Celebrating the Birthday of Rebetiko Legend, Markos Vamvakaris

Piraeus Quartet

Markos Vamvakaris was one of the most influential Greek musicians of Rebetiko.

He was born in Syros in 1905, the first of six siblings. Because his family's financial difficulties were severe, Vamvakaris was forced to leave school and work as a shoeblack, paperboy, worker at spinning mills, etc.

When he was 12, he left Syros and went to Piraeus, later followed by his family. There, he worked as a docker and as a skinner from 1925 to 1935.


He married his first wife, Helena Mavroeidi, and started learning to play the bouzouki and compose his first songs.

Along with three other musicians, he formed a progressive for the time music group. In 1933, he released the first bouzouki recording in Greece, singing all of the songs included despite his hesitation concerning his voice.

His marriage was not successful, and his wife cheated on him. After a long period of arguments, they divorced, and Vamvakaris composed a series of autobiographical songs. In 1937, he had to adapt his lyrics according to the preferences of the Metaxas dictatorship; during the Greco–Italian War, he performed his own songs inspired by the events of the period. In 1942, he married his second wife.

After Greece's liberation, during the period 1948 – 1959, the Greek music industry passed to the hands of people whom Vamvakaris had helped in their first steps; however, they did not pay any attention to him and considered him obsolete. Thus, Vamvakaris struggled financially while his health deteriorated (arthritis in his fingers caused him a lot of pain when playing the bouzouki).

Nevertheless, he managed to survive and solve his health problem by visiting the thermal springs in Ikaria.

Forgotten by most, he returned to Syros in 1954, where the locals still loved him. At the end of the 1950s, a record company decided to release old and new songs of Vamvakaris, sung by many famous singers of the era.

As he said, 1960 marked the start of his “second career”. He participated in various concerts and appeared in many nightclubs in Athens and other Greek cities. Vamvakaris died in 1972, aged 66, due to kidney failure caused by diabetes

– 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.

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