Part A: On December 1949 Vasilis Tsitsanis and Marika Ninou became a duo, conquering people hearts on stage and on the gramophone. They were in passionate love that kindled their creativity. But after two years the first cracks emerged…
At fall of 1951 Tsitsanis and Marika were to travel to Istanbul for two months work in a club. It was the first time Tsitsanis was leaving Greece and his wife Zoi was upset: “I was young; I was jealous and was afraid to lose him. I was listening to the gossips about Ninou and other women and I was sad. When he went with Evangelia Margaroni, his pianist and Ninou for the passports I followed them and when I saw that they got into a music café I left. But he saw me and during evening we had a long talk. He told me that in this job he had to be gentle, that he cared only about his family and that I must not complain and make a fuss, because like this our marriage will be destroyed and also he will not be able to concentrate in writing songs. From then on I was jealous but didn’t’ show it and we had a very good life”. He didn’t let his wife and daughter to go and see him in the taverns, but they were going sometimes in secret, listening to him singing… Other times Zoi was making drawings of him the way she was fantasizing him on stage…
Istanbul was the place where bitterness floated and a turning point in Marika and Tsitsanis relations; both were making misconducts just to spite one another. She was walking around with old acquaintances and he “surrendered” to the love of a Turkish princess who was promising him all the goods of the world. They returned to Athens, to “Jimmy’s place”, working without talking to each other. They continued to work together, as nothing succeeds like success and people loved them, but the past feelings had vanished. Marika was still pushing aside other singers (and sometimes it came to beatings) and Tsitsanis, had to defend himself against malicious tongues on his work that came out of jealousy and competition. So the three years 1952-1954 were not so good for Tsitsanis so his output was less than a half of the two years of love 1949-1951.
At the second half of 1953, in a dinner before the show, Marika told Tsitsanis that symptoms of cancer were found in her body. Tsitsanis stood for her and they went together to the doctor, who recommended treatment in America. Marika asked Tsitsanis to go there with her. He refused and was determined as he learned that his wife was expecting their second child. His love to her had not existed anymore, but he faced a woman who had been languishing and he couldn’t do anything… They both knew that this situation couldn’t go on any longer. The time of their definitive separation was approaching. In March 1954 while Marika was preparing to leave for America, Tsitsanis gave her a song about lover’s separation but the lyrics also marked for her the end of four-year’s stormy relationship:
What though it is today, tomorrow or this moment?
Let us put an end to this the sooner the better
Our separation time has come
It may be better for both of us
Let us put an end to this the sooner the better.
She got the song and felt its meaning for her; when the time of recording came couldn’t sing it. She stopped and walked away in tears. All the attendants in the studio, musicians, sound engineers and producers were frozen. You couldn’t hear a sound. At returning she was obviously wept, but also hell-bent. She had to find the courage to keep on going alone and deal the difficult experience that had just begun for her. The musicians played the introduction and Ninou sang the song all at once, without any interruption. One writer points out: “If someone hears carefully he can realize her complaint and weeping…”
What though it is today, tomorrow or this moment?- Τι σήμερα, τι αύριο, τι τώρα; Lyrics by Gerasimos Tsakalos-Γεράσιμος Τσάκαλος
Just before they stop working (at Triana club) Tsitsanis wrote for her the song “I was born to be in pain”. In September 1954 Marika went to America, alone.
I was born to be in pain
And to be tormented
The moment I met you
I curse bitterly
The moment I met you
I was born to be in pain -Γεννήθηκα για να πονώ, Lyrics Kostas Virvos- Κώστας Βίρβος
After two trips to America for treatments in which she also sang in clubs, knowing that time is running out, Marika finally returned home at summer 1956. Her niece, Gioula Atamian-Anseerian told: “Suddenly, the door opens and we see another person. We didn’t recognize her. So bad she was, very thin and her color changed…she was so different, I was afraid to get near her…”
Marika had to work in “Jimmy’s” to meet an old debt. She is now a shadow of herself. Sometimes she collapses. A week before she died, Marika goes as habitué, at the stage and sings proudly, as recounted by Giannis Stamatiou, “Born to be in pain”. Tsitsanis suffered a phobia facing illness and death. He was afraid to visit her. It was the singer Anna Chrisaphi who motivated and accompanied him to her house. At the view of her rawboned body he went to pieces. “Like a star I set” Marika said to him. She passed away on Saturday, February 23, 1957.
Tsitsanis was deeply shocked by her death and couldn’t bear to attend the funeral. But “Like a star I set” would enter into a song that he wrote in her memory four years later (1961).
On Sunday I met you
On Sunday I am loosing you
I wish it will be Sunday
The day I will die
Like a star you have set
And you’ve been lost, my love
And from my heavy longing
Sunday became dark
And my heart was torn
On sunday I met you-Κυριακή σε γνώρισα Kaiti Gkrey(Καίτη Γκρέυ)
Giorgos Dalaras. Press cc for English subtitles.
“…“They will say: ‘Marika is dead” and people will come from Kokkinia, the place I made love for first time, because there people know how to love and to remember. Vasilis will come also with his delicate body and his electric voice to hold me in his arms, to teach me how to sing and step in his arms to reach the sky”.
Two of the songs in modern versions and English subtitles. Press cc for the subtitles.
What though it is today, tomorrow or this moment Eleftheria Arvanitaki
I was born to be in pain Eleni Tsaligopoulou
The movie “Rembetiko” By Costas Ferris is based on her life
The first part of this story is at
Parts of the story on their relation were based on the book by Sotos Alexiou /Σώτος Αλεξίου “The famous Tsitsanis”/ ” ξακουστός Τσιτσάνης”
I would like to thank Anastasia Thanela for the research, Katerina Siapanda for important clarifications and Regina Schmidt for selecting videos available in Germany.