2. The Nisiotika in Athens


In the early 1950’s, following the Second World War and the Civil War, the islands of the Aegean suffered, like many regions of Greece, a period of severe economic depression. A significant number of men on the islands died in the war. Others emigrated to Canada or Australia, and many others left the islands to seek work in Athens. For the young women on the islands, there were two alternatives: to resign themselves to a life of poverty on the islands with little prospect of marriage, or to follow their fathers and brothers to Athens and take positions as domestic servants. Referred to as doules, (skivvies or slaves), these girls, some as young as twelve or thirteen years old, slept on makeshift beds, often a shelf built into the kitchen [2], and worked long hours for little money. In their brief leisure hours, they met other islanders and dated Athenian men. On Saturday nights, in the 1950’s, such girls could be found in a small number of taverns or cafes where island songs were sung and dances performed. One singer rose to prominence during the period, and her name was to become synonymous with the nisiotika. Eirini Konitopoulou-Legaki’s family was from the village of Kynidaros, on the island of Naxos. Her father was a well-known island violinist who made several recordings before he died. Her brother Yorgos was also a fine violinist in his youth and accompanied his sister on a number of her recordings, as did her younger brother, the lute-player Vangelis.  




“Apo tin porta sou perno”( I pass by your door) - Patinada (serenade)

Eirini Konitopoulou accompanied by her father Michalis (“Baby”) Konitopoulos on violin (mp3 file)


From Lyra CD 4879/80. 1997

 Ksimeronei sto Aigaio: Ena taxidhi me tous Konitopoulaious.

The Sun Rises on the Aegean: A voyage with the Konitopoulos family.



Apo tin por-, apo ti porta sou perno,

ki’apo tin yeitonia sou.


Yia na me deis, yia na me deis kai na harei

kai esena i kardia sou.


Ela sto parathiri prin tha’rthei i mana sou

kai pes pos tha miliseis stin filenada sou


Kathe vradhia, kathe vradhia ston ipno mou,

mazi sou kouventiazo.


Kai mono keini ti hara

ston kosmo dokimazo.


Na s’apochtiso thelo me tin ipomoni

kai tha’se eftihismeni yia panta sti zoi


Etihismeni, eftihismeni pantote

tha zeis konta se mena.


Kai  tha xechnas ta vasana,

ola ta perasmena.


Ela sto parathiri prin tha’rthei i mana sou

kai pes pos tha miliseis sti filenadha sou.

By your door, by your door I pass

and through your neighborhood.


So you can see me, so you can see me

and your heart be glad.


Come to the window before your mother arrives

and say that you’ll speak to your girlfriend.


Every night, every night

in my sleep I talk to you.


And this is the only joy

I taste in the world.


With patience I want you to be mine

and you’ll be happy forever in life.


Happy, happy forever

and you’ll live beside me. 


And you’ll forget your troubles,

all of what’s past


Come to the window before your mother arrive

And say you’re speaking to your girlfriend.


Konitopoulou-Legaki recorded one of the best known of the nisiotika, a song called “Armenaki” (Sailor boy”) with her brother Yorgos on violin. Already the slightly more showy style of Yorgos’ playing is apparent, a style that would degenerate into the cheap or “doggy” style later in his career:



Armenaki (Sailor Boy)


Eirini Konitopoulou-Legaki, Yiorgos Konitopoulos, violin.  (mp3 file)


Armenaki me kyra mou, pare me, pare me,

ela pare me.


Yi’anixe tin angalia sou, pare me, pare me,

ela pare me.


Ela varka na me pareis, pare me, pare me,

ela pare me.


Se nisiotiko limani, pare me, pare me,

ela pare me.

Sailor boy take me, come take me,

come, take me.


Open your arms and take me,

come, take me.


Come boat and take me, take me, take me,

come, take me.


Leave me at an island harbor,

come, take me.


During the 1950’s name of Konitopoulou and her family became almost synonymous with island songs, and on these early recordings their style of performance is what you would expect to hear at a traditional Naxos festival or wedding. The audience for their music was no doubt the large population of islanders living in Athens as well as those who either had some connection with the islands or simply enjoyed this type of folk music. Decades later, younger members of the Konitopoulos family were responsible for the commercialization of the nisiotika in a style known as “doggy”music (skyladika - the term is difficult to pin down, but refers to a style of performance that is influenced by the later rembetika singers such a Kazantzides, but tends towards the histrionic, with exaggerated emotional intensity in the voice and sentimental lyrics). The popular singer Parios, an admirer of Konitopoulou, and one of the most successful commercial popular singers of the 1970’s and 80’s, made a very successful recording of the nisiotioka in the 1990’s. In the 1960’s however, the nisiotika were not something the younger Greeks wanted to hear. Had it not been for the daringly original revivals of the songs by Mariza Koch, in the 1970’s it is unlikely that young Greeks would have been familiar with such beautiful island songs as “Thalassaki,” “Stopa kai sto xanaleo”, “Armenaki”, “Tzivaeri” and “Mes stou Aigaio ta nera.” During the 1967-74 dictatorship, when the music of Theodorakis was banned and other composer’s lyrics were subject to censorship, folk music was played incessantly on the Greek radio and displays of Greek dance accompanied all state festivals. The regime created an image of Greece that bore little resemblance to reality, but had a great appeal for foreign tourists, who were encouraged to visit displays of folk-dance and visit quaint villages where old customs still prevailed. Greeks were enjoined to take pride in their traditional music and the regime frowned on imported music, especially British and American rock music that was popular with young urban-dwellers. The most influential song-writer of the early 1970’s was Dionysis Savvopoulos. Performing his songs in nightclubs in Athens during the late 1960’s and 70’s, Savvopoulos became a cult figure for the younger generation, most of whom were strongly opposed to the dictatorship. The fact that the lyrics of Savvopoulos were censored and he was briefly imprisoned, added to his status.


go to page 2

Bibliography and Discography | Main page