These are the translated question and answer sessions about certain technical aspects of the music which Markos Vamvakaris had with Angeliki Vellou Keil in 1969. Some of this material has in fact already been integrated into the published text. I’m putting them up here in three sections: 1. The instrument, 2. The douzenia, and 3. The ‘Roads’ and The ‘Taximia’. I’ve given page numbers and I occasionally interpolate the exact word given in the Greek. We hope to acquire the actual recordings of Markos demonstrating what he talks about here.
1. THE INSTRUMENT (p, 259 Greek Edition)
Markos talking about the bouzouki:
The bouzouki has its skafos (hollowed out part) with the kapaki (the flat bit with the sounding board) on top and the maniko (neck). The neck has the plaka (finger board) where there are these tasta (frets) These bits between the two frets don’t have a name. Up on the neck are the keys for the tuning of the strings, or in other words, the telia (strings) of the bouzouki.
There is no craftsman that’s ever yet made a bouzouki just right. Because they can’t make the half, the half of the half, and the half of this half and so on - until they reach the whole so that the fingerboard and the scale are just right. But all the craftsmen from the best to the worst … the guy that can make the perfect bouzouki has yet to be found. They haven’t got it yet. I can hear it, this thing, where it falls short. Course I can. However much you tune it the tuning never comes out right.
Q: Mr Markos, do you think the bouzouki developed from the Saz?
A: That’s something I don’t know. The saz is one thing, the bouzouki another.
Q: Have you ever played a saz?
A: I’ve only ever seen one - I haven’t even heard it. I only saw it. I went to a guy who happened to be holding this thing that turned out to be a saz so now I know what it is if I see it.
Q: Mr Markos, are the intervals between the strings (διαστηματα) on the bouzouki the same as on the laouto?
A: That’s something I wouldn’t know because I’m not a musician.
Q: The same as on the guitar?
A: The guitar, the laouto, the bouzouki and the mandolin all have different intervals.
Q: These frets (tasta) now, did they use to have different intervals in the old days, or even in your lifetime?
A: No, the same.
Q: But the intervals maybe they were smaller or bigger?
A: I wouldn’t know.
Q: When you came to Piraeus did they have bouzoukia without frets?
Q: Has the bouzouki changed significantly since you first got to know it?
A: No, the same.
Q: Do you know anyone at all who has a bouzouki that’s different - as
regards these intervals?
A: No I never saw such a thing in my life. Never. But then I’ve never
travelled abroad to see, for instance, in China, in India, in Egypt … I
haven’t seen, I haven’t travelled, I can’t be sure.
Q: And do they have bouzoukia there?
A: How could they not have? For sure they’ll have them, but I haven’t seen
or heard such a thing.
Q: Fine. On the bouzoukia in the old days what strings, (χορδες) what telia (also
meaning strings) did they use?
A: The same they’ve got now.
Q: And what strings are these?
A: Thin strings … I wouldn’t know what they are.
Q: The same as the guitar?
A: The guitar’s are a bit thicker.
Q: And laouta?
A: I’ve an idea the laouta are same as bouzouki but there are more of
them. The bouzouki has DAD (Re-La-Re) but the laouto has more strings.
Q: Mr Markos, now there are strings for the bouzouki but before when there weren’t so many bouzoukia where did you get your strings from?
A: I was in time for the bouzoukia, the regular ones with the strings which they put on with karoulakia (winding pegs), which they put on the bouzouki. I used to take a little peg (karoulaki) to set it up and I used to take a big Re/D string from here, from the Re/D of the guitar and I put it on for the bourgana - the last string on top. To set it up like … I mean to put on the strings. The ‘first strings’ – the ones down at the bottom are Mi (E), very thin both of them; they’re the highest notes of the bouzouki. The middle ones, are a little bit thicker, and again they’re both the same - I wouldn’t be able to give them a name. And at the top there’s the one thin string which is the first, ie MI (E) and then the thick one the bourgana which is actually the Re (D) from the guitar.
Q: So what’s going on now with the four string bouzouki?
A: Those ones have Do (C) as well. I haven’t touched those. Now the youngster, Domenikos knows how to play them Re-La-Re-Do (DADC), the Do being up top you know … They put the same strings on … I don’t know how the kid sets it up.
Q: Who invented the four-string bouzouki?
A: I don’t know. It had been discovered. It’s not a matter of some new guy having discovered it, because Manetas, remember I told you I’d heard him playing, that was with a four string bouzouki. And another guy, Yorgos Skourtis, a printer in Athens who died, he used to play a four string in 1937-8. Maybe others played it too. Manetas used to play with the European bands along with the other instruments. He was one of those guys who played ‘European’, I mean waltz, fox-trot, tango, that sort of thing. He didn’t play laika.
Q: When did they replace the gut frets with metal ones?
A: A few years ago now, when the bouzouki first began to get ahead eh, that’s when the craftsmen began to make them a bit better – took out the gut frets and put in metal ones - the same ones they put now … so … yes I’d say from about 1930 onwards. The bouzoukia that I took with me to play at the companies all had frets, but not gut ones, metal ones. At the same time, during this period I still used to see the odd guy with gut frets but he’d be just about to replace them with metal ones. And those metal keys at the top, they replaced the wooden pegs, - again round about 1930 from the time when the bouzoukia began to take off in a big way. In Syros though when I was a little boy I was in time to see the striftaria (wooden pegs) like the ones a guy there used to play, Stravoyorghis, Maoutsos, one Manolis Stratodesiou. I was in time to see them with striftaria. These were the tsivouria. These guys, Maoutsos, Stravoyorghis, and Treisimisis are old bouzouki players. They had a kompania (band) and they had another guy who used to play the pagnali, which is a straw whistle, 5 - 6 holes up and down. These guys played various syrta, kalamatiana, but nothing much. They did the rounds of the tavernas just like me and my father did with the darbouka (drum). Some of them sang and others didn’t.
2. THE DOUZENIA (p. 264 Greek Edition)
These tunings I’m going to do for you now, all the bouzouki players who play good stuff, they don’t know them. Like I said, the people who know what I’m about to play are my brother who’s in America, my kids who I teach now, and Keromitis whose father knew it and taught him. These guys know that stuff. But the others, if you put the instruments tuned up into their hands and say “play”, they won’t know how to play.
Those douzenia were played by the old bouzouki players. I was in time to hear the guys that played with those douzenia - but nowadays they do European style. From the time that I began to lay my hands on a bouzouki that’s when the European style began. Or maybe a bit before, let’s say 1920-25, because there were one or two. One Manetas and another was Zoumaitis and they played, you could say, in the European style, but I was the one who really got that going. Later on all these other bouzouki players appeared and played with the European tuning. Like I told you, they don’t know the other douzenia. Nobody does. These were from the baglama - the baglamodouzenia. These days they carry around what they call baglamadhes, but those aren’t baglamadhes, they’re half-size bouzoukia. The baglamadhes were the small ones, these tzouradhes which I used to play, the tzoura with three strings and seven berdedhes (gut frets), a small shell the size of the ladle you’d use for doling out pulses.
This is youroukiko tuning (youroukiko douzeni). So we played the taximi on open strings (anikta).
The second douzeni is the famous karadouzeni, which we play like this:
This is karadouzeni tuning. It has a 'road', (dhromos) but I’m not a musician so I don’t know how to tell you now what key (tonos) it is. I can’t play any other 'road' in this karadouzeni tuning. Here’s another song in karadouzeni tuning:
Third is the Syran tuning (syrianos), a heavy zebekiko. For example:
Here’s another zebekiko in the ‘Syran’ tuning. This one is youroukiko, too.
Fourth is the Arabienne tuning. This is where you play the Houzam, for example, the zebekiko dance, the youroukiko.
Youroukiko means zebekiko youroukiko, you see, there’s no such thing as a youroukiko taximi. In all these different douzenia the youroukiko is played too. Here’s an example of a zebekiko tune:
You tune the bouzouki differently. From there - which is the European tuning - I take the top Re (D) and the one in the middle, and I tune them down and I bring all three strings, as they say, to the original tuning (ston proto mastori). And I play youroukiko or in other words, heavy zebekiko. All these things which they call youroukika, aptalika, kotsekika, all of these are zebekiko. The kotsekiko needs another tuning, different from the youroukika. The aptaliko is something else again. It doesn’t need a different tuning. The aptaliko is based on rhythm, but it’ll be a zebekiko. The zebekika youroukika are danced in the same pitch (tono). Like we said, the one is straight zebekiko and the other is a bit more fiddly you could say, with more plectrum strokes. But it’s the same. The youroukika are tunes that are often played with bouzouki and baglamah, and they’re more often played with baglamah. Of course these four string bouzoukia now, they can’t play these things, only the three-string bouzoukia and the baglamadhes.
Q: Right, so now in the European tuning you can play a whole lot of ‘roads’ and taximia. Are all these taximia played in the youroukiko tuning?
A: No. And if they are, they’ll be not quite right.
Q: What is ‘heavy’ zebekiko?
A: It has a greater appeal, it’s more beautiful - people like it more.
Q: And the chasapikα, do they get ‘heavy’?
A: Of course. An example of ‘heavy’ chasapiko is Frangosyriani, ‘Μ’ekapses tsachpina mou oraia’, and ‘Kathe vradhi tha se perimeno’.
Q: But is there such a thing as ‘heavy’ chasaposerviko?
A: No - and there isn’t any ‘heavy’ amanes either.
Q: But there is ‘heavy’ tsifteteli?
A: Of course. I wouldn’t be able to give you any idea of these tsifetelia because that wasn’t in my line of work. I wouldn’t know about it the way somebody else would who’s a specialist in tsiftetelia and knows all about them. The specialists in tsifteteli are the fiddlers who play them and the outi or oud players. These days bouzouki players play tsifteteli but not like the violins used to play them. The tsifteteli is for violin. And now there are bouzoukia that play them but they won’t be able to get quite the same business going that the violins have, the expressive sound, the sweetness, all of that.
Fifth is Rasti douzeni (ie the Rast tuning)
Q: Right, so douzenia and 'roads' (dhromoi )are the same thing?
A: No. The douzeni is the tuning, the dhromoi are what you play. There is a Rasti dhromos as well.
Q: So for example on the Arabienne douzeni you can play any 'road'? You can play Hijaz, Usak etc?
A: No. Instead of those you’ll be playing Houzam, its own 'road'.
Q: You mean every tuning has its own 'road'?
A: Why do you think, pal, I’m telling you they don’t know how to play them? But then even I have forgotten the Rasti douzeni. I’ve forgotten it! I don’t use these things now, kid.
These were the taximia, the douzenia that people nowadays don’t know.
Now we have the European style tuning, the Re-La-Re (DAD). This came from the piano. The bouzouki used to take the Re/D from the piano, and in keeping with the piano it did this as well. Since the time when the new bouzoukia appeared, since the time when I came on the scene for instance, I was trying to keep it tuned to the piano so that it could play along with me and be compatible. So what I mean to say is, when I began to play bouzouki, they were playing all those baglamah tunings we were talking about and then I learnt from one Maneta to tune the bouzouki Re-La-Re. Where he learnt it now I don’t know … anyway he was playing more in the European style than the laika style. Batis too tuned his baglamah Re-La-Re - always. ……………
Q: Who discovered this tuning? (ie European)
A: Well there’d have been somebody who thought up this Re-La-Re tuning but that was before my time. Certainly there must have been somebody who made this thing. And he surely would have been a musician, I mean, the sort that could read and write music.
Q: Mr Markos, can you play primo-secondo with the old douzenia?
A: No, those ones can only do accompaniment.
Q: Meaning what?
A: We play open strings down below, eh? You’d accompany in the original setting (sto mastora) in the same tuning it’s originally tuned to.
It’s possible though - look, how can I put it? - it’s possible on these lower notes not to accompany the other players. Instead, the other players, like maybe the santouri player, they’ll do the accompaniment. They find the note. So let’s say for instance the open string is G/Sol, then the player will do the accompaniment on G/Sol. It can even be low douzenia. But it’s not regular primo secondo.
The primo secondo has been there since forever and especially among mandolin ensembles. But in my lifetime I didn’t get to see those things, I didn’t play with such instruments thirty or forty years ago. I used to hear primo secondo with guitars, but not from other instruments.
Now the other instruments have been playing primo secondo, I mean, violins and bouzoukia. And since the time when I started with the bouzouki, we were playing primo secondo. Of course bouzoukia have been playing with guitars since forever. It wasn’t possible for two bouzoukia to be playing, and one of the bouzoukia do the accompaniment in E/Mi. When they had a baglamah as well then the same thing would happen, baglamah, guitar and bouzouki. For me, provided there’s a baglamah playing so the baglamah sustains the accompaniment, - it’s better if it’s the guitar, if the guitar is the regular accompaniment. I prefer that.
When I first played I had the baglamah with the bouzouki and a string of worry beads that I used to dangle just here over my waistcoat button and with a little glass I’d keep the beat going. The glass used to clink on the worry beads. There was a guy who did that. When I was going here and there with the bouzouki, before I started recording I used to go and find a guy who played guitar and I’d say to him ‘Let’s sit and play a little’. And he’d accompany me on guitar. Just some pal, whoever was there, and this guy would be from the mandolin side of things you might say.
3. THE ‘ROADS’ and THE TAXIMIA (p. 270 in Greek edition)
And now let’s come to the European style tuning. The open strings are Re-La-Re and with this tuning we play all the ‘roads’, the Sabah, Niaventi, Hejaz, Houzam, Chiourdi, and Peiraiotiko - which is a bit like Hejaz.
Q: What makes it different from Hejaz?
A: Nothing much. You’d have to be a proper musician to be able to tell. I can’t tell you what makes something Hejaz and what makes it Peiraiotiko. Domenikos my son who goes to the Odeon (College of Music) knows all these things, but Stelios wouldn’t. Another ‘road is Rast, Hijaskiar, Usak. There are still more ‘roads’ but I wouldn’t know others. I don’t remember.
Q: Have you heard the Houssaini?
A: I know of it, I’ve heard it. I don’t remember it … don’t remember if it’s major or minor. Probably it’s like Peiraiotiko, major.
Q: The Set Arabenne?
A: I’ve heard it, I know of it. The late Karipis taught it me. I don’t know how to play it though. It’s from before my time.
Q: The Neva?
A: Yes I’ve heard it but I didn’t play it. Samiotakis (ie Kostas Roukounas presumably) has sung it many times. The other old guys who came before me used to say ‘play us a Neva. I’ve heard it but I wouldn’t remember how to sing it.
Q: The Siirf Hijaskiar?
A: I’ve heard it of course. Peristeris played it. Lots of people did. And of course I even have songs in Siirf Hijaskiar but I don’t remember this thing at all now. I wrote them before the war when I was bringing out records. I wrote songs in Siirf hijaskiar. They may still exist - if I hear them I guess I’ll remember them eh? I haven’t learnt other ‘roads’. Most of the roads I do know them. Other bouzouki players don’t know them. There are about sixty or seventy of these ‘roads’, These things are Turkish or Egyptian.
Q: What role do the taximia and the ‘roads’ play in the making of the music?
A: Well let’s take this one now for example. It’s Niaventi - it starts out from the taximi that’s Niaventi. The taximi is the beginning. There’s a violin playing and it plays the Niaventi ‘road’.
Q: Are the taximi and the ‘roads’ the same?
A: Each ‘road’, the Niaventi, the Rast, Hijaz, etc has its own taximi. The taximi is something you play and that’s that. But a ‘road’ is a ‘road’.
Q: Isn’t the taximi influenced by the song you’re going to play after it?
A: Of course, the taximi is affected by whatever tune you’re about to play. For instance, supposing I’m about to play Frangosyriani, (‘The Frankosyran girl’), that makes a difference to the taximi. You hear that it’s Niaventi.
Q: Like, you mean, you start off Frangosyriani with another Niaventi?
A: No it’s not ‘another’ Niaventi. The Niaventi is all one thing.
Q: Right, so let’s take Frangosyriani and Ta matokladha sou lampoun. (‘Your eye lashes gleam’). Both are in the Niaventi ‘road’. You’ll start first with the taximi and then you’ll sing the Frangosyriani. After that you’ll do Ta Matokladha sou Lampoun, but first the taximi and then the song. Will that taximi be the same?
A: The same, identical, it doesn’t change in the slightest. It’ll only change depending on whether the rhythm is 9/8 or 2/4. 2/4 is chasapiko and 9/8 is zebekiko.
Q: Are there certain ‘roads’ that work better for chasapiko while others work better with zebekiko?
A: No, it’s the same. In Hijaz you can do chasapiko, you can also do zebekiko. In Niaventi, chasapiko and zebekiko. Same with all the ‘roads’.