Repertories and identities
of a musician from Crete (Magrini)

Papadakis tells his life history (9)

"I was born at Kastelli, Kisamo, in Crete, in 1920. My father, Vassilis Papadakis, played violin, and my grandfather and great-grandfather also played violin. For about five-six generations everybody played violin in my family. My father bought a violin for my older brother and began teaching him to play; they did not let me touch the violin, since I was only seven years old.

"But when everybody was outside, I took the violin and played by myself what I heard from them. This happened for four or five months. One day my father came back home early, while I was playing. He heard me playing, thought that it's my brother who plays and he's playing better than usual. Then he opened the door, saw me and said, 'He's going to be a good player.' Thus, he decided to give lessons to both of us and taught us his whole repertoire, that included dances from Crete as well as from Turkey, Epirus, the Peloponnesus.

"After a couple of years, I found another young player, about fourteen years old. He played laouto and we started to play together. After one month of rehearsals, he said, 'Let's go to play in taverns.' So we started to play in taverns every night, and people came and danced and gave us money. Businessmen told us, 'Please, come on and play in my place,' because people who drink more make good business. When I was nine-year old I could play any kind of Greek dances, even tsamika, kalamatianá, as well as dances from Istanbul and Smyrna. One night a man came and said, 'I'm going to be married in four weeks. Will you come and play at my wedding?.' I accepted and he went and spoke with my father, whom he knew as violin player and butcher. My father said, 'Oh, come on! They are kids. How can they play for three days, day and night? If you like, I can come and bring them with me.' The man answered, 'No, I want just them; I like the two kids.'

"Thus, after four weeks, he came and took us to a village named Lakkos and we played for three days and everybody gave us money. We got 3,500 drachmas, a lot of money! In that time a teacher earned 600 drachmas a month. This was the first time I played at a wedding. After that, I started playing for paneghiroi [feasts for the saints], and weddings, and baptisms, and engagements. So, I left the school and stopped playing in taverns too, because I had no more time. I had a lot of work.


Kosta photo, 1974
Papakakis ensemble
America, 1974

"In 1938, my family went to Athens and I started playing bouzouki in the taverns of Druba, the slums of Piraeus. I played the rebetika with other famous rebetic players, like Kaldaras and Petsalis. I also played violin for Athens radio once a week, and got 1,000 drachmas every time. I was the only player of Crete's music who played every week for the radio. Sometimes, once or twice in a year, Koutzourelis [a well-known laouto player] and Mavros [a violin player] also came from Crete and played for the radio. At that time a few persons played lyra in Crete and all the others played violin.

"I was in Athens during the war; did not play during the war and after the war my family came back to Crete. In 1945 I was in the navy and played in the ports wearing my uniform; thus I got the nickname 'Naftis,' which means 'sailor.' Just after coming back to Chaniá, I started to play bouzouki here and was the first bouzouki player in Chaniá. And I formed a group, the first group which played rebetika and tabachaniotika; Sarimanolis and other players from Asia Minor played with me. We played every night in a tavern in Bollari [the harbour district]: the owner gave each of us 50 drachmas every night.

"Then a radio station was opened in Chaniá and the owner invited me to play both violin and bouzouki. One night, an old friend of mine, who was a player of sandouri, came and said, 'Please, Kosta, I have a wedding and the bride's and groom's parents are from Istanbul and there is nobody who knows how to play the music from there. It's up to you. Please, come and play violin with me for one night.' I went and after playing for four, five hours, we split the money and I had 2,000 drachmas in my pocket. Well, I quit the tavern and the next day I played violin at the radio and said, 'I'm ready to play violin for you. This in my address and my phone.' After a couple of days, I received a lot of requests and began to play for weddings two or three times every week. So I stopped playing the bouzouki. This was until 1949.
"In 1949 I came back to Athens, since I got married and my family did not like my bride. I started again playing violin at the Athens radio and in the night I played the music of Crete in a club named 'Chaniá.' During the day I worked as a bus driver.
"I was in Athens until 1953, then I came back to Crete, when I had my first son. After 1955, Simon Karas [a Greek ethnomusicologist], who was supposed to take care of folk music in Greece, ordered that in state public radios Cretan music should not be played with violin any more. This prohibition still lasts. At that time there were no more than ten lyra players in Crete, but afterwards, people started to play lyra.
"In 1959 I went to the United States, was in Chicago first, and at the beginning it was hard for me. Of course, nobody knew me as a musician there. When I asked for work in Greek clubs and said I played violin, they answered that they didn't need me. They asked me to play drums, guitar, clarinet or bouzouki, but I had stopped playing bouzouki well before. So, I had to make a living in another way. And I began working as a painter. And I painted antennas on the top of skyscrapers [...] For a very demanding work I got $12,000 and I could buy a house, a car, and a bouzouki.

"And after a couple of months my fingers could play again the bouzouki. I started to play again, formed a group and went to the radio and television and announced that we are ready to play for weddings and feasts. We began playing throughout the United States. Later I divorced and went to New York where I lived in Astoria [the Greek district] and founded a new group, where I played bouzouki and violin, and the others played guitar, drums, accordion or harmonium. We worked mainly for weddings and the most part of weddings were of people from Peloponnesus, Styra, the islands, and we played the tsamikos, Cretan music, seldom the rebetika. I bought also a supermarket.

"Finally, I left New York and came back to Crete, when I got married again in 1975. And then I stayed here and began playing violin together with Stelios Lainakis [a laouto player], but in the period from 1981 to 1986, when I reached my family in Australia. At that time I also engaged in a fight to defend the violin, since most musics we have were composed for the violin. When I was a child and began playing violin I asked all people about the different dances, who composed them, the reason of their name. And I wrote everything."
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