Greek Music during World War 2


The Greek Music during World War 2 and especially the events of 1940 comprises a long and interesting chapter of the history of music and song creation in Greece. Greek Music in the 1940s proved to be a great support for the soldiers and the independent Greek Spirit during the War and a point of reference for the next generations.

On the 28th of October Greece celebrates the anniversary of “No” the answer given to the Italians by the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, when they demanded that Greece surrenders to the Italian army in 1940. That “No” (ohi or ochi) stayed in history, not only because Greece was not expected to give such a response to the Italian ultimatum, but also because it signaled the beginning of a series of glorious victories of the Greek army against the Italians on Mt Pindos and the mountains ofAlbania. The word “Ohi” (no) became a symbol of resistance, of national dignity and inspired artists of all kinds.

Greek Music and the Greek Epic of 1940

Greek soldiers dancing around a canon in 1940
Greek soldiers dancing around a canon in 1940

Of course, the 40s and the Second World War was a rough period for Greece, as it was for all Europe; Greece managed to fight and keep the Italians away, but could not do the same with the more determined and better equipped German army. In 1941 the German Occupation was an established condition in Greece.

Greece came across another rough period, almost 100 years after its liberation from the Turks and the Greek people had a hard time dealing with the new reality, due to poverty, lack of food and freedom. Greek spirit did not die though; the music of the time proves that the Greeks did not stop writing songs and music, trying to inspire resistance, trying to encourage the people to fight against the conquerors. During 1940 and the fight against the Italians, the Greek Music was all about encouraging, inspiring and enhancing the Greek passion and spirit of freedom.

Significant musicians of the time wrote superb and glorious songs for the Greek soldiers and soul; MarkosVamvakaris was one of them. He wrote songs such as “Mussolini allaksa gnomi” (Mussolini, I changed my mind), “Geia sas fantarakia” (Hello little soldiers) and “An fygoume ston polemo” (If we go to war). Along with him, many Greek composers and lyric writers started creating songs that stayed in history as “national songs” or songs of the resistance.

Bagianderas wrote songs such as “I’m not afraid of the Centaurs”, “High on the mountains of Pindos”, while Perpiniadis wrote “Listen Duce my news”, “I’m not afraid of the war” and more. Other known artists of the time, who created music for the war were Gounaris, Papasideris, Kalfopoulos and more.

Greek Music during 1940 – 1945

Sofia Vembo or Vempo
Sofia Vembo or Vempo

Towards the fall of 1940 when the war had started but hadn’t affected Greece yet, the Greek theatrical scenes started presenting plays about the general condition in Europe; when the Italians sent their ultimatum and prepare for the invasion, they presented plays against Italy, satirical plays and musicals with songs against the invaders and the fascists.

Important personalities of the time such as the actress Marika Kotopouli and Mousouris played in war comedies, including some of the songs written for the war. It’s then that a powerful female voice became the voice of Freedom.

Sofia Vempo or Vembo, the known singer of love songs during the 30s started singing songs written for the Epic of 1940: “Duce puts on his uniform“, “Children of Greece”, “The Italian goes to war”.

Vempo’s voice was strong, warm and full of irony for the invader and stimulated the Greeks. Vempo touched and roused the Greek spirit and became the voice of freedom and independence. Her songs were recorded and sent to the barracks and battlefields in order to encourage the soldiers. She became the iconic figure of the fight against the Italians, but later, when the Germans invaded the country, Vempo had to flee to Egypt since she was no more allowed to sing.

The German Occupation

Greece has always been a country with a rich music tradition. The changing conditions and circumstances, the continuously evolving history of the country have given birth and space for development to some new genres of Greek music, such as rebetika and laika songs. But during this time some new music genres were born in Greece: the elafrolaika (light laika songs), and the satirical songs entered the lives of the Greeks; songs that included parts of theatrical plays and comedies that were parodying the invaders.

The Greek Music tried to survive not only the Germans, but also the Greek authorities abiding by the German rulers. The years 1942-1945  were quite dark for the music scene, as artists were not allowed to record songs if their lyrics were not for the Germans and many of the songs and albums came out secretly supporting the ELAS (Greek movement of resistance against the Germans), for example the song “To tragoudi tou Ari Velouchioti“.

The Greek composers and lyric writers continued writing and composing songs with the same passion, although endangering their lives; some of the songs written during the 40s still carry the same inspirational flame till today and are extremely touching and moving, as the main themes refer to hymns to the soldiers, sorrow for the losses, despair for the lack of freedom and urge to fight.

The song I will tell you so that the entire world finds out
The song of the brave generation
That the wind brings with the sound of a flute
And that brings the desire for freedom”

(The song of the freedom, by Michalis Theofanidis and Giorgos Asimakopoulos, sung by Sofia Vempo.)

1 thought on “Greek Music during World War 2”

  1. My grandmother, Rose Chevako (Chrisanthe Tsirivakos) (nee Hrisula/Chryssoula Vozi) used to sing a song of Greek WWII resistance, of which I remember the starting fragments.

    It went something like this (pardon my phonetic interpretation):

    Vre, Adolphi, ke Benito

    Katsu bati Hirohito

    I’d appreciate it if you could give me any more information on this song.

    Thank you. Bob Chevako bob13122@frontiernet.net

    Reply

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