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The Legacy of Vassilis Tsitsanis in Greek Music

 Vassilis TsitsanisVassilis Tsitsanis’ compositions and bouzouki virtuosity have never been matched. Public Domain

When Vassilis Tsitsanis passed away on January 18, 1984, on his 69th birthday, music historians and experts knew that there will never be another Tsitsanis and all popular Greek music from then on would derive from his legacy alone.

Tsitsanis’ compositions and bouzouki virtuosity have never been matched, and never will be, and when Greeks speak of “laiko tragoudi” (people’s song) the image of the great musician is the first one that comes to mind.

Born in Trikala on January 18, 1915 – exactly 69 years before his death – he was one of 14 children of Kostas Tsitsanis, a tsarouhi maker from Epirus. It was a hard time for Greece then, and only four of Kostas Tsitsanis’ children survived, three sons and one daughter.

Grecian Delight supports GreeceVassilis TsitsanisVassilis Tsitsanis playing his bouzouki. Public Domain

The songs were plenty and great: “We are Tramps,” “I Took the Streets and Come to You”, “We Broke Up at Sundown,” “Crazy Gypsy,” “The Rain Falls Hard”, “Beautiful Thessaloniki”, “The Mountains Echo”, “Factories”, “You Make Mistakes,” “Little Crabs”, “Every Night I’m Sad”, “Dawning and Dusk is Falling”, “Come as You Are”.

After the mid-1950s, the form of people’s songs is changing. So is the acceptance by the general public. People’s songs are no longer appreciated by the poor Greeks only. The newly formed middle class shows an appreciation of people’s songs as they become softer and more polished.

Eastern and Western influences start to enter the songs and music is not only played in taverns but in clubs and bars as well. Tsitsanis tries to acclimate without abandoning his personal style. The same is true in the coming years when the music atmosphere changes again.

Tsitsanis started writing songs with the new influences, sang by new singers who became big with the years: Stellios Kazantzidis, Grigoris Bithikotsis, Akis Gavalas, Manolis Angelopoulos, Kaiti Grey, Polly Panou, Haroula Lambraki, Stamatis Kokotas. But Tsitsanis started singing many of his songs himself as well.

In 1980, under the UNESCO aegis, a double album titled “Harama” was recorded – that was the name of the club Tsitsanis performed in the last 14 years of his career and his life. In the album, he plays a number of his classic songs and several improvisational tracks with his bouzouki.

In 1984, on his birthday, Tsitsanis passed away at Brompton Hospital in London after complications following a lung operation. Only 24 days ago he was still performing at Harama and writing new songs.

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