Flame On: Protest Songs From Greece

Dec 28, 2011
Originally published on December 28, 2011 5:32 pm

The economic turmoil in Greece — and the severe spending cuts that followed — sparked massive demonstrations over this past summer and into fall. And, as is often the case, this movement came with a soundtrack.

In an interview, music critic Maria Paravantes from Athens, Greece, walks All Things Considered host Robert Siegel through a few of the songs that have given voice to Greek frustration and anger this year. The common thread throughout is that the music being used today isn't new at all, but instead dates back almost four decades — one even back to Greek poet Georgios Souris 100 years ago. You can listen to the conversation by clicking the audio link above, and hear the songs below.

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We're going to stay in Greece for a few more minutes to focus on a very different kind of music: songs of protest. The debt crisis there, and the severe spending cuts that followed, sparked massive demonstrations over the summer and into the fall. And, as is often the case, the movement came with a soundtrack.

And to walk us through just a few of the songs that have given voice to Greek frustration and anger this year, we're joined by music critic Maria Paravantes. She's in Athens. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: And first, if you had to pick a song that would represent very well the soundtrack of the Greek protests, what's one that you would direct us to?

PARAVANTES: Well, I would select a song that's called "To Tragoudi Tis Plateias," which literally means "The Song of the Square." And the square, we mean the various squares in Athens and throughout the city where people demonstrate and are showing their reaction to the situation. And the song actually has lyrics by a Greek poet Georgios Souris who wrote it 100 years ago. But they still play it today.


SIEGEL: Maria, could you hear what they're saying there?

PARAVANTES: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. It said it's the only country in the world where, you know, you spend 100 and you save 50. And he continues to say that, you know, while they rob you in broad daylight, they try to find who the thief is, and they're trying to find the thief in you. So it goes on saying, you know, that it's a pity in Greece, a country of heroes, to now have Greeks who don't care about their country and who rob left and right.

SIEGEL: Now, I gather there was a history of Greek protest songs from the days of protest against the Greek junta that ruled from '67 to 1974. That was a time of protest songs as well?

PARAVANTES: Yes. Greek political song plays a very important role. Greece is a country that has very many different genres and very many different idioms. Political songs are a very, you know, big part of that. And it's been playing a major role, not only back then - when we had people like big composers like Mikis Theodorakis - many songs were prohibited.

And what happened then is that this evolved. We had this when we had student uprisings in the mid-'80s. We had it again in the '90s. And we have it again now, mostly by hip-hoppers.

SIEGEL: What's a good example of a hip-hop protest song from Greece in 2011?

PARAVANTES: Well, you have Soul System. "Flame On" is the song.


PARAVANTES: They're a young group, and they're popular. They're everywhere at every demonstration.


SIEGEL: What are Soul System singing about?

PARAVANTES: What they're saying is that, you know, we know what's happening. And one of their, you know, lyrics is: We're ready to pave the way. We're ready to, you know, make the difference. We're ready to change the situation.

And I think they're referring to mostly, you know, a situation that's created a stagnant political situation in Greece. We're talking about civil servants where, you know, people would get a job because their parents knew someone and they would get into a ministry or something like that. And what they're saying is that now, you know, we want to change this, because this status quo doesn't work anymore.

SIEGEL: Are Greek protest songs of this year typically protests against other Greeks who've made out well during the era of Greece's membership in the eurozone, or are they protests against German bankers or other Europeans? Whom are they protesting against?

PARAVANTES: Well, there are protest songs, like I said, the hip-hoppers are mostly, you know, they can be really rough in what they say. And they can just come out and say: Well, look, you know, we're here. We can see what's going on. We can see what, you know, what's happening. We're the ones who are going to be paying for it, so we want a change.

But there are also songs, like a song that was re-performed by a group called Ypogeia Revmata. Ypogeia Revmata came out in the '80s, a very popular group. And what they did was there was a lyric in the song that referred to Europeans. And what they did, they changed it and mentioned the Germans. So they re-adapted the song for the new, you know, the new situation.


SIEGEL: In that song by Ypogeia Revmata, I see the lyric was translated as: And what would we lose without all of those, the Germans - who used to be Europeans in the old version - the professors, who would know much more if they didn't fill their stomachs, cowardly nine-to-fivers, portly servants. I'm sick and tired of them all.

PARAVANTES: Yup. That's the song "I'm Sick and Tired Of Them All."


SIEGEL: Maria, thank you very much for sharing the music with us.

PARAVANTES: Robert, thank you. Thank you for your time. And, you know, I hope I kind of enlightened you with what's going on here in Athens.

SIEGEL: You did. That's music critic Maria Paravantes in Athens. And later this week, we'll hear other protest songs from other protests around the world this past year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.