In these trying times for Greece and for the Greek people, I can only remember the song I first heard when I was eight years old. On one of those “adult” evenings in Chicago, which I always found so boring, I escaped to my uncle’s mini studio and discovered an album he had prominently left beside the stereo. I pulled out the LP, carefully wiped it of any dust and then devoutly placed it on the record player.

I was overwhelmed. A thundering piano intro made it clear to me – at eight – that this was something worth listening to. I took the sleeve in my hands and – as I always did – started examining the lyrics.

The song, titled “Lengo” (later added in parenthesis Ellada– Greece), was penned – music and lyrics – by Cretan composer Yannis Markopoulos. This song, together with 12 other inspiring musical works, were recorded on his 1975 album “Anexartita” (Independent).

In a live recording, the composer with his faint voice barely sings the lyrics. He begins to tell the tale of a weary mother, who beats her children, who dare not speak their mind. As the piano prepares for verse after verse, Markopoulos goes on to ask an uncle “was mother always like this?”

The stirring music continues to build up as the uncle sighs: “she was a beautiful young girl with flowers in her hair… and then one day raiders used and abused her and forced her into beating her own flesh and blood…”.

Mother Greece

Markopoulos uses a poignant allegory to speak of Mother Greece (Motherland), who is unable to care for her children (the Greeks) because she’s been ransacked and robbed of her dignity, put up to do things by her dominators, who have “special” interests. The children dare not speak up…

Let us not forget that this album was released right after the fall of the dictatorship in Greece, which saw hundreds of people tortured and stripped of their basic human rights. The title “Lengo” was given so as to bypass censorship. The original title is “Ellada”.

Athens

To this day the last verse brings tears to my eyes. Not only because Markopoulos’ interpretation was so true, so real: I could picture the story of the innocent children seeking tenderness and protection unable to explain why their jaded mother mistreats them. And then her tale… But mainly after the climaxing applause when Markopoulos utters the word eleftheria” (freedom).

And yet so many years have gone by and Greece, finds herself yet again in the very same predicament. Thirty seven years later, in 2012, Greece is still being molested and raped by traitors and “suitors” of all sizes, shapes and colors as her children look on, knowing that their future is bleak…

“Ellada” was also sung by Haris Alexiou in 1975 on “12 Laika Tragoudia” (12 Laika Songs) and Vassilis Papakonstantinou in 2000.

Here a live recording from a Markopoulos concert in Thessaloniki in January 1975. 

A loose translation follows.  

Ellada

“Don’t offer our dearest mother relief

not even a walking stick by her bed rest

because she will beat her children every day

and when I speak up she will call me a punk

and if she beats her children on a whim

they will end up submissive merchants

they waste their youth in the murky side streets

so they can weigh their standing on earth.

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo, Lengo

Stop governing me

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo, Lengo

Stop tormenting me.

And if it is that I want my voice to be heard today

I am still terrified by the looming shadows

Your companionship figures golden in my life

And your beauty heals my sorrows

Dear uncle sit with us and tell us a tale

The tale of mother way back then

Was there punishment when there was trouble

Or did she lull you with caresses and kisses

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo, Lengo

You break my heart

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo, Lengo

You dash my hopes.

And then our uncle turned sombre

He stroked his head and bid for coffee

Ellada was a little girl

An orphan who gathered flowers in a garden

The blossoms adorned her dignified head

But when she’d sleep they would fall to the ground

And of the flowers assigned by death

He desired me to see life

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo, Lengo

You’ve broken my spirit

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo, Lengo

Friends we will find ourselves together again

This, my children, is how your mother was back then

But the garden later filled with thieves

They dressed our little girl in the garb of an old woman

And from her rags you could see her wounds

And if she beats us with anger and she yells

Others make her with a great many vested interests

The fleeting dream terrifies her all the more

As she wishes she could seek her lost freedom

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo Mother

In the furnace and in the fire

Lengo, Lengo, Lengo Mother

Tell us again what it is you desire.

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