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.
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.