes also bitingly political. Exile and emigration, love and loss, and just plain nonsense designed to carry the tune. The tone can be sometimes designated ethereal, with synthesiser bringing an almost mystical feeling to the song: and then there are the many infectious rhythms played on reed instruments like the mandouro to which it is imperative to dance.
Eleftheria was born 17 October 1957 in Piraeus in Athens and has been singing since 1980. She belongs to that long lived generation of the post war years which seems capable of perpetual renewal. She has been reaching platinum sales with her albums for over 20 years.
Vasilia Tsitsanis, Manolis Hiotis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Lina Nikolakopoulou, Sappho, Maria Polydouri, Mihalis Hatzigiannis, Dimitra Galani, Antonis Vardis – these may all be unfamiliar names to Westerners: but they are among the most gifted composers and lyricists in the world and their songs are featured on Eleftheria’s albums (OK, Sappho – but have you ever tried singing along to one of her songs?). Listen to one of Eleftheria’s live albums and you’ll hear thousands of audience members singing words they are familiar with. This reminds me that 2000 years ago ordinary Greek people formed a critical and appreciative audience for plays by Aeschylus, Aristophanes and Euripides.
You’ll either already know what I’m talking about: but if not, and you want to find out, buy Ektos Programmatos. The albums are worth a trip to Greece but Amazon is closer, and http://www.greekcity.com has them and gives most a five star rating. P2p only if you’re really poor.
1984 Eleftheria Arvanitaki
1986 Kontrabanto (platinum)
1989 Tanirama ***
1991 Meno Ektos ***** (gold)
1993 I Nihta Katevainei (live)
1994 Ta Kormia Kai Ta Maheria
1996 Tragoudia Gia Tous Mines (platinum)
1998 Ektos Programmatos ***** (live – double platinum)
1999 The Very Best of ****
2001 Ekpobi (gold)
2002 Live at the Gyalino Mousiko Theatro ***** (live – gold)
2003 Eleftheria Arvanitaki Live
2004 Ola Sto Fos **** (platinum)
2005 Dromoi Paralloloi **** (gold)
2006 Grigora I Ora Perase (gold)
2006 Stis Akres Ap’ Ta Matia Sou
2007 Dinata (platinum)
©2009 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.