Nikos Vrachnas was born into a poor family in Nikaia (Kokkinia), Piraeus. There is some uncertainty about his year of birth, which has been given variously as circa 1936, or 1941. He died in Piraeus in 2004. As a young man he worked in foundries, while later on he was better known as a second hand dealer and scrap metal collector. Never seeking publicity, he did not achieve popularity on a larger scale, though his musicianship was known and much appreciated within a small group of rebetes and fans during his lifetime.
Musical background and style
Vrachnas began playing as a chld in 1952. He became familiar as a youth with many of the legendary figures of rembetiko who at that time had been forgotten, such as Markos Vamvakaris, Yiorgos Batis, Stelios Keromitis, Nikos Tsokaropoulos and many others who played in the area. His style is a synthesis of the early styles of Markos Vamvakaris and Stelios Keromitis (with whom he learned) and the Piraeus school of the 30's; traces of older styles also characterize his simple melodic taximia (improvisations) and powerfully played zeibekika, always executed with the use of open strings and his rough and passionate baritone voice.
Few live recordings of his playing survive to capture his original style, which survived basically unchanged until the 21st century. However, the rembetiko producer Charles Howard recorded sessions with Vrachnas in about 1980, and in 2000, of which three songs have been issued on CD: Vrachnas' own composition Κάτω απ’ τη Σκάλα του Παπά (Eng. Down by the Priest's Jetty) (2000), Ηθέλα να' μουν Ηρακλής (Eng. I wanted to be Hercules) by Markos Vamvakaris, and Ραντεβόυ σαν περιμένω (Eng. Waiting for you on our date) by Ioannis Papaioannou. The rest of these recordings remain unissued. A number of privately recorded videos also survive.
- The earlier, approximate, date is given by Charles Howard in the notes to Rembetika: Greek Music from the Underground, JSP Records, 2006.
- Klein, Tony: Mortika - Rare Vintage Recordings from a Greek Underworld, ARKO records, Uppsala, 2005.
- Mortika - Rare Vintage Recordings from a Greek Underworld, ARKO records, Uppsala, 2005. CD and book, also issued as 2LP box by Mississippi Records, 2009.
- Rembetika: Greek Music from the Underground, JSP Records, 2006.
- Rembetika 2: More of the Secret History of Greece's Underground Music, JSP Records, 2008.
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