Marika Ninou was a fairytale in her birth, in and after her death, a living legend through her lifetime, explosive temperament on and off stage, a muse for Vasilis Tsitsanis and other important musicians.
She was Armenian, born as Evangelia Atamian and as a true legend the time and place of her birth are mystery. One says that she was born in 1918 in Caucasus; others think that it was in Istanbul and her niece says that she was born in 1922 on a ship that brought her family from the ruined Smyrna to Piraeus.
She grew up in Kokkinia’s refugee neighborhoods and as she was only 17 she married an Armenian man, had a son and separated after a short time. In 1944 she meets her second husband Nino Nikolaidis, an acrobat and juggler; together with her son they appeared as “Two and a half Nino”. Then she adopted the stage name Marika Ninou (Μαρίκα Νίνου) as a tribute to the great actress Marika Kotopouli. They were doing quite well but Marika always wanted to sing. She spent her time at “Pigkals” night club near the famous Manolis Chiotis and Giorgos Mitsakis. “Dear Mr. Mitsakis, tell Mr. Chiotis to let me too sing a song on stage”, she said once and those words marked her life. So it all began.Marika made her first recording in June 1948 with two of Chiotis’ songs. (1)
She got a job in club “Florida”, began to gain experience, learned the secrets of the profession and quickly caught people’s hearts. It was autumn 1949 when Tsitsanis was looking to replace Ioanna Georgakopoulou at his side on stage in “Fat Jimmy’s place”(Τζίμη του χοντρού). He went secretly to “Florida”. “I heard her and it didn’t take me long to figure out the talent. I realized that with proper work she will make history.” Marika began to visit “Jimmy’s “and Tsitsanis would let her sing on stage few songs, obviously with unwelcoming feelings from Ioanna. They begun to meet in secret for the arrangements of her transfer and in 4/12/1949 they became a duo on Jimmy’s place (2). Ioanna stepped aside. Marika affected him immediately and just before Christmas 1949 he wrote and they recorded few songs.
I found Marika Ninou on Tsitsanis’ discography first time in 1949 with the song “Day breaks and night comes” (Ξημερώνει και βραδιάζει), with Tsitsanis and Prodromos Tsaousakis.
Vasilis Tsitsanis: “Every night at “Jimmy’s” there was outburst of exciting people (…). Marika was unmatched on stage, her movements were something thrilling. When singing she had such expressiveness and such transmissibility to the public, that there will be no other like her. This was innate. She was born to be on stage”. He began recording his new songs with the voice of Ninou and hits were coming one after the other .They became lovers. Tsitsanis was crazy about her and she inspired him. In the first two years of their relationship (1949-1951) Tsitsanis writes 97 songs, some of the most important of his career.
Every night you always sad
Every night you deeply thoughtful
Tell me what they told you about me
And your eyes are always tearful
Every night you always sad-Κάθε βράδυ πάντα λυπημένη, recorded 1950
Tonight I will guild your bouzouki
Give me your sweetest sound
And if you will be badly affected, my Tsitsanis
I will pay for it
To escape my heartache for a woman, to be saved
Play for me, so to find comfort
And if I will do any damage, my Tsitsanis
I will pay for it
The damage-Η ζημιά , Lyrics: Eftechia Papagiannopoulou- Ευτυχία Παπαγιαννοπούλου 1950
Marika: “People in those days knew how to love; strong, without limits and sometimes ruthless. Love was scratching the body from inside. The wound was fed by longing … Love had nothing to do with clothes full of sequins. Love took off the clothes. Making love, having fights behind the walls and ending with unpolished words .This kind of love I dared to live and that’s why I became sick. For this reason they considered my interpretation to be exceptional, because my love for singing and men was pure, honest and strong…(On stage)Vasilis was smiling at me, people were ecstatic and when fun was reaching its heights, sometimes the Bouzouki strings were broken. Then the feeling was getting a human face and was pulsing as the sensual pleasures of lovers.”
She knew his attraction to her and was trying to draw him away from his wife. Tsitsanis didn’t want in any way to break up with his family, so their relationship had from the beginning an expiration date. He knew it well, but Marika harbored hopes, believing that she would conquer him. She was gaining control on management, arranging the contracts, the payments and the partners in the clubs. It looks that her success with Tsitsanis had gone to her head and she was falling out continuously with other colleagues and even with his family. He tolerated this situation for long, not only because of his obsession to her, but also because he was concentrating in writing songs and people wanted to see them together. They were the most commercial duo. She was demanding persistently exclusivity not only on stage, but in recording too “I have him. You will never have a song of him” she was challenging other women-singers. Tsitsanis was trying to explain her patiently, that every song needs a specific voice, so it’s impossible to sing all the songs herself; her behaviour began to fill up his glass of resentment. (3)
The mountains echo
When I cry at dusks
The hours pass sadly
On an old clock
And I play with my sighs
As they were komboloi (beads string)
The mountains echo, Αντιλαλούνε τα βουνά. with Spiros Efstathiou and Prodromos Tsaousakis. Lyrics: Eftechia Papagiannopoulou- Ευτυχία Παπαγιαννοπούλου 1950
Two of the songs in modern versions and English subtitles. Press cc for the subtitles.
Every night you always sad Sonia Theodoridou
The mountains echo Sotiria Bellou and Soula Daki
Second part of this story at
Here are links to few of Tsitsanis-Ninou songs of those fruitful years:
Η καρδιά σου θα γίνει χρυσή /Your heart will be golden
Γεια σου, καΐκι μου, Άη Νικόλα! /Hello my fishing boat, Saint Nikolas
Το Όνειρο, Της Αδερφής/The sister’s dream
Είμαστε αλάνια/ we are urchins
(1) Much of the text about her life and the first connection with Tsitsanis is based on http://www.theinsider.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17709:marika-ninoy-i-sygklonistiki-foni-mias-skliris-epoxis-binteo&catid=59:entertainment-&Itemid=101
(2) At that time Marika introduced to Tsitsanis the young pianist and accordionist Evangelia Margaroni (Βαγγελιώ Μαργαρώνη) who played with him for three decades.
(3) Parts of the story on their relation were based on the book by Sotos Alexiou /Σώτος Αλεξίου “The famous Tsitsanis”/ ” ξακουστός Τσιτσάνης”
(4) The movie “Rembetiko” By Costas Ferris is based on her life
Tsitsanis and Ninou at “Fat Jimmy’s place” famous tavern https://youtu.be/ZAtk-p9R_pg
Marika Ninou Wikipedia (English) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marika_Ninou
Vasilis Tsitsanis Wikipedia (English) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vassilis_Tsitsanis
I would like to thank Anastasia Thanela for the research, Katerina Siapanda for important clarifications and Regina Schmidt for selecting videos available in Germany.