“The songs of Vasilis Tsitsanis are Greece itself” Said Mikis Theodorakis. “Tsitsanis was a small Christ of the people, who spoke into their soul regardless of education and social class” (Giorgos Dalaras). “Tsitsanis is the Parthenon of our music” (Eleftheria Arvanitaki). The painter Giannis Tsarochis went even farther by saying that “Tsitsanis is the only evidence that we have culture!”, and Manos Hatzidakis highlighted the universality of his work, stating that Tsitsanis is the reincarnation of classical composers.
Vasilis Tsitsanis (1915-1984) is considered as the founder of the Greek Popular Song (Laika). His work has been part of the Greek consciousness for the last 80 years. “I have a faith in my work and I think that as long as will be Greece, there will be my songs” he wrote. His songs are appealing to all by expressing variety of emotions, vitality, earthiness and nobility, gentleness and compassion, all in a unique musicality and lyrics.
Tsitsanis (all used to call him by his second name) wrote many of his masterpieces during the decade of the 1940s as Greece was experiencing a dreadful trilogy: War, Occupation and a Civil War. The terrible daily events overwhelmed him emotionally. How came the miracle of this vibrant creation out of those days? I have a strong feeling that a major part of the answer is the presence of women in his creative work.
“My fantasy fluttered about everywhere. I wrote songs about Greece, freedom, poverty, pain, injustice, hope, mother, unfulfilled love, and especially about the woman“. He adored and honored women, loved and inspired them and they loved and inspired him; he wrote great songs for, or with the participation of a female voice;most of his songs that were sung by women, are manely, saying to the woman words of love and comfort or distress and anger. It was common in those days,maybe a kind of saying that both genders share the pain of love… I feel that Tsitsanis made this saying more noticeable and deeper.
His wife’s brother Andreas told:”Vasilis was a handsome man and women wanted him madly. He was also amorous and flirty and women were his weakness. But he was cautious that nothing will reach his wife’s ears”. His family was important to him and he succeeded in keeping it unharmed. “He was a charmer and a lover” said Lefteris Papadopoulos and told about their meetings as friends in later years: “We never or rarely talked about songs. Normally, we chatted for women; beautiful, delicate, brunettes, sweet-smelling, that were enchanting Vasilis’ mind and arousing his dreams. Then they were taking shape into his songs, wonderful and inaccessible as they were, to burn not only his heart but of others too”(*1)
Tsitsanis had known well the woman, love and desire;he had known it in all his inner instincts. The woman is a hope, a passion for life, a commintment to to live to the fullest … and that’s how she enlightened Tsitsanis’ art in those black days to make it so vital. It is so Greek, so universal.
Just after the war it was the voice of Ioanna Georgakopoulou (Ιωάννα Γεωργακοπούλου 1920-2007) who had driven Tsitsanis’ creativity. She sang some of his finest songs that had been written during and after the occupation. It looks that Tsitsanis gave Ioanna few song as presents and they were registered officially on her name as their writer. In 1949 she replaced Sotiria Bellou beside him at the famous Athens tavern “Fat Jimmy’s ” (Τζίμη του χοντρού) but a short time later Tsitsanis was seeking to replace her; he gave the role to Marika Ninou and Ioanna, despite her great bitterness stood aside. The relations between them were led into an intense conflict in coming years on copyright issues.
This great work had been written in Thessaloniki in 1942, and recorded after the war as recordings were resumed, by Tsitsanis, Ioanna Gewrgakopoulou and Stellakis Perpiniadis (Περπινιάδης). Giorgos Dalaras counts the song among Tsitsanis’ “slow noble songs with Mediterranean sadness and color of the evening” (as “Noble woman” and “The witch from Arab lands”)
Makis Gkartzopoulos writes in his great blog ‘The Aroma of the song’ (Το Άρωμα του Τραγουδιού):” The melodic autonomy of the three singers gives the listener the feeling that he hears a choir …. (Tsitsanis) borrows elements from western music, mixing them with the popular song’s ways and Hasapiko rhythm, painting a musical landscape of perfect beauty…The three singers interpret in a thrilling way a song that one could say it has the pain and sorrow of all love songs. Their interpretation is ritualistic, without excess and completely free of melodrama… In “Ungrateful” we meet many of the elements that exist in other songs of Tsitsanis: the designations “crazy woman”, the woman who sometimes is “Lady” and other time “actress”…What makes ‘ungrateful” different from other songs is the grievance that comes out of the lyrics. It is a true, manly grievance, with dignity, as a deep sigh which is looking for a way to be expressed and find it in the sound of bouzouki…”(*2)
The first recording(1947-no translation)
And this a modern version, faithful to Tsitsanis,sung by Marios Frangkoulis, Glikeria and Hristos Thivaios. Press cc for English subtitles:
You languish alone (Αργοσβήνεις μόνη-1947)
This is one my favorite songs about a lover who speaks to his beloved one. Katerina says “the love of a man, which is expressed to a beautiful “mavromata” (black eyed), is not to be revealed to her, but only to us, the listeners of the song. Observing the beautiful woman from a distance, the speaker expresses his wish to become the one and only in her life, but I feel that he expresses it to himself rather than the woman”. The dreamy melody and rhythms, the second voices, gives a sense of wandering fantasies of love that are transferred magically to the listener…
The original recording of Ioanna Georgakopoulou:
And here is Eleni Tsaligopoulou with Giorgos Dalaras.( cc for English caps)
In 1945 Vasilies Tsitsanis heard Sotiria Bellou the first time and was so excited that he immediately wrote a song for her. In 1947 she and Tsitsanis appeared on stage in Fat Jimmy’s and in that year their first recording came to the world. She started to get fame. 1948 was fruitful year regarding recording; two hits on both sides of the same 78 r.p.m record: “Be a little patient” and “You make mistakes” This was interrupted as Bellou had been attacked physically on stage by nationalist customers and quitted. (*3). When in winter 1949 Marika Ninou went on stage beside him, hostility broke out between the two women that came once, as reported, to beatings. Tsitsanis continued to write for Sotiria big hits for few more years and in 1973 they met again on stage of the famous club “Harama” (Χάραμα). They would perform on this stage for 11 consecutive seasons, till December 1983, three weeks before Tsitsanis’ death.
Be a little bit patient (Κάνε λιγάκι υπομονή-1948)
The song was written during the Civil War. Tsitsanis uses here an allegory firstly to bypass the censorship, but it has a value of its own as a love song. The encouragement to the despaired woman in love is for Greece. This “trick” had not made an impression on the censorship and especially the “promised dawn” that was founded damaging the morality of the people and the song was banned.
Miltos B. wrote beautifully:” The sheer strength of each well chosen word, the utter simplicity of the expression, the raw lyricism, the boiling emotion, the brutally honest allegory of this masterpiece by Vasilis Tsitsanis, written in the stormy year of 1948 is absolutely breathtaking: far beyond being merely a wonderfully soothing song, it expressed the desperate cry of the Greek people in the middle of the civil war, their unending drama…world war II, triple occupation by the axis powers, famine, partisan wars and Nazi reprisals, executions, followed after 1944 by a destructive civil war…the young men fighting on the mountains, the girls wasting their youth away waiting for them to return…all they wanted by then was some dim glimmer of hope, some ray of light in the brutal darkness that was the dramatic 1940’s for Greece…things would at some point get better…if they could only be a little bit patient!”(*4)
Sotiria Bellou and Vsilis Tsitsanis:(no translation)
For readers in Germany the following link of Sotiria Bellou live (audio):
The following video I like very much. Three generations of singers: Grigoris Bithikotsis and Kaiti Gkrei, Dionysis Savvopoulos, and Eleftheria Arvanitaki in a beautiful prayer for new dawn ( cc for English caps).
You make mistakes (Πέφτεις σε λάθη)
This is a monolog of a betrayed husband to his wife but in this modern live performance by Rita Avtonopoulou the betrayed woman says exactly the same things to her husband…(only 2 of the 3 verses- cc for English caps):
Seashores, Sunsets (Ακρογιαλιές δειλινά)-Dimitra
Another song of the Civil War time (1948); Tsitsanis became acquainted with the poems of Anthoula Stathopoulou (Ανθούλα Σταθοπούλου ) who had passed away in 1935 as she was only 27, and was touched by her poem “May” with its erotic atmosphere and longing; few lines says: “I might become seduced by other/seashores and sunsets/and I might find greater loves/enslaved to them forever”. Faithfully to these lyrics he wrote in 1948 a dark song describing a strange girl wandering alone on earth like shadow, almost quoting Anthoula in the third verse: “She might have been seduced/by seashores, sunsets /and they keep enslaved forever / the poor heart”. Who is the strange girl looking in the darkness for the sun? Maybe she lost her love, maybe Anthoula herself or maybe it is Greece of the Civil War?
Tsitsanis was looking eagerly for the right singer. He wanted Sofia Vembo to performe it and some of his songs as he adored her to a worship point, considering her as the greatest of all times. It hadn’t been realized because of her record companies wouldn’t let her to sing Laika. So it was the warm voice of Stella Haskil who had been performing some of his known songs but it didn’t gain success then. Tsitsanis felt that at last he found the right voice 25 years later: Dimitra Galani (and he was taking the second voice). It was one of few songs that he renewed and wrote for her. I love this song; it moves me every time in its music and lyrics. Galani and Tsitsanis delivery gives a sense of a musical photograph that catches the moment forever.
(cc for English caps)
This is the first part of the post. The next part will be about Tsitsanis and Marika Ninou.
(*3) More on Sotiria Bellou and Tsitsanis and this incident in my blog: https://greeksongstories.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/in-her-own-straight-way/
Posts on my blog about Tsitsanis:
About “Cloudy Sunday” https://greeksongstories.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/the-anthem-of-the-soul-2/
“In exotic lands with Vasilis Tsitsanis https://greeksongstories.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/in-exotic-lands-with-vasilis-tsitsanis/
About Ioanna Georgakopoulou http://rebetiko.sealabs.net/wiki/mediawiki/index.php/%CE%99%CF%89%CE%AC%CE%BD%CE%BD%CE%B1_%CE%93%CE%B5%CF%89%CF%81%CE%B3%CE%B1%CE%BA%CE%BF%CF%80%CE%BF%CF%8D%CE%BB%CE%BF%CF%85
Nikos Ordoulidis made PhD thesis on Tsitsanis: http://popaganda.gr/o-nikos-ordoulidis-xeri-ta-panta-gia-ton-vasili-tsitsani/
I would like to give my many thanks to Anastasia Tanela for the research and remarks, Katerina Siapanda for explanations of crucial points and also thanks to Regina Schmidt for pointing videos that are available in Germany.