Greek songwriter

The Greek Vibe’s monthly “Song Stories” posts, focusing on a Greek song that has come back into the spotlight thanks to a different interpreter or an alternative musical arrangement, this week features Kostas Virvos.

Today’s post is about “Makria Mou Na Fygeis(Go Far Away from Me) penned by Virvos and set to music by Panos Gavalas, Pitouras and Argyris Koulouris, off 1974 Enas Rebetis album.

Virvos, born in Trikala, Central Greece, in 1926 is one of Greece’s most prolific songwriters with over 2,000 songs and dozens of albums under his belt. His verse set to music by Vassilis Tsitsanis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Christos Leontis, Mikis Theodorakis and many more has been sung by the country’s greatest performers and is still to this day a major part of any musical program. He passed on August 6, 2015.

Modest and low key, Virvos was one of the most influential songwriters of the rebetiko-laiko era. His was a turbulent history, having suffered torture and imprisonment for his participation in the National Resistance (EAM). Virvos was arrested in 1944 for writing slogans on walls.

Inspired by the cruel punishment that followed and after hours of being flogged, he was thrown into a cell with another detainee. There, in so much pain, he asked of his fellow prison-mate to lie on a piece of wood on the floor so he in turn could lie on his body. It is this moment that is immortalized in the verse of one of his most famous works: “Tis Gerakinas Yios (The Son of the Hawk), where he says: “No mattress to lie on, No light to read, Your sweet letter, oh mother…” first sung by the great Stelios Kazantzidis.

Virvos’ idiom is poetic focusing always on the pains and passions of the simple folk. His song, mostly about social injustice, is deeply political and tender at times when he speaks of love lost. Throughout his life and career Virvos was a firm supporter of Greek music, so much so that he believed it is the world’s “best”, serving as a document of both the Greek soul and a record of Hellenism though time.

Undeniably, there is one thing that makes a songwriter immortal and that is his verse and song as these manage to travel through the eras, leaving their mark and then taking on a new breath while touching an even deeper chord. Virvos achieved just that. Today in “Song Stories” I’ve selected Makria Mou Na Fygeis”. A song of anguish about unrequited love, first interpreted by Panos Gavalas.

Laika giant Stratos Dionysiou here delivers a more popular version – for some the best rendering in a live performance from one of Athens’ most popular night clubs of the 60s: “Ta Deilina”.

Eleni Vitali, considered to be one of the greatest female voices of our times, performs a heart-breaking take bound to leave you in awe with her vocal acrobatics.

And a very talented younger-generation artist – 30-something Eleonora Zouganeli – leaves us mesmerized with a more entechno(art song) touch.


Aficionado bits

♪ Virvos’ biography “Mia Zoi Tragoudia – Autobiography” (1985, Defi Publications, in Greek)

♪ “An Anthology of Popular Lyrics” (1989, Anastasaki Publications)

♪ “Green Mountains and Golden Plains. Traditional, Folkloric and Satirical Songs-Events” (1998)

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