Vassilis Tsitsanis, Master Of Bouzouki (Or Long-Necked Plucked Lute)

Happy Spring, dear readers, and καλως ΗΡΘΑΤΕ (kalos IRTHATE) to you! That’s Greek for welcome and entirely fitting for today’s funny-named Greek bouzouki player, Vassilis Tsitsanis. 

alchetron.com

Born and died on the same day of January 18th (1915 – 1984), Tsitsanis was a Greek songwriter (of over 500 songs) and founder of Rebetiko (Greek urban laika songs). One of the leading Greek composers of his time, he is remembered as an accomplished composer and bouzouki player.

Google Translate pronounces his name as Vah-seeltz Teets-a-neice. I have never met a Vassilis (Greek for Basil) in my time, but evidently there are several dozen famous Greek “footballers” who answer to Vassilis, so it is not an uncommon name. However, Tsitsanis went by his surname most of the time.

Interested in music from a young age, the Trikala-born youngster learned to play the violin, mandola, and the mandolin. However, art doesn’t often pay the bills, so he chose to pursue law in 1936 and made his way to Athens to study. By 1937, had added bouzouki (not to be confused with bazooka, the man-portable recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher weapon) to his list of instruments and made his first musical recording.

In 1938, he moved to Thessaloniki, where he stayed for several years serving in the military, during the German occupation of Greece. During that time, he opened an ouzeri (Greek tavern), married, and wrote many of his best songs. By the shut-down of the record companies by the German forces in 1941, he had already recorded about 100 of his own songs and played on recordings of other composers. He had begun making a name for himself.

“My fantasy fluttered about everywhere. I wrote songs about Greece, freedom, poverty, pain, injustice, hope, mother, unfulfilled love, and especially about the woman.”

A year after the war ended, Tsitsanis returned to Athens to record more compositions, which made many singers household names. He collaborated with Sotiria Bellou, Marika Ninou, Ioanna Georgakopoulou, and Prodromos Tsaousakis. Tsitsanis’s “westernization” of the rebetiko made it more accessible to the population, and his fame grew.

Following a lung operation, Tsitsanis died on his sixty-ninth birthday. He was mourned across Greece as a legend.

Fellow wordpress blogger, greeksongstories.wordpress.com recorded this high praise:

  • “The songs of Vasilis Tsitsanis are Greece itself” (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!”
  • Manos Hatzidakis highlighted the universality of his work, stating that Tsitsanis is the reincarnation of classical composers.

For the full post, check out this link.

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14 Responses to Vassilis Tsitsanis, Master Of Bouzouki (Or Long-Necked Plucked Lute)

  1. Well played, Kerbey! When you said “not to be confused with bazooka” my mind went to the bubble gum, not the massive gun. Something for me to chew on . . . food for thought. 😉

  2. Benson says:

    The instrument he mastered is not too common to the west. However I think it has a very unique tone that can be both mournful and joyful at the same time. It is odd that he died on the same day as he was born. A very concise life.

  3. ksbeth says:

    “teets-ah-nice” – so many ways to go here )

  4. Dave says:

    My vocabulary just doubled reading some of the words here. So much good Greek-ness.

    My favorite Greek male name might be Stavros, and as far as last names go, Amb wrote about George Stroumboulopoulos a few years back.

    It’s great to know that his music lives on. That’s a legacy right there.

  5. wdydfae says:

    “. . . Kerbey goes wild . . . a plate shattering party of a post . . .”

    “. . . Kerbey serves up a big, fat, Greek bouzouki with her latest at BoFN . . .”

    “. . . there’s no Vassilatin’ with Kerbey as she mines this BoFN topic for gold and delivers a quirky bouzouki Mazurka . . .”

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