Dimitris Basis, an intimate discussion

Dimitris Basis, a major figure in Greek music, is in Australia to present The Dead Brother’s Song, by legendary composer Mikis Theodorakis. In a frank head-to-head with Neos Cosmos Dimitris Basis shared his thoughts and feelings on this year’s tour of Australia, his collaborations with Mikis Theodorakis, but also his future plans.

On the Australian tour you will play The Dead Brother’s Song by Mikis Theodorakis. Share if you talk about your connection with Theodorakis, like how you felt when you first met him?

I had an intense collaboration with Mikis Theodorakis. I knew him and I was in awe of him. I never got over that feeling. Over time, we became close friends and I would visit him at his home. In recent years, before going on tour abroad, I discussed it with him. I feel blessed to have met this great Greek and to share the experience with future generations. I had the honor of making two albums with him. One of them, The song of the dead brother, I was lucky enough to be only the second person to perform it. The first performance took place in 1962 by Grigoris Bithikotsis. Some of the songs were censored and were, at the time, banned from being included on the album. Now that the album is complete, it has been released and has been organized in the studio by Mikis and his orchestra. It was a great honor to be the second performer of the piece, and for the first time, The Dead Brother’s Song will be performed by a symphony orchestra.

Is there an interesting story about Theodorakis that you particularly remember?

It always impressed me how simple Mikis was, how very accessible he was. He had a way of making you feel relaxed. The first time I was with him in the studio I was stressed, but he had a way of taking all the stress out and helping me sing to the best of my abilities.

How do you think the pandemic seems to be over and you can perform in front of an audience?

It’s a nice feeling to be back to normal after what we’ve been through. The only show that didn’t happen last year was in Melbourne and that’s a show I wish I had. Things are different this year. I want to believe that we have left the pandemic behind us and that we will be able to function as before. The feeling of coming to Australia is very beautiful. I like being here. I like people’s hospitality. Australian Greeks are organized and united around communities and churches. Coming to the other side of the planet and finding Greeks who have kept their customs for generations is something that impresses me. A small part of our homeland is here.

Recently you sang songs for the Greek TV series Sasmos. Do you have new projects?

For Sasmos, which is a very successful TV series in Greece, some songs were written and they were composed by Nikos Terzis and the lyrics were written by my friend Giannis Kotsiras. I sang two songs and in the second season I will sing one more which will be in duet with Giannis. I have no other recording plans at this time. In summer, I will go on tour in Greece and in October, in America.

Katerina Hatzi with Dimitris Basis. Photo: Supplied

Are things a bit better now in Greece?

Last year things were bad, but this year there is some normalcy. Full capacity is allowed, which is very important in our profession. It also makes people feel free as they can now be in crowded spaces.

Besides the tour centered on Mikis Theodorakis The Dead Brother’s SongI think you are also planning another event in Melbourne at the end of the month around Hellenism in Asia Minor?

Yes, we will perform traditional songs from Smyrna as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the fire of Smyrna. I like songs from Smyrna, since my grandfather was from Constantinople, but also traditional songs in general, since I am from Kilkis. I am quite touched by oriental melodies.

As far as I know, your love for Byzantine music started when you heard a sing in the village church at the time.

When I was little, my grandmother sent me to church and there I discovered the magic of Byzantine music. We had a good cantor and soon I went up with him to the psalter. He introduced me to Byzantine music and then studied it.

When I finished my studies, I sang at various events and after an audition which took place in Kilkis, I entered professional singing. Luck has been very generous with me. I’m happy with everything I’ve achieved and I still have a lot to give, because music is a marathon, not a sprint. You go as far as your strength can bear.

What is your message for the Greeks of Australia and for the people who will attend your concerts?

They will attend an important performance on the civil war in Greece, composed by Mikis and one of his favorites. It’s an amazing project. I am happy that the communities here have decided to present this work by Mikis, and, in fact, written for a symphony orchestra for the first time.

My message, especially to the younger ones, is to take the legacy of the older ones, to keep the Greekness here. As for the older ones, I urge them to give way to the younger ones and pass the baton to them. The natural evolution of life. If we want our children to feel Greek, we must teach them to love Greece, teach them our ways, our customs and our history, our language and encourage them to engage in communities.

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