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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Den Xana Kano Filaki, O Kapetanakis:
The Story Behind the Song

 

Translated by Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin

 

 

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Introduction

The song "O Kapetanakis" is very popular among Greeks, young and old alike. Often, towards the end of an evening at Greek nightclubs, this song would come on. Or, perhaps major singers at the bouzoukia would sing a few verses. It may have been originally written in the 1930's; however, others believe the original version was the one recorded by Stelios Souyiouldzis (Στέλιος Σουγιουλτζής) and Voula Gika (Βούλα Γκίκα) in 1957 under the title "Katastrafika". Rebetologist Hlias Petropoulou is credited with discovering the possible 1930s link.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The photo shows Panayiotis Mihalopoulos, the artist known for his 1978 recording of this song.

The article by George Damianos translated below was posted June 15, 2014 in Greek on the 24Grammata web site at http://www.24grammata.com/?p=28847 . It talks about the back story behind the popular Greek syrtos-tsifteteli song "Den Xana Kano Filaki, O Kapetanakis".

 

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The Story of the Song "I Will Not Go to Prison with Kapetenakis Again"

It isn't often that a song with three verses may take you on a journey through history, and bring you close to the daily life of bygone days. Panos (Panayiotis) Mihalopoulos has been credited as the lyricist, but we shall see that some of his lyrics are commonly found in our Demotic (dimotiki) folk sayings or they are "desperate" lyrics of prisoners. This song is one of the rare ones that was not recorded pre-war, and during its first recording of 1950, it came from Panos Mihalopoulos.

Who is Kapetanakis?

It turns out he was a historical figure, a director of prison in Palea Stratonas (Παλαιάς Στρατώνας), in Monastiraki (Athens). Historically, there is reference to a Kapetanakis who was a Captain (during the Battle of Dorileou/Μάχη του Δορυλαίου in October, 1921). After the collapse of Metopou, Kapetanakis followed Eleftherios Venizelos, and in 1930 he was Captain of the Prison. The alleged lyricist Panos Mihalopoulos was born in March 24, 1924 and first appeard on records in 1951. Therefore, there is no way [Mihalopoulos] had life experience with these specific lyrics. The first verse belongs to the desperate lyrics of prison [life] and somehow there is an agreement that the prisoner had with Kapetanaki [the captain]. In the second verse, it turns out, they may not have had an agreement and instead were opponents or enemies.

What Was Eggplant? (1)

What was the Melitzania? [The purple eggplant color] Originally I was surprised to read that the song refers to [the color] eggplant, since this was the color of lingerie that prostitutes wore. In the early decades of the 1900's, prostitutes supposedly used a purple colored potassium permanganate as an antiseptic. Thus, the Internet myth, and the easy answer, is that the prostitutes would stain their lingerie with the eggplant color purple. This myth is only found on the Internet. It didn't convince me, personally, because statements like these in reference to the lingerie of women, especially his mother's, doesn't fit the aesthetics of the Rebetisa.(2)

Due to this problematic information, I reached out to a friend of mine, Pano Savvopoulou. He showed me how to investigate our Demotic [folk] poetry. I found that the phrase "ta melidzana na min ta valis pia" ("don't put on the eggplant color"), was actually used in island and mainland traditional songs, long before the Rebetes. In fact, possibly even centuries ago. (It is known that the rebetiko poetry preserved the folk poetry for centuries.) As it turns out, purple wasn't used in order to identify the prostitutes; instead, it was worn when mourning a death. The eggplant color was the color of mourning, the savanou (3) and of the widow. In other words, a timeless blessing for a widow to end her mourning and instead rebuild her life.

I'm not going to jail again

with Kapetanaki

who had Douglas Fairbanks' mustache.

We talked about it, and we agreed.

My deceived mother...

You poisoned her with lies.

Oh, you Kapetanaki!

To stop wearing the eggplant [purple] color

 

  1. The word "eggplant" is another name for a vegetable that many people call "aubergine". It is purple.
  2. The word "rebetisa" is the female equivalent of the word "rebeti" which applies to men. A rebetisa is a free spirit, a singer and a dancer.  She is generally not considered to be proper according to the standards of the early 20th century.
  3. Savanou was the fabric used to cover the deceased.

 

 

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About the Author

This page was contributed by Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin, who is happy to share her culture and music she grew up with! Here's how Panayiota describes her background:

I always love engaging with intelligent like-minded people, especially artists. I love sharing anything and everything about my Hellenic culture and upbringing, especially music and dance. A conversation with me will bring you back to America's favorite Greek-American movie by Nia Vardalos called My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I love investigating Greek culture, history, music, and dance. Speaking of investigating, I think I missed my calling, I probably should have been an investigator. Instead, I use those skills to dig and dig and dig tirelessly, often times falling asleep on my laptop... just to find the truth. But, most importantly, accurate truth. For me personally, and other respectable folklorists, my culture and accuracy are very important. Each generation of ethnic born artists has a duty to do the best it can to pass down our traditions as was taught to us. We have been given this artistic gift to be the gatekeepers of our heritage and culture.

Panayiota

 

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