Born in Smyrna in 1914, Rita Abatz was the sister of the less successful Sofia Karivali. She began her singing career during the early 1930's. Rita sang Smyrneika, dimotika, and rebetika.
Along with Roza Eskenazi, she was the number one female star on Greek 78 rpm recordings during the decade until 1940. She worked with all the leading composers of the era - Panagiotis Toundas, Evangelis Papazoglou, Kostas Skarvelis, Spiros Peristeris, Dimitris Semsis ('Salonikios'), Markos Vamvakaris, Vassilis Tsitsanis and others.
After WW2 she made no further recordings. Rita Abatzi died in January 1969 in Aigaleo, a suburb of Athens.
Thanassis was born on Santorini in 1912, and his family moved to Pireas in 1913. He enjoyed bouzouki music, which he learned by watching Batis, Vamvakaris and others. He made a name for himself as a player, and went to America for 23 years. He was a friend of Halikias and Kalivas. He made several recordings on small, independent labels. He also worked with Papaioannou, and made and repaired instruments. He went back to Greece in the 1970's, settled in Aegina, and continued making instruments, and also taught people bouzouki. He died in 2004.
He was a major source of information about Rebetiko for Gail Holst's book "Road to Rembetika", as well as her teacher. When I met her on Hydra, she said quite a lot of what he had told her was "imaginative".
All I know about Grigoris Asikis is that he was born in Constantinople in 1890, died 7th October 1966, and that he was heavily censored during the fascist Metaxas regime.
Markos Vamvakaris was born into a poor Catholic family on the island of Syros in 1905. His father played the greek bagpipes called Gaida and Markos would accompany him on a dog-skin drum. When Markos was eight years old he left school to work with his mother in a cotton thread factory, which he promptly ditched and started picking up odd jobs like newspaper boy, butchers assistant, eventually getting mixed up with the underworld of the streets. He ran away to Piraeus in 1917, where he worked in a series of gruelling, poorly paid jobs. When he was fifteen years old he stowed away on a ship to Piraeus and got a job loading coals on the docks. He frequented the tekedes and by his early twenties had taught himself bouzouki and begun to write songs. This was tough, low-down work, but the nights were all about hashish and women. He was kept in fine clothes by an older whore and hung out at the tekes every night. In 1925, Markos heard Old Nikos play bouzouki and was immediately hooked. Six months later he was playing at a teke when Old Nikos stopped by, he couldn't believe it was the same kid who'd never even played a few months earlier. Nikos said they'd show Markos something in the morning and he'd come back and play it better than them in the evening. Even after he began recording around 1932 and he gained a measure of fame, he continued to work at the Athens slaughter house. His early songs dealt with drugs and underworld themes. He broadened both his lyric base and his appeal when censorship was imposed on the music industry in 1937, though his music always remained within the rebetiko idiom.
Because the bouzouki was considered a low-class instrument, it had not been recorded commercially until 1932 when Yiannis Halikias (aka Jack Gregory), a Greek-American, recorded his "Minore Tou Teke". The record was very popular, so Spiros Peristeris, who was working as a record producer, composer and instrumentalist for Odeon records in Greece, convinced Odeon to record Vamvakaris. In 1933, Peristeris supervised, and played guitar on Markos' first recording session (although he had recorded two songs in 1932 for Columbia, they were not released until later). Markos recorded one zeibekiko, O Dervises, and one Hassapiko, O Harmanes. Markos hadn't considered himself a singer but ended up doing the vocals on these records. They were very successful and Markos' rough and powerful singing became fashionable.
Markos eventually teamed up with singer Stratos Pagioumitzis, baglamatzis Giorgos Batis, and bouzouki player Anestis Delias to form his famous Piraeus Quartet. His popularity was sustained throughout the 1930's, despite growing political turmoil. The fascist Metaxas ordered the record companies to stop recording hashish songs and make rembetika respectable entertainment. This coupled with the new Greek passion for Italian cantades resulted in enormous changes in Greek rebetiko. And with that came the minor and major scales of piano, guitar and accordion none of which could play the quarter tones required by the old tradition. As a result the oriental flavour of rembetika started to disappear. Vamvakaris and his brother had a brief flurry in the late 1940's with the famous Kalamata group which included famous musicians like Papaioannou, Hadzichristou and Mitsakis.
Eventually the style of rebetika that Markos had pioneered became more mainstream, and by the 1940's Tsitsanis had started changing the subject matter to be about love and less about hashish, prison and other rebetika topics. Likewise, Hiotis started changing the sound of the music, adding two more strings to the bouzouki in 1956 (although he was not, as many claim, the first to do this) and moving towards a more flashy, electric and westernized sound. Markos continued to record in his older style through this period. He died in 1972.
Michalis Genitsaris (15 June 1917 - 11 May 2005) was born in Piraeus, and learned to play the bouzouki at an early age, but gave up playing professionally and became a fruit merchant. He resumed his professional playing again in the late 1970’s. He wrote several rebetiko classics, including "Ego Mangas Fainomouna" (It showed I was a mangas), but cut only one side pre-WWII.
Dimitris Gogos, bouzouki player, song writer, also known as Bagianteras, was born in Piraeus in 1903 and died in Athens in 1985.
He was one of the greatest composers of the pre-war rebetiko. His friendship with Batis, Markos and Stratos and the fact that he was a talented artist, gave him the opportunity to record many songs during the pre-war era. He had a unique style that makes his songs easily recognizable. Unfortunately he became blind in 1941. He continued to play music professionally for several years, but the last years of his life were difficult, because he was not able to work anymore and almost everybody forgot him.
Anestis Delias, (real surname Delios) also known as "Artemis" was perhaps the most tragic figure in the field of rebetiko. He was born in Smyrna in 1912 and died in Athens of a heroin overdose in July 1944. He came from a musical family. His grandfather, Sideris Delios, played the violin, his father Panais (nickname Black Cat) the santouri and his uncle Michael, violin.
Anestis, with his mother Photeina, pregnant with his younger sister Helen, and another sister, Stella, were refugees in Greece after the destruction of Smyrna, while his father was killed by the Turks. In Greece Anestis worked at various jobs to sustain his family.
He was a self-taught musician. Initially he played guitar, and then baglama and bouzouki from 1930. Around 1930 he worked in a taverna in Drapetsona. There he met many of the older bouzouki players such as Nikos Aivaliotis, Skourtis the printer, and younger players like Markos Vamvakaris and Stratos Pagioumtzis. He participated in the first Rembetika Kompania with Markos Vamvakaris, Giorgos Batis and Stratos Pagioumtzis, which appeared in the Sarantopoulos Yard at the "Resurrection of Piraeus" in 1934. Then he met Daisy Stavropoulou, and fell madly in love with her.
A fatal role was played in his life, from 1937 by an acquaintance, a prostitute who sold him some heroin. Vain attempts were made by his friend Mitsos Karadakias (bouzouki, composer of the famous song "Once come about", who was murdered in 1942) to help him quit the drug. In 1938 Michalis Genitsaris found him exiled as a junkie in Neo. He helped him to stop using heroin. When he returned from exile, to escape the Skoularikou scene, he left with Daisy Stavropoulou for Thessaloniki. He worked there for a short time and eventually left Daisy in Thessaloniki (where she was discovered by Tsitsanis and built her recording career), and returned to Athens and junk. With the help of Stratos Pagioumtzis and Bagianderas he managed to cut out the drugs again, but only for a while.
In the summer of 1944 he was playing at the Vlachou, with Stratos and Genitsaris. Despite the hunger and misery Anestis still took heroin. One morning he was found dead, supposedly by the council refuse cart operators, outside of the teke Ntanakouli Metaxourghio, with his bouzouki.
Antonis Diamantidis, nickname "Hatzidiamantidis" or "Dalgas", which is the Turkish for wave, was born in Constantinople in 1892 to a well-to-do Greek family. He began studying the oud at the age of 16, taking part in celebrations and festivals. In 1920 he began his professional career as a musician and until 1922, when he came to Greece, he sang with all the famous names of the time in the ensembles known as estudiantines and mandolinates. In Constantinople, because of his excellent voice, distinguished for its fine τσακίσματα (tsakismata, a form of ornamentation), he became known as "Dalgas", the name with which he became famous.
It is said that when the events of 1922 occurred, he had been working in the band on the ocean liner Alexander the Great, which sailed between Greece and America. That year he settled in Athens with his wife Argyro, where he began to work with many Smyrna groups as a singer and musician. He sang with different groups in the most famous nightclubs of the time - Mourouzis, Sereleas, Pikinos and others, singling alongside some of the best musicians such as Dimitris Semsis (Salonikios), Spyros Peristeris, Costas Tzovenos, Kostas Karipis and Dimitris Arapakis.
In 1926 he began recording traditional rebetiko, folk songs, songs from Asia Minor and amanedes, as well as compositions by Panagiotis Toundas, Kostas Skarvelis, Dimitris Semsis, Giannis Dragatsis and others, as well as his own. His accompanist was the renowned lyra player Lambros Leondaridis. He sang 89 amanedhes and 33 rebetika on 427 different recordings that he made until 1933. Of those, 78 are his own compositions. After 1930, he replaced the oud with a guitar and expanded his repertoire with ligher songs (cantatas, revue numbers, foreign songs and others). After 1941 he stopped working in night clubs and at festivals; he suffered from poverty and great hardships until his death in 1945. Antonis Diamantidis was one of the greatest voices in Greek singing between the wars.
Yiannis Dragatsis, known as Ogdontakis, was a violinist. Yiannis was born in Smyrna in 1886 into a musical family who were well known in Smyrna as "The Ogdontakides" (hence his nickname). The group consisted of many relatives including Yiannis's father George, uncles, cousins and his two brothers. Little is known of Yiannis's early life but he became involved seriously in music in the early part of the century and became well known in Smyrna as a virtuoso violinist. It is believed that he wrote many of the first tranche of Smyrnaic songs that were sung and recorded in Smyrna in the early part of the 20th century. Yiannis was captured during the catastrophe in Asia Minor in 1922. The Turkish soldiers admiration for his playing saved his life, and he was released in 1923 and went to Greece. Yiannis started work in tavernas along with his compatriots Spiros Peristeris, Antonis Dalgas, Kostas Karipis and others. He swiftly became in demand both as a composer and a violinist (indeed, Semsis and Dragatsis were the greatest Greek violinists of the day and have retained that status to date). Due to his musical expertise, Yiannis became a recording director at Columbia, a position he kept throughout the 1930s. He worked with the greatest musicians and singers of the era. He made hundreds of recordings, including many in which he played violin that are now classics - particularly in the Smyrnaic repertoire (e.g. "Manolis Hasiklis", "Mera Nihta Methismenos" and "Elenitsa"). Yiannis was a member of the Musicians Guild "Alilovoithia" and took an active part in the struggle for artist's rights. He was elected as president of the Athens-Pireaus branch several times. Yiannis stopped performing and recording during the war, as did many of the musicians from Asia Minor (in part due to the blanket banning of Amanedhes and other eastern influences in music in 1937 which many artists found intolerable). After the war Yiannis did not return to recording or composing, but played violin at weddings and other social gatherings, and taught violin to students. He lived with his wife Athena until his death in 1958.
Roza Eskenazi was born in Constantinople (Istanbul) at some time in the 1890's. The family was Jewish and emigrated to Greece when Roza was a child. In her teens she found work with an Armenian dance troupe, dancing and singing in Armenian, Turkish and Greek. She made her first record in 1929, and thereafter her poignant voice was heard on hundreds of sides through to the 1960's.
There is an excellent web site dedicated to Roza, with a much more complete biography than this.