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Seeking Marika

Record label
After a trial recording earlier in the year, Marika Papagika’s first four-song session for Victor took place in New York on 4th December 1918 including the celebrated Smyrneiko Minore. Between then and 1929, she cut 232 performances, of which only five remained unissued. Her husband Gus also recorded 27 solos pieces during the same time frame, and they switched regularly between Victor and Columbia, as well as producing a session for the independent GRC label in 1925.

Their café on West 34th Street was a popular and successful business, but Marika and Gus fell victims to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, and in the subsequent economic collapse they lost the business sometime in 1930. Her recording career ended with only one further session in 1937, and she died – of heartbreak, legend has it – in her Long Island home in 1943.

And then she was largely forgotten, except perhaps by a small coterie of older Greeks, until the 1980s when Chris Strachwitz issued the vinyl album Greek-Oriental Rebetica: Songs And Dances In The Asia Minor Style. The Golden Years: 1911-1937, compiled by Dr Martin Schwartz. Her two songs that appeared on the LP revived interest in her magnificent voice and delivery and since then her early recordings have regularly appeared on compilations and been revived by contemporary singers.

In Greece, Hellenic Records have issued a superb 18-track CD Greek Songs From The USA 1918-1929 which can be got through Trehantiri in the UK. Also in Greece but out of print now were a CD, LP and cassette set titled Smyrneiko Minore (Papago/BMG), and a CD shared with Anthony Dalgas, The Legendary Performers Of The Genuine Greek Rebetiko (Pandora). In the USA, back in 1994, David Soffa issued a CD of 19 of her best recordings on his own Alma Criolla label, a beautiful production, though long unavailable through the usual retailers.

I strongly advise you to seek out those albums; to quote renowned Greek composer Giorgos Andreou, “Marika Papagika is one of the greatest Greek ethnic singers, one of the greatest singers of the 20th century”. In my opinion she is in the same class as Lydia Mendoza, Amalia Rodrigues and Om Khalthoum.

With thanks to Benno Haupl and Hugo Strotbaum for help and information.


And there we were, just about to publish this as a Root Salad in this issue, when serendipity stopped the presses with an email from Ian Nagoski, compiler of the superb Dust-To-Digital compilation The Black Mirror (reviewed fR298) which includes Marika’s Smyrneiko Minore. Here are some thoughts he added to Paul’s draft:

fRom fRoots 300, June 2008


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