Rembetika Reflections of Nikos

When I sent a link to my Rembetika page to my friend Nikos little did I know that it would awaken a flood of memories and important information that my website would be incomplete without.


Dear Matt

Very interesting study. Should give the incentive to quite a few people to listen to rembetika songs. My favorites are obviously the classical ones, Tsitsanis, Papaioannou, Bellou, Vamvakaris, Stratos, and Roza Eskenazi. In 1947 I lived in France and came to Athens for the summer and since I was on a very tight budget, I bought from   Monastiraki quite a few 78 rpm, for 1 drachma or 0,50 drs each. I had no idea about the singers and the composers and I bought them after listening a little bit to each one. For this purpose, the seller had an old phonograph with the large "funnel" and using steel needles, and he let me listen to the records before buying them. I bought them exclusively based on my musical taste. After 10 years I looked at my "collection" and was pleasantly surprised to see that  the majority of the records I had chosen were from the composers above.

ou might be interested to know that hashish, was legal till 1936 when it was banned by the dictator Ioannis Metaxas. This is why, all the songs referring to hashish smoking, tekedes (smoking dens), nargiledes, loulades etc, were called apagorevmena, ie forbidden. It was not only forbiden to smoke hashish, but also to sing songs about hashish. The hashish culture came with the Asia Minor refugees, and the governments from 1922 to 1936 did not object to it. Metaxas forbade it because he wanted to stop the rembetika movement and turn the "marginal" rembetes into clean cut, hard working citizens with nationalistic ideals!!! (he did not succeed)

here are some striking similarities between rembetika songs and Argentinian tango and blues. All three belonged to some marginal societies and all 3 have a vibrant genuinity, which enabled them to expand from the original audience of marginals and reach the general public. Tango started in the Buenos Aires bordellos. The young men customers of the bordellos, taught it to their sisters and then it became the dance of the good Argentinian society.

        Similarly, bouzouki music was unknown to the Athenian good society till approx. 1940. The only exceptions some daring young men at the time, Tsarouchis the painter and Hadjidakis were bold enough to visit the Piraeus and Drapetsonasl bouzouki joints. Then suddenly, from 1945 onwards there was a love affair between bouzouki and good society. A big boost was given by Melina Mercouri and Giorgos Zambetas who introduced bouzouki music and
plate smashing at the  Cannes Film Festival where the movie Never On Sunday was presented. In my opinion, the real genuine bouzouki music lasted only for 20 -25 years from 1922 to 1945-47. Black and white Greek cinema of the 50s had a lot to do with the success of rembetika. You will be interested to know that the official radio station, EIR short for  Ethniko Idrima Radiofonias,  did not broadcast bouzouki music from 1945 to 1952, aroung 1946 -1947, the Greek armed forces, started their own  radio station YENED, short for Ypiresio Enimeroseos Enoplon Dynameon and to boost the moral of the soldier, fighting the second phase of the civil war, were broadcasting bouzouki music and ovenight it became immensely popular.  

The adoption of rembetika by the good society, worked like a kiss of death for the bouzouki music. Composers started writing songs appealing  to the good society newcomers. The music would become sweeter, more modern, with sometimes touches of latin american music. Instruments like bongos and cellos would creep into the bouzouki bands. Singers would not stick anymore to the tradition of singing  seated and would perform on the stage. Women singers would wiggle their arses and their tits and as a result,  bouzouki music lost its austere genuinity which was its main original charm.

Manolis Hiotis was the partner of Mary Linda who is alive and still sings . He was probably one of the best virtuoso of the bouzouki . Something like Paganini with the violin. He used for the first time a four string bouzouki, tetrachordo, (4 pairs of strings) whereby the classical bouzouki has 3 pairs of strings ie trichordo and also he was the  first to use electric bouzouki. The 4 string bouzouki allowed him to do more adventurous sounds. He was particularly good at the low end of the handle, producing very quick and high pitch sounds. Mary Linda was his artistic partner only, since Hiotis' sexual preferences were for men. He was a very handsome, tall man, and dressed smashingly usually in white suits and always wore a tie, contrarily to the old rembetes, Titsanis, Vamvacaris etc, who never wore a tie.

Like many greek artists he made an usa  tour (this is where the money is)  in 1956. He was extremely successful with the greek american contingent. He became famous in the us and 1966 Lyndon Johnson gave him a diploma of honor and us citizenship.

wo words about Marika Ninou, Tsitsanis artistic partner for many years. Tsitsanis was married to another woman. She was the Greek Amalia Rodriguez. Very clear and cutting voice with no frills and effort to impress the audience with sophisticated vocalisations. She never, never got up from the her chair while singing and she was like Titsanis' alter ego. These two matched beautifully. Her voice was like crystal clear running water and she had an unforgetable pitch, we say metallo in Greek.

he temple of rembetika was a club called "Stou Tzimmi Tou Hondrou" at the beginning of Acharnon street, in the center of Athens. All the famous rembetes, starting with Tsitsanis and Ninou performed there. Then in the late 50's and 60' the rebemtika scene moved to Tzitzifies, on the sea avenue beteween Phaliron and Piraeus, just off Syngrou avenue  on the way to Piraeus.

I was lucky enough to have heard Titsanis and Ninou and  to have talked to him. A friend from the parea knew him and he came and sat briefly at our table which he very rarely did with customers. It was universally known that Tsitsanis had to smoke a sizeable joint before coming out on the palco (the platform of the artists). Tsitsanis eyes were very clearly showing that he was high and this why he performed so beautifully.

        I also heard Papaioannou. His nick name was Barba Yiannis. His famous trick  was to play the bouzouki blindly, ie holding it behind his neck.

        I also met many times Giorgos Zambetas. He used to ask me bring him a sombrero when coming back from one of my trips abroad. I stopped going to the bouzoukia from fhe middle sixties onwards, because they had become too modern for my taste. Then quite to my surprise, during my first visit to NY, in 1979, Carolina and I met Zambetas in the Grecian Cave, a bouzouki place quite near the 42th street and 5th or 6th ave. There was hardly any business and he came and sat at our table for quite a while and remembered the old times.

  I was also a friend of Sotiria Bellou. I first met her in the early 70's in a little bouzouki joint in Peristeri, called E Orea Nissos Hydra. The owner was called Alaoglou. Bellou was there because she had been famous in the late 40's but then she was out of the bouzouki scene due to some melancholy she had suffered from. At that Nissos Hydra joint, the customers wanted some younger and flashier singers to sing while us, my parea and I, insisted to hear Bellou. She deeply appreciated our preference for her and came at our table and sung for us and when the show was over we took her with us to Daskalakis', a bouzouki joint who would start when the other clubs finished and people would stay up till 8 or 9 in the morning.  Bellou became very famous from the end of 70s till her death in the middle 90s. she performed for a few years with Tsitsanis in a joint called Skopeftirio in Kessariani. They were the last two sacred animals of the genuine rembetika.

All the Best

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