Manolis Hiotis (Μανώλης Χιώτης 1921-1970) was a rebetis and revolutionary. By musical innovations and activities he drove the music of the working class into the salons of the rich, accessed the Greek music to the world and started the connection between the popular song and the art song. On stage he was aristocrat, noble person.
He was born on 21st of March in Thessaloniki to a family of the Island of Hios roots, hence its name. His family was financially well and he didn’t know shortage. The father is described as a “varimangas” ( βαρύμαγκας), a dude, a man of word, street smarts and honor that nobody would like to confront, because he wouldn’t give up even a little on anything, and was ready to go into brawling. There were some clouds regarding the nature of his businesses. His mother is described as clever and dynamic. The family had been running a place in Thessaloniki which is described as a bar for the upper-class, with beautiful girls as waitresses; Manolis grew up in the arms of these girls…
As he was still a child the family moved to their town of origin, Nafplion and there he is registered to the town’s conservatory. The story goes that Manolis asked his mother to buy him a guitar. The seller offered them a small guitar to fit child’s size but Manolis hadn’t accepted this, insistently demanded to get an expensive big one; his mother gave up and soon he got full control on the instrument.
At the age of 14 (1935) the family moved to Athens and his father opened a café in which Manolis made his first performances. Still as a teenager he got close acquaintance with the famous rebetika musicians and played in their places. Everybody respected him because of his talent, his character and his father. One day, he says, “I heard a record of Markos Vamvakaris with a bouzouki. I liked the sound; it immediately reached my heart. I asked to know this instrument. When I was holding it in my hands it seemed as if we were friends a long time…”
Hiotis met the singer Stratos Pagioumtzis (Στράτος Παγιουμτζής), one of the country’s biggest stars of the time with a remarkable voice and style. Pagioumtzis hired the teenager to play the bouzouki and Manolis was only 16 as he got a job in Columbia records and participating in his first recordings. One year later in 1937-8 he wrote his first song “Money doesn’t count ( Το χρήμα δεν το λογαριάζω) which was sung by Pagioumtzis. It was a great hit.
Just before the occupation (around 1940) his father was murdered in front of his place during one of his fights. It was a trauma for the young Manolis who had kept the impact for himself all his life. From then on he wanted to renounce the problematic past of his parents, to reach new horizons and he knew that he was endowed with exceptional talent, strictness and fairness of his father and the cleverness and vividness of his mother.
The pumpkin seeds (Ο πασατέμπος -1946 )
In the occupation time “Columbia” was closed and Manolis was wondering from one tavern to the other. His popularity gained momentum; in 1946, during the Civil War and after the studios had been reopened, he wrote the music to this great hit. The song is a monologue of bitterness about the tricky behavior of the beloved one, sung in a typical rebetika’s restrained way. Its writer Giorgos Giannakopoulos said that the lyrics based on personal experience, and the muse came “One one night, overwhelmed by love, complaining about my girl’s behavior towards me, feeling really high from wine and influenced by a bevy singing zeibekika…”
The version here is from 1961 sung by Stavros Pagioumtzis (English caps, press cc):
An exciting decade of history making (1946-1956)
In this decade Hiotis’s was acting to fulfill in his art and career his visions of reconciliation and even blending between the popular “folk” music (Laika) and the cultural haunts of the upper classes, to combine the old and the modern , the Greek and international music. In all those aspects he was a great reformer.
In 1947 he was the first who used amplifier in the bouzouki playing, after he heard an American electric guitar in a cabaret. He was criticized for losing the authentic sound of the instrument, but he succeeded to address wider circles of listeners.
Another dream of Hiotis was “to open a society, respectable night club, for men and women and musicians of excellent skills playing the popular sound. This dream became a reality with Pigal’s (which took its name after Paris’ square), the first society club with bouzoukis, waitpersons and masters with bow-tie…” (Takis Bibis). The opening (about 1947 -1948) of this “cosmopolitan center” in Athens with laika and bouzouki is considered a major event in Greek music history.
In the same year (1948) another history! It was the first appearance of bouzouki in cinema. In the movie “Lost angels”( Χαμένοι άγγελοι) he appears with the song “You are the reason that I suffer”(Εσύ είσαι η αιτία που υποφέρω) which its music is already strongly influenced by the European jazz of the era.
The four-chord bouzouki
From the first time he was holding the bouzouki Hiotis felt that this instrument, “his friend” needs a change so to be able to express the wealth of music and the harmonies he was imagining. He was thinking how to add rightly one more chord to the three it has. And finally in 1955, after few years of attempts, he got what he wanted; an instrument that captured both the world of the guitar and the bouzouki. He was not the first to use 4 chords bouzouki. Many musicians used to play it in previous years, and it seems that even Hiotis himself uses 4 chords in the video above of 1948, but he was the one who founded the tradition of playing this way, the “school” and with his wonderful songs and musical genius made it known to a larger audience at home and abroad. This instrument is commonly used till today.
“Hello Stradivarius!” he was calling Zozef Terzivasian, an instrument maker;”Hello Paganini” Zozef was replying…and the next video from 1962 movie shows all his visions coming true…
We are still at the first half of the 1950s .Besides the “sweet” light music and the use of Latin, mambo and jazz Hiotis did no abandon the heavy songs , creating some masterpieces especially with the lyricist Hristos Kolokotronis (Χρήστος Κολοκοτρώνης) which dealt with the hard times Greece had passed in the Civil War and after that. “Cry for me my sweet mom” (Κλάψε με μάνα μου γλυκιά-1956) is one of them, sung by Stavros Pagioumtzis (no translation)
More three “Jewels” by Hiotis/Kolokotronis
Kiss me tonight (Απόψε φίλα με-1954), is one of the songs they wrote to Stelios Kazantzidis. English caps in all three videos
“It is late” (Είναι αργά-1955), sung by Magia Melagia- Μάγια Μελάγια
…And “Kill me” (Σκότωσέ με-1956) this time I chose a modern version by Hristos Thivaios which I like very much…
This is the first part of Manolis Hiotis’ story. The second part is at
Part of the story is based on the book “Manolis Hiotis the mangas that used perfume in bouzouki” by Avt. Kasitas (In Greek, Μανώλης Χιώτης Ο μάνγκας που έβαλε κολόνια στο τραγούδι του Αντ. Κασίτα)
Many thanks to Anastasia Thanela and Katerina Siapanta for their help in this post!