Markos Vamvakaris Death Is Bitter

Mississippi Records
13th January 2023

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Format Info

LP - black vinyl


Continuing Mississippi’s exploration of the darkest reaches of Greek music, we bring you 12 rarely heard recordings of addled suffering and love from the most legendary of all Greek rebetika artists, Markos Vamvakaris.

Rebetika is the sound of Greece and Asia Minor clashing amid civil war, mass population exchange, and the anarchy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Poetic, mournful, and bitter, rebetika music was born in the hash dens (tekes) of Mediterranean ports, its verses whispered in Greek prisons before spilling out to the greater population in the 1930s, propelled in no small part by a series of remarkable recordings by Markos Vamvakaris.

Markos (first name basis for all fans of Greek music) sang heady, drugged out songs of love, pain and yearning at brothels, bars and hash dens in the port of Piraeus. He arrived as a youth in 1917, working as a skinner in a tannery. By the time he picked up the bouzouki around 1924, he was fully taken by the life of the manges, the lowest rungs of the Greek social ladder. They lived by their own code and in total opposition to the rest of the population, dressing, walking and speaking in their own style. Rebetika was their music.

On these twelve early tracks, recorded in Athens between 1932 and 1936, Markos was already a master of the bouzouki. His forceful, clean playing compliments his hoarse voice and his stunning rhythmic sensibility, the result of his years as a champion zebekiko dancer. Tracks build and spiral outward, his open-note drones and melodic lines drawing calls of ecstasy and encouragement from his fellow musicians. Translations of songs like “Hash-Smoking Mortissa” and “In The Dark Last Night” provide a glimpse into the life and language of the manges – Ottoman cafe music, the calls of displaced Greeks of Smyrna, the chaos and suffering of port life, it all comes through Markos’ songs.

These recordings, incredibly rare and expertly remastered, mark the height of rebetika, the brief period between the music’s emergence on the recording scene in the early 1930s and government censorship of all lyrics starting in 1936. During the Axis occupation there was no rebetika recording, and though Markos had some hits in the years after the war, he never again attained this level. These are the dizzying, entrancing, and heaviest works of one of the great artists of the 20th century.

Expertly remastered from rare 78s by Stereophonic Sound, pressed on heavy 160gm vinyl at Smashed Plastic, includes full size 8 page booklet with detailed historical notes, rare photos, and lyric translations.