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.
Very interesting study. Should give the incentive to quite a few
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
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.
You 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
There 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.
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
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
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.
Two 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.
temple of rembetika was a club called "Stou Tzimmi Tou Hondrou" at
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
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