The Patriarch of rebetiko song
Markos Vamvakaris is acknowledged as one, if not the most influential Greek rebetiko musicians who established the orchestra of bouzoukis and baglamas. His recorded songs are over 200, recorded mainly on vinyl records of 78 rpm during the years between 1933 and 1956.
Vamvakaris was born on the island of Syros on May 10th, 1905. He was the first-born child of the family and he later had five more brothers and sisters.
He didn’t graduate school, as his family of farmers couldn’t afford the expenses. Since his early age, he had been working several jobs, like shoe-polisher, paperboy and worker in the yarn industry.
At the age of 12, he fled Syros and relocated to Piraeus to work in different jobs during the following years. He later decided to learn how to play the bouzouki and started composing his first songs.
He joined the pioneering band of Yorgos Batis, Stratos Payoumtzis and Anestis Delias called The Legendary Quartet of Piraeus.
In 1933, motivated by Spyros Peristeris, Markos Vamvakaris released his first bouzouki recording in Greece, under the title Karadouzeni, sung by him.
In 1935, he composed and recorded the song Frankosyriani, a classic love song that gained popularity 25 years later, sung by Grigoris Bithikotsis.
In 1937, he agreed to adapt his lyrics after the censorship of Metaxas regime. He was so popular that he experienced the love of 50.000 fans in one of the three concerts he staged in Thessaloniki, at the Square of the White Tower.
During the Greek Italian War, he performed his songs and songs by Spyros Peristeris, with lyrics adapted to inspire the Greek Italian Saga, like Hello our Soldiers, Benito’s Dream and many more.
In 1942, he got married to Evangelia and they gave birth to five children.
In 1954, he fell sick with arthritis and stopped playing the bouzouki. Years later, when he tried a comeback, people had forgotten all about him. The music industry didn’t wish to sign any contract with him and big night clubs refused to stage his shows.
In the early ‘60s, after initiatives by Vassilis Tsitsanis, Columbia Records released a collection of Vamvakaris’s older and newer songs, sung by him and other great artists, like Grigoris Bithikotsis, Cathy Grey and Angela Greka, marking his second career as he later stated.
– Markos Vamvakaris had an unfortunate marriage with Zigoala. She was cheating on him with their marriage best man. However, he never stopped loving her.
– In an effort to avoid repossession of his copyright due to the judicial debate with his first wife, he used to sign his works with the alias Rokos, his grandfather’s name, and he often copyrighted his songs under the names of his friends, like G. Fotidas, Ath. Pagalakis and M. Matsas.
– He was excommunicated by the Catholic Church due to his second Orthodox marriage. The excommunication was later raised in 1966.
– The Markos Vamvakaris Museum has been welcoming guests since 1995.