"Blues traces back to our roots. It is music coming from the soul. It is a dance about life and a sigh about misery. Blues is about confessing and protesting, therefore terrorizes those in charge. Songs not payed but paying."
Dimitris Mallis: Blossom Tales Blues
Greek musician and storyteller Dimitris Mallis born in Athens in 1967. He studied pedagogy at the University of Athens and Crete. Since 2006, he has lived and worked as a teacher in Salamis, an island near Athens. He studied electric bass at the Conservatory of George Fakanas. Since 1980 he has participated in several music groups playing blues, rock, funky, soul and Greek music and he has also appeared in shows in music stages, bars and festivals not only in Athens but in the rest of the country as well. He contributes as a session musician in studio recordings. He writes lyrics and music. He has been a founding member of Albatross Walk Blues Band and member of Nick Tsiamtsikas Blues Band. His love for tales led him to study the art of storytelling beside acknowledged Greek and foreign storytellers.
Feeling the need and the responsibility to share the treasure of folk oral tradition, and with great joy, he narrates tales to young and old audiences. He has narrated in museums, cultural venues, festivals, squares, railroad stations, cafes, theatres, libraries etc. Together with his partner in life and tales, Kalliroi Moula, they have created the storytelling group “Paramythanthos” in which, he not only narrates, but he also writes the music and the songs that surround the tales. With Paramythanthos they travel in Greece and in the magical places of fairytales. Publications: “The shade huddles up, the light draws its sword”, 2016 Oselotos; “Three stories for people who reached the edge of the world”, 2014 Oselotos. Participation in collective publications: “Andrew Kofi”; “Tales of Wishes”, D.B. Prousalis (Editor), 2015 Apopeira); “John and the dragon”, “Tales from mouth to paper and from paper to mouth”, D.B. Prousalis (Editor), 2014 Apopeira; “Educational program the honey in our life”; “Museum pedagogy and Education in Natural Sciences- Theory and Practice”, P. Kokkotas-K.Plakitsi (Editor), 2005 Patakis. His articles have been published in the magazine “Teaching of Natural Sciences- Research and Practice”.
What do you learn about yourself from the kids?
As a parent, I consider myself very lucky to have raised two children. As a primary school teacher, I get in touch with children on a daily basis. They have taught me to view the world as a wonderful creation and confront life with enthusiasm. They still remind me every day the importance of love and forgiveness.
What characterize your progress philosophy and mission?
One of my favourite tales that I included in my first book, Three stories of people who reached the edges of the world, ends like this: “Live… live every moment!”
What touched (emotionally) you from the folk tales of oral tradition and why did you think that continues to generate such a devoted following?
In folk tales, most of the times the hero starts from scratch and on his way has to deal with wild beasts, dragons, witches, impassable forests. But in the end, he always makes it. He acknowledges how important a tiny ant can be, he gives half of his only bite to the poor beggar, and this is how he makes it. He never steps back, he never gives up. The hero is a man who follows the path, no matter how hard it is and what obstacles he may run into. He is finally called to confront his own self. In fairytales, heroes win with the help of a magic helper because they recognize its worth when everybody else cannot.
I too follow my path. I walk and my feet sink into the fallen leaves on the ground, I hear the birds fly in the sky. As I walk, I keep my arms wide open in the rain of words and music, then I bend over to help a humble ant. I come across evil people, I confront monsters. Sometimes I win, others I get hurt, but always in the company of my magical friends and tales.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?
Ever since I was a kid, I liked listening to adult stories. They would tell me stories from the war, their childhood, tales with ghosts and fairies, funny stories from the country. When the grownups began talking, I remember every child scattering away but me. Then they would tell me, “You stay, other kids won’t listen”. I heard the same stories over and over again. Now they are safe in a chest within, a whole treasure. Who would bother steal it? There’s no point. The more I share it, the richer I get! Then there were my friends in Athens, Crete and elsewhere. I used to travel a lot; I lived in many places. I would carry books of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. We got drunk from wine and love, music and poetry. Sometimes we ran, others we stayed still, looking the world spinning around us. Later I had my own children, who changed my life’s meaning. They point up and I see the blue sky, they laugh and the sun laughs, too. Now, as they are setting off to see the world and meet their luck, I am worried and happy at the same time. When need be, I become their personal assistant as they are walking through the forest.
On the road I found the beautiful daughter and became a king. My partner in life and fairytales, Kallirroe, has me flowing in a “good flow”, as her name translates. We are now together in both the adventure and the palace. A shining palace called love!
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A friend once told me: all of our problems start when we believe we need somebody else to help us make it through them. In my second book, “The shadow curls up, the light jumps out”, there is a story I wrote on this matter called “The hourglass”. The hero meets happiness when he learns how to talk with himself.
How has the Blues music and Folk tales influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken? Photo by Vassilios Zacharitsev
I think I’ve already talked about tales. Blues is a part of my life. I learnt how to play the bass just to be able to play the blues. There’s something magic about it. You can’t know what the music is going to end up like before you start playing. There is no talking at all, the band’s musicians unwrap their souls. It is not only about the scale or technique, our hands cannot control it anymore, it is about feeling. Whenever I listen to or play the blues, I don’t just hear it, I travel to the landscape that comes up, I become a hero of a story that transpires, I dance to the joy and the sorrow. The blues has been a journey for me ever since my youth and still goes on. I won’t tell you where I am going, I won’t tell you what I’ve seen; I’d rather play.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past?
During the 80’s and 90’s, the blues was very popular not only in Athens but all around Greece as well. You would listen to the blues at the radio, cafés, bars, concerts, on the beaches around the fire. This is what I miss today. It’s a genre the new generation listens to less and less as time goes by. It is still there, it’s in the music that is being written, it’s the foundation in those new songs, it’s still alive like the piece of wood that lights the fire. People get dazzled by the fire, however, and tend to ignore what keeps it going.
I keep up with what’s new in the blues on the internet radio. I’m happy to discover new songs, beautiful covers, fresh orchestration. I can’t help but feel, however, that the blues community keeps shrinking, at least as far as Greece is concerned. It’s been treated as music grown “old”. But this is just a phase it has to get past; the blues has been through this again. It is not the genre’s fault, it’s the industry’s. It’s cheaper for the “factory” to produce identical products, but people’s need for spontaneity and expression is still here, it never goes away.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I feel that violence is being legitimized all around the world. Morally, I mean. Simple people are feeling the violence of poverty and answering in the same way. Songs are becoming more and more intense, films are full of violent tension, peoples’ gods –once gods of love – are now seeking for blood and giving away tickets to heaven as an exchange for the bodies of the faithless.
I believe in small communities; in companies who hang on to tradition as if it were a talisman; in those who resist this force and try to keep the music, the stories, the dances, the wisdom of the centuries alive. When the day comes and people awaken, they will find small flames keeping the lantern lit. Then, they will light up the big bonfire again and we will gather around it once more with guitars, songs, stories and love in our hearts to celebrate being. This is the way it always goes.
"Playing music is not just a job. Traditional, folk music is not only a product for sale. It is a celebration, it is a commemoration, it is bonding. It is the distillation of the dreams and nightmares of people who strive. It is the blossom of folk wisdom." (Photo by Kallirroe Moula)
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I would ask for more experimentation and spontaneity, more room for those who keep seeking for something new. Only then we will be able to hear, feel and play nice music.
Make an account of the case of the blues in Greece. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?
As I said before, I think it would be the 70’s, the 80’s and the early 90’s. Today we still have notable blues bands in Greece, some of them tracing back to the years I was discovering the blues, some others younger. I believe the blues could create a current in today’s Greece only if contemporary blues bands come closer to one another and cooperate without rivalry.
What are the lines that connect the folk oral traditional with the Blues?
But they are both children of the poor. Blues songs tell stories and tales sing the world. Their magic lies in improvising. I never play a blues song in exactly the same way, as I never narrate a story with exactly the same words. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know where it will lead me when I start playing the blues or narrating a tale, but in the end both of them always whisper in a sweet and meaningful way: “This too shall pass”.
People sometimes ask me: «Now that you narrate stories, do you still have the time to play music?» I laugh and answer: «Music is my remedy». Seriously, to me the blues are the water for my thirsty soul.
"In folk tales, most of the times the hero starts from scratch and on his way has to deal with wild beasts, dragons, witches, impassable forests. But in the end, he always makes it." (Photo by Kallirroe Moula)
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
For the last few years music has been bullied in my country. You are not allowed to play music in the street since it is viewed as begging, vagrancy. You are not allowed to play music with your friends in a bar impulsively, without having taken permission from the state beforehand since it is considered a profession. Clearly a profession. Say you grab your guitar to play at a wedding as a gift to the people you love; you (as well as the venue owner) are always under the risk of receiving a fine if caught by the authorities. They support that this way they protect professional musicians but I’m not convinced.
Playing music is not just a job. Traditional, folk music is not only a product for sale. It is a celebration, it is a commemoration, it is bonding. It is the distillation of the dreams and nightmares of people who strive. It is the blossom of folk wisdom. When restricted into just a job, it is pure war against the soul. Blues traces back to our roots. It is music coming from the soul. It is a dance about life and a sigh about misery. Blues is about confessing and protesting, therefore terrorizes those in charge. Songs not payed but paying.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
To the future, to another planet, to a bar by the sea, drinking, singing, telling stories from around the world.
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