The Katsimihas Brothers (Κατσιμίχας) is a name that I know from my early days in Greek music. When my friend Katerina had suggested few weeks ago to make a post about her beloved duo, who are very popular in Greece, I found to my surprise that I am really familiar with only few of their songs. So by listening to their songs in the car over the last weeks I closed the gap a little…
Haris and Panos (Χάρης&Πάνος Κατσιμίχας) are twins who emerged into the world within ten minutes of each other in October 1952. From 1970 onwards they had spent 15 years of studying, working, living abroad, army service, experiencing music in various ways, and recording experiments; years which they spent living separately for much of the time. Their first success was in the 1985 album “Hot Drinks” (Ζεστά Ποτά) that brought a completely new style to Greek Music.
What was their music? I think that it emerged from two origins; Rock and the Popular Song (Laika).
Beat and Rock
In the notes for their album “Beat Poetry” (2012) Haris and Panos wrote: “in 1971 at the age of 19 we wanted something more than Varnalis, Palamas, Sikelianos, Kavafis (Greek poets). We were looking for it and it came to us through the songs of The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan. Lyrics sent us into shivers, precious fragments of another dimension, of a world that was striving to meet us – and we were striving to meet it. We were spending our summers at the islands at the beach among stoned hippies with guitars, around the fire, tourist-pilgrims, not tourist-consumers, with their sleeping bags and at the same age as we were. We were asking them with our limited English about the meaning of the songs… we had no internet not a descent music magazine about the music of the era (except one small publication) and there was only the state controlled radio of Junta and some “pirate” radio stations… and on TV there was the channel of the armed forces, propaganda around the clock; we had to find everything ourselves, searching in the dark for our mythical El Dorado. Back in Athens during winters… Not to speak, not to think, not to laugh, not to walk in the street without being afraid of the stool pigeon behind you, in the theater, in company, in your neighborhood…”
In Monastiraki, American soldiers were selling their belongings on their way out, including vinyl records. “We were looking to discover what we knew and what we did not know, with only our noses and instinct. These records (I still wonder why), were heavier than the Greeks and their covers had colorful flowers, they exuded an exotic scent….”
One night in 1971, during “a damn junta winter” while they were on their second year studying of political science, at a friend’s house, they were exposed to Beat Poetry.
The Beat Generation was a group of American post-World War II writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired. Central elements of “Beat” culture included rejection of traditional standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, an interest in Eastern religions , a rejection of materialism, and explicit portrayals of the human condition (from Wikipedia).
“On the table, cognac, sunflower, hundreds of thousands of cigarettes in ashtrays and the bottoms of empty bottles.” They took a glance at the “Panderma” magazine of the author, painter and editor Leonidas Christakis, which introduced them to Beat logic and to rock in another way. “After that night of our first meeting with the beat poets (like Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac), we began to realize the fact, that these people were also desperate and “imprisoned” in their own country, as we were here. The resistance to the violence of power, the peace movements, sexual liberation, feminism and the anti-war movement, Woodstock, Psychedelia – all these defined a way of thinking that marked us forever. It became a way of life, a common ground of seeking and meeting with people who lived thousands of miles away. A whacked generation.”
Haris and Panos wrote most of their songs themselves. Sometimes the lyrics were written by others. The new lyrical and musical language which they brought to Greek music in the mid 1980s and that had seemed at first as “outlandish”, could never have been born “if we never met the beat poets and of course rock songwriters who together defined the aesthetics and culture of our writing.”
What is Rock? “Rock is to tell the truth that burns your mouth and that does not let you swallow. Of course if you ask a thousand people what is rock, you’ll get a thousand different answers,” says Panos. “Now, in terms of music, Rock is our Dylan, the Doors, Hendrix, Rage against the Machine, System of a Down and Pearl Jam, stuff like that. Rock is not so much the intensification of the sound, it is mainly the intensification of the verse. “At any cost,” adds Haris, “personal, professional, social, and anything else that it might mean. Rock is being original, yourself, whether you are a musician or journalist or sell pretzels on Omonia Square.”
Here is “The Stab of Love” (Της αγάπης μαχαιριά) a song from their 1994 album with the same title. The lyrics were written by the poet Lena Papa to the music of the brothers. It is about the power of love, its pain and its creative strength that awakens all the senses… The video is from 2010 live performance.(Press on the Youtube bottom for English Subtitles also in other Videos)
The Popular Song
At this point I must admit something. None of the rock groups and singers that were mentioned above by the Brothers are part of my musical world. And still I very much love the Greek group “Pix-Lax” and I was delighted by the Katsimihas’ rock that I have bee listening to in recent weeks.
The reason is obvious. There is a lot of Greek music in this rock music that my soul cannot overlook… So, unsurprisingly, reading the Brothers’ biography and articles I found sayings about the connection to Laika (the popular song) in their music; then, listening again to their music I understood…
Haris and Panos are Greek and naturally they have been absorbing this music since childhood. But before they took off with their own music they had sung it professionally, and a lot.
Haris was living in West Berlin from 1975 until the mid 1980s. He was studying German Literature and made a living by singing Rebetika at the pubs of the city. In 1979 he was joined by his brother who had finished his degrees in France. When Panos had been released from the army in 1982 he was doing odd jobs and one of them was singing in a tavern in the kind of performances that begin with “Good Evening” at 11pm and end with “Good Morning” at 5 am…
“We pulled wages [from this],” Panos said, “but I would not have done it if there was not a love for these songs.” And Haris goes further to say that their songs are essentially hidden Laika! Here is an audio from their later years of Tsitsanis’ song “Tonight you make a bam” (Απόψε κάνεις μπαμ, means tonight you are stunning!)
“If there is a reason” (Αν υπάρχει λόγος) written by Panos in a popular style is a beloved song both in and outside of Greece, even by those who do not listen regularly to Greek Music. It is a famous 1992 collaboration with Giorgos Dalaras which gave birth to an album by the three bearing the same name. Here is a video from 2001 Dalaras performance. He sings only as a second voice and gives the leading role to two “New Laika” singers- Panos Katsimihas and Babis Stokas (of “Pix-Lax):
Hot Drinks (Ζεστά Ποτά)
This is the title of the first 1985 album of Haris and Panos Katsimihas. Most of its songs were ready in the second part of the 1970s, but their new sound, selection of subjects and intonation of speech had been found too risky commercially and they had been rejected once and again by the record companies. Only Manos Ksidous of Minos – EMI told Haris in 1980: “Do not get exasperated. Nobody here understands what it means. But if it were up to me, I would make an album from these songs tomorrow!” Finally it was Manolis Rasoulis who produced the album adding on its cover a dedication to all those who had refused to release it until then… but the 100000 people that bought it were not mistaken…
Here is, firstly, a of wonderful song “Basement” (Υπόγειο)that has all that we have talked about (Lyrics: Rita Pappa,not translated).
“Laugh my bird ” (Γέλα πουλί μου) written by Haris and Panos is the closing song of the album. Since then, it is always sung as an encore in their concert with a devoted participation of the audience. In an interview Haris draws our attention to the fact that the refrain is actually a Zebekiko.This videois from 2010
Get Dark, night
A song written by the brothers, from 1987, here with harmonica and guitar:
How do people feel about them as a duo of brothers? Haris says: “When we are with Panos on the stage, we find ourselves in our common ground, so the chemistry is inevitable. People feel it and sense its effortlessness; that’s why they face us with love and emotion. It is the same emotion that we feel when we see and hear them sing with us, like being one person.” But they had always emphasized their being different personalities. Panos had said once in an interview “to have you in the minds of others as a duo is not bad, and sometimes fun. What is barbaric is to consider us as Siamese. This is no fun.”
In the 15 years from 1985 to 2000 the Brothers recorded 13 albums and toured and performed constantly all over (in 1993 they participated in Bob Dylan concerts in Athens). Haris reached exhaustion; he stuck it out in the last years for the sake of his brother, but in 2000 he announced the dissolution of the band. Haris took a rest, traveled, read books and Panos continued to sing. In 2010 they reunited for concerts and in 2012 released the album “Beat Poetry”.
“Old summers” (Παλιά καλοκαίρια ) from their album “The Stab of love”. Our friend Katerina Siapanda’s says “it has an excellent combination of lyrics (a poem by Lena Papa) and music… this song is a nostalgic tribute to sweet or bittersweet memories and experiences that live eternally within our souls.”
For viewers in Germany an audio . The lyrics at the appendix:
We celebrate today the 50th post; one more story on people behind Greek songs…
I would like to thank to all our many readers all over the world that by visiting our site give powers to go on.
Special thanks to the people behind the blog from it first day. First of all to Nata for her research that forms the foundations of the stories, and for her translations of most of the songs. Thanks to Shahaf Ifhar for professional editing, for Dany Matz for his comments and to Katerina Siapanta for fruitful advises that always cast light on my questions.
Videos from the 1980s:
From “Beat Poetry” introduction: http://www.poiein.gr/archives/19598/index.html
Article on their Laika: http://www.ogdoo.gr/portal/index.php?option=ozo_content&perform=view&id=3337&Itemid=30
Old summers bear fruit in me
kindle glances of old times
Nothing, nothing is lost really
Everything is here, everything is here
Only a spark lights fires
in the stacks of memory
fires in the stacks of memory
And if hope sustains the future
memory nourishes the present
vindicating our past
Because whatever had once been
Cannot cease to have been existed