Katis Tryfonas | Lemnos | Biographical data
• Place of birth

Tsimandria, Lemnos
• Short biography

Tryfonas Katis, or “Skordalias”, from the village of Tsimandria, was born in 1929. He played the bouzouki, and occasionally performed with various bands, accompanying other musicians on his guitar. He came from a family in the fishing business, and he worked in the industry himself, while also performing as a professional musician: “My father was a fisherman [...]. Then […], my brother had a boat, and I’d take the fish and sell it. I had a tricycle”.

He took his first music lessons from a relative, in the village of Kontia, in Lemnos: “My uncle Katis had a mandolin, he played the mandolin. I’d go and plead with him […]. Every day, I’d walk from Tsimandria to Kontia. I’d say uncle […], I’d cry. [Eventually] he gave it to me and showed me some scales, of course”. He was also taught by the musician Stelios Protopapas, with whom he also collaborated during his time in Athens: “In Athens, Protopapas gave me a job. A daily wage and chartoura (cash given to musicians during performances). They gave me [money], they took care of me […]. I used to wear a sailor’s hat, like the fishermen, and he used to say to me: ‘Tryfona, you’ll take your hat off to him’.”

He spent four years (1948-1952) in the capital, where he had the opportunity to meet folk musicians [as well as others], who had contacts within the recording industry: “[In Athens] I used to hang out at the Musicians’ café, the regular haunt of Chiotis, Tsitsanis […]. It was in Omonoia […]. Well, there was a gramophone with a cone there, and whoever made a record would play it for the others to listen to. And I’d go and sit near Tsitsanis and Chiotis. You’d see all these kids coming up to Chiotis, holding their instruments, and saying: ‘Manoli, will you show me how to play?’[…]. He said to me, we’re self-taught. And it’s true, most of them started off that way […]”.

He returned to Lemnos after completing his military service (1952-1954), at a time when there a wave of mass migration from the island: “I didn’t even go back to Athens, after the military. They sent my papers and then I stayed here, in Tsimandria, in the family home, since I was still a single man […]. [Of the island’s social life, he said:] I can show you letters from over there, they’ll bring tears to your eyes. From Germany, from France, from, from Australia, from America […]. But I didn’t go anywhere, I stayed here, in Lemnos”.

He made quite an impression in Lemnos as a professional musician. “I worked, I was hired by big groups, and they always preferred me. I made it difficult for the old musicians […], the violin and santouri players”. He regularly played in social events, and the island’s local festivals, including:

[The festival of Aghios Sozos] “The music was there, in the square, the square in Fysini […] It was there and up above [the church courtyard], in those days when there were no buses. There weren’t any, at the time, and people used their animals. You’d see them from all over Lemnos, they were farmers and they had donkeys – I mean horses and mares”.

[Parties in clubs in Myrina] «[In Myrina he played…] everywhere, all of the clubs. Kountoura was, there, and Psarianou. Kountoura [is] coming down the market from the sea, on the right [while] Psarianou is on the left”.

[The festival in Tsimandria] “In the past, all the festivals were good. Tsimandria was number one, in terms of money – there was chartoura (cash) – and in terms of music […]. Back then when the immigrants were coming”.

[Music at weddings in the villages of Plaka and Panagia] “In Plaka and Panagia I’ve played thousands of times. You can go and ask about me. Whenever they see me, when I go there, once in a while, they say: ‘Bring your instrument, play us a song or two.’ [I used to play at] weddings [that took place] in big houses, in those days, before we had the big cafes”.

[Parties organised by the Aigyptiotes (Lemnian immigrants to Egypt) in the area of Kornos] “[…] I made money from them. Of course, these people from Egypt, they were all educated, primary and secondary school, they knew foreign languages, lots of things […]. They used to bring whisky, the bottles, and we were used to wine, and they’d pour us a glass and we’d drink it in one, and they’d say: ‘What do you think this is, wine?’”

[Parties organised by sponge divers from Koutali, to mark the beginning of the sponge diving season] “When the sponge divers were about to set off, they threw parties. But there weren’t that many of them […]. We played in Martha, a taverna in Koutali”.

During his career, Tryfonas Katis [also] played the bouzouki in Alexandroupoli, Aghios Efstratios, Samothraki and Drama: “I often went [off the island], in the winter, in the spring. I never went in the summer, because we had the festivals. They asked for me in Aghios Efstratios and Samothraki. We worked in Alexandroupoli [in] many clubs, and in Drama […]”.

His repertoire, apart from folk music, also included several European songs, many of which he learned from records that he bought: “I played everything, I even played European songs. These educated people would come to me, foreigners, and they’d stop the musicians and the violins so Skordalias could play […]. But I studied Chiotis closely […]. I had a record player and I’d put them on and did everything right, but I was always studying”.

Recordings of Tryfonas Katis’ music exist in the archives of Simonas Karras: “Karras and his wife told me [to play the] lute, when we went to ERT (the Greek broadcasting centre), and he treated us all to dinner, two tables full, they served goat […]. When we went to ERT the first time, I went with a santouri, a violin, Kotsinadellis on the lyra, Fiorgos Stefanidakis on the guitar, and me on the bouzouki. But we had a lute, too, from this association we’d gone to. Karras said to me, because it [the bouzouki] doesn’t suit the traditional tunes, he said: ‘Play the lute for a bit to start with, and then you can play the bouzouki.’ When I played, the technician didn’t comment, I played the bouzouki, I didn’t like the lute at the time, I didn’t like the chords […]. They came here, too, and recorded us, for hours, in Tsimandria. Two of them came, and Kotsinadellis and I played the lyra, outdoors, in the square.”