What a voice. What a performer. Vassilis Papakonstantinou, aka the eternal youth, has for the past four decades dedicated himself to rock not as a musical genre per se but to the rock n’ roll as a way of life.
If there’s one artist in Greece to live by his beliefs then Papakonstantinou is it. Armed with a potent metallic bass, the 72-year-old is still making music, still singing for a cause, still taking the front line of rebellion, still speaking up when most of his colleagues are resting on their laurels.
His deep distinctive voice could have easily won him an equally rewarding career in the laika or demotika genre but instead Vassilis, a restless soul, took his first step in protest song with 1975 album Ta Agrotika (Songs of the Farmer), dedicated to the hardships of the farmers.
Composed by Thomas Bakalakos to the lyrics of Dionysis Tzefronis, the album proved to be prophetic: “Gia kai hara sas vre patriotes” speaks of the politicians who would visit the remote villages of Greece and make fleeting promises to gain votes ahead of elections… that was back in the ’70s – hauntingly familiar?
Τis Exorias (Songs of Exile) penned by Mikis Theodorakis followed in 1976 featuring his stirring vocals in a series of political protest songs.
Papakonstantinou continues to work beside some of the greatest composers in Greece including Manos Loizos, Thanos Mikroutsikos to name but a few, leaving behind him a long list of albums and guest appearances that have marked Greek music and political history.
Mikroutsikos’ 1979 brilliant work set to the poetry of the great Nikos Kavvadias, Stavros tou Notou (Southern Cross) featured Papakonstantinou in a song that would leave its indelible mark on Greek music and would be covered by many artists to come.
Vassilis delivered (and still does) a galvanizing rendering of “To Maheri” (The Knife) – the gripping tale of a “travelling knife”… or “O Willy o Mavros Thermastis” (Willy the negro stoker).
Vassilis’ rock persona came into being in the early ’80s, about the time he recorded some of his best-selling albums.
I still remember as a rebellious youth I once was, playing the Fovamai (I Fear) LP over and over again every single day. It was so potent and so in tune with the changing times and again the lyrics (Antonis Pantazis) featured prominently: “I am afraid of all those things that will happen for me without me…”
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Some 28 years later, Papakonstantinou is back in the frontline with the thousands of fellow Greeks who are up in arms over the Greek government’s inability to do the best for the people and the country. “To Tragoudi tis Plateias” (The Song of the Square), a song he set to the forewarning poetry of Georgios Souris, who penned it back in the 1800s, is being played in public squares jam packed with angered Greeks.
Committed and youthful, Papakonstantinou continues to this day to perform with the vigor of his 20s and the truthfulness therein, whether in intoxicating rock songs or compelling ballads like the memorable “Prin to Telos” (Before the End), a song by Italian cantautore Lucio Battisti and one of Greece’s most gifted lyricists, Lina Nikolakopoulou, featuring on 1984 album Dieresi.
A rare find. A rare kind.