Most artists don't release 80 albums in a lifetime. Greek singer and guitarist Yiorgos (George) Dalaras has generated more than that in 32 years, an oeuvre whose later work recently has been distilled into The Very Best of George Dalaras (Mondo Melodia).
Along the way, he's become a superstar in his homeland, the biggest-selling artist Greece has known.
"I don't do everything for commercial reasons," Dalaras said by way of explaining his prodigious output. "I produced some of those records to give younger musicians a break or to participate in the works of friends. I do it spontaneously. I like to offer something different, it doesn't matter if it's a hit or not. It's more important to serve the music."
Born in 1950 to a family of musicians, Dalaras released his first album in 1968. But in 1975, after the military dictatorship that had ruled Greece since 1967 crumbled, he achieved his first artistic success with Rembetiko. The platinum-selling album, with its songs about a hash-smoking demimonde, revived the working-class, blueslike rembetika form that had been silenced by the government.
"That was a very special moment for me," Dalaras said. "When I sang rembetika, which had been both censored and forgotten, I was able to bring it back for the young people. Since then it's had a rebirth that has affected contemporary Greek music."
Following the common Greek practice of singers collaborating with different composers and lyricists, Dalaras has established himself as a true roots musician capable of working in many of the Greek forms, including the gritty "laiko" style of pop songs such as "Night" (RealAudio excerpt).
Dalaras has remained politically active through the years. He has been continually outspoken regarding the Turkish division of Cyprus; he took part in Amnesty International concerts; and in 1994 he received the John F. Kennedy Prize for his humanitarian work.
"In Greece we express ourselves by being politically oriented and socially aware in our art; it's our duty," he said. "Politis is our word for citizen. So if a citizen is political, imagine how political an artist must be."
Dalaras' musical curiosity has led him to collaborate with a number of artists, including Latin fusion guitarist Al Di Meola and flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, a good friend with whom he recorded "Hasta Siempre" (Until Always) (RealAudio excerpt).
He's successful enough to rest on his laurels, but that's not going to happen. Already back in the studio, he's working on album No. 89, which, he said, would possess "an ethnic contemporary sound." Following that he will hit the road in Europe then fly to New York for a handful of October shows.