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Friday, 23 July 2010

Bouzouki Player and Composer: Manolis Hiotis by Dionysis Theodorou

One of the greatest bouzouki players and composers that has ever contributed to Greek music culture is Manolis Hiotis.

Manolis Hiotis died at the young age of 50 but by the time of his death in 1970 he had revolutionised the bouzouki both as a musical instrument and in the way it was perceived by the masses.

In the 1940's and 50's the bouzouki was the lower class' instrument and the music produced by bouzouki players was mostly listened to by blue collar workers and the population that was most affected by the economical troubles of the time.

The songs spoke of suffering, of hard labour, of travelling to far away lands to make some money to send home, of lost love and of the painful burdens of daily life. The beat and the music that accompanied these lyrics were just as heavy, melancholy and depressing making it a true expression of what the people "O Laos" were going through.

A popular style of the time was the Rembetiko which we will look at at a later post.

The bouzouki at that time was a three string instrument and the songs were simple, raw and uncut.

As a consequence the bouzouki was relegated to the taverns where the working class gathered to drink, smoke some hashish, dance, sing and escape from the difficulties of daily life.

The bouzouki was outlawed for some time and because of its strong association with hashish, bouzouki players were a hunted and outcast breed.

This is how the baglama came into existence. The baglama is a miniture bouzouki. It looks like a bouzouki, it is tuned like a bouzouki but it is much smaller than a bouzouki allowing the player to hide it under his coat and avoid being caught by the authorities.

The Four String Bouzouki

Manolis Hiotis changed all that.

He was originally a guitar player, so he must have found the three string bouzouki quite a limitation. The three string bouzouki is tuned D A D.

Manolis Hiotis added an extra string to the bouzouki greatly increasing the range of music that could be played with the instrument. The four string bouzouki is tuned D A F C.

The musical intervals and beats that he produced were reminiscent of the jazzy, classy ballroom sounds of the American 1920's.

Although his lyrics didn't always ring of optimism, gone was the drudgery of the downtrodden worker and in was the four string bouzouki with jazzy complex scales and bigband beats that launched the bouzouki into the ballrooms of the high class, accompanied by philarmonic orchestras.

Manolis Hiotis ultimately changed the way people perceived and played the bouzouki.

Manolis Hiotis: The Ballroom Bouzouki Player

Manolis Hiotis was way ahead of his time. The Rembetiko sound-of-the-people style of music did not disappear: Manolis Hiotis was a contemporary of Manolis Mitsias, Stelios Kazantzides, Vasilis Tsitsanis, Apotolos Kaldaras and other great composers and he even wrote and performed with many of them; however, his style wasn't accepted by everyone.

Musicians who were accustomed to playing simple three, two and even one chord songs were plagued by the complexity of Manolis Hiotis songs: They were simply too difficult to play and for many, were even too difficult too listen too for there were too many notes and unfamiliar beats like Cha Cha, Bosa Nova, Swing, Bolero and others.

My New Bouzouki Teacher: Manolis Hiotis

Manolis Hiotis changed my approach to playing bouzouki, my style and my technique.

After taking lessons for a year with my teacher, Panikos, after performing with him over the summer of 1985 at Esperia night club in Ayia Napa and spending hours upon hours studying and playing he told me that there was nothing more that he could teach me and that I was on my own.

The bouzouki was my passion and my outlet for all the inquisitive energy that I possessed and I felt that I had a lot more to learn and that there was a lot more to the bouzouki than the simple songs I had been playing until then.

My lessons in classical music theory and harmony coincided with my discovery of Manolis Hiotis and a new musical journey began in my life. Manolis Hiotis became my new bouzouki teacher and I spent hours applying what I was learning at music school to crack his complex code of bouzouki playing.

I strongly recommend that students of the bouzouki study Manolis Hiotis' musical style and bouzouki playing technique.

Manolis Hiotis and Mary Linda

Short Biography of Manolis Hiotis (Taken from Wikipedia)

He was born on March 21st., 1921, in Thessaloniki. He died in 1970, allegedly on his very birthday. He first started playing on the violin, then eventually moved on to the guitar and the bouzouki. From very early on, he was recognized as a great talent.

He began his stage and recording career in 1937, at age of 16, playing with Bayanderas. A year later, in 1938, he recorded his first song De les to nai kai 'sy (Δε λες το ναι και 'συ). As a result of the shut down of the record companies in Greece, because of the German Occupation, he was already one of the major musicians and played Bouzouki and Guitar in many recordings, besides his own. His career took-off after the German Occupation.

He has composed many great songs that became timeless hits, and just to name a few: "O Pasatémpos" (Ο Πασατέμπος), "Apópse Fíla me" (Απόψε Φίλα με), "Miázis san Thálassa" (Μοιάζεις σαν Θάλασσα), "Vouno me vouno" (Βουνό με βουνό). Chiotis is known as an incredible virtuoso on both the Bouzouki and the Guitar. He started to play and popularized the four-course bouzouki (tetrachordo) after 1959.

He was married three times. His first marriage to wife to Zoe Nahe; his second and most well-known to Mary Linda who sung many of his hits; and his third to Beba Kyriakidou.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Me and the Bouzouki by Dionysis Theodorou

Since I can remember, I have loved music and the bouzouki.

I remember going out to restaurants in the Greek community in Cheltenham, England with my parents and listening to bouzouki music and watching my parents dance to classic Greek songs.

I was born in 1973 in Famagusta, Cyprus. Famagusta was a tourist hub back then before the Turkish invasion that deprived over 180, 000 people of their homes in the Northern part of the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

My parents often tell me stories of the great times they had in Famagusta before the war in 1974. My father was a goal keeper for a successful first division football team and was accustomed to popularity and good times. He also had a business in the city and just before the war he and my mother had purchased their first beach side apartment together: They enjoyed life and were surrounded by friends and good times.

All this came to an abrupt end in 1974 when my parents and I found ourselves in cold England with nothing but the clothes we were wearing. My motherand I and my grandmother, aunty and cousins were transported to England with the outbreak of the war and my father, who had stayed to fight, joined us a couple of months later. From what I have been told, these were difficult years. My father worked cleaning cars in the morning and serving fish and chips in the evening and my mother worked at an office until they finally bought a house and opened a business in 1979. My grandmother from my mother's side took good care of me.

It didn't take long for my parents to connect with other refugees from Cyprus and other Cypriots who had moved to England before the war. From my recollection, these times were filled with bouzouki and Greek music, dancing, joking and lots of Greek food. I have very fond memories of the Greek community in Cheltenham, England.

This was when I first became exposed to live bouzouki music.

My mother was born and raised in England. Her father and mother moved to England in 1937 and 1938 respectively. She had a childhood friend called Bambos who pretty much introduced me to the bouzouki.

Bambos performed in Greek restaurants and Greek nights all over the U.K. When he was in Cheltenham it was almost guaranteed that we would go and watch him perform. I have great memories from a Greek restaurant in Cheltenham called The Dionysos at which Bambos performed regularly.

There was something magical about Bambos' performances. It wasn't so much in his bouzouki playing, which he himself admits he doesn't really pay much attention to, as much as it was his overall performance or his show. He was a musician, singer, comedian and super entertainer.

I was mesmerised by his performances and greatly looked up to him. He was my role model.

Bambos played a critical role in my career as a bouzouki player and singer.

Bambos introduced me to my bouzouki teacher, followed my progress and invited me to sing everytime I went to see him perform. Bambos is the reason I started singing when I did for the simple reason that he booked me at a restaurant as a singer and bouzouki player five times a week. When I arrived at the restaurant and asked to meet the singer so that we could go over the songs, the owner of the restaurant said "Bambos said that you were the singer!" I had no choice, I was the singer.

Since then I have performed on cruise ships, in Cyprus at hotels, in bouzouki clubs, and taverns and restaurants. I have enjoyed performing in the U.K. in New York city and North East U.S.A and I have had the pleasure of performing at concerts for incredibly warm and enthusiastic audiences in Israel.

I now perform with a band around Cyprus at weddings and private parties. We perform as a duo, a trio or as a full five piece band.

For information please visit our website at send me an E-Mail at or call me on 357-99290403
Dionysis Theodorou