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Tseperkas Nikos | Ikaria | Biographical data
• Place of birth

Aghios Polykarpos, Ikaria
• Year of birth

1925
• Short biography

Nikos Tseperkas is a professional musician and plays the lyre and the violin. « I spent most of [my childhood] here. I lived in Athens, too, for about a year, and worked in the quarries. For about a year or so, maybe more. […] In school, I made it into the third [grade], but then the war broke out and everything fell apart. We never had a chance to finish school».

He played the lyre and the violin from a young age: «I started playing the violin in Primary school. To begin with, my father, God rests his soul, bought me a lyre and I would put it here […]. My father got the lyre from an old man in breeches […], who made lyres. He made them well. And my father went, we went together, and he says to the man ‘The kid wants a lyre. Have you got one? Is there one ready, or will you make him one?’ He replies: ‘I have one ready, and if he wants, I’ll make one for him’. And we gave him 2 pounds of olive oil and I got the lyre. After I got the lyre, I had it for about a year –barely a year- and then he took me to the coal mines and we worked, to Epirus and we made coal […]. And our deal before we left was that he’d buy me a little violin […]. I went to the coal mines, we finished, we stopped by Thessaloniki, I went to a Jewish shop and bought a little violin, in size 2/4. Well, after some time, about a year later there is this American who brought two violins […]. The one that was a thousand five hundred had a better sound […] and the other was fancy, red, cherry-coloured and he got that one for me».

[I learnt to play the violin] by myself. Who could teach me? I can even play tunes on the lowest scale […], I see them on TV. When I could out, I’d never go […], how can I put it…fooling around. When I was on leave, for example, all I wanted was to go to a tavern where I knew there were musicians performing, so I could watch music played. Or on TV, on tapes […]. There was an old man here, a local, who played the lyre well, depending on the season, and I followed what he was playing. He would put his nails [on the strings]. Katsanias was his name. He was friends with my father, and he liked his wine. And when there was a festival here, he wanted to come and play. I would sit by his side. He’d have wine, a meze or two, I would stay close to the lyre because he played […]. They were in a good mood, and they played».

Of his debut, he said: «I started playing […] when I was still a kid and there was a wedding […]. They took me to Vrakades and I played all night and they gave me money. My father had left, and had gone to the Middle East […]. That was my debut. And from then on they began to call me to weddings, christenings, festivals. I had grown up a bit, a year, two years, I can’t remember exactly […]. Then we left too, and went to the Middle East. To Alexandria. We stayed for three years or so».

Nikos Tseperkas also enriched his repertoire with songs he heard on the gramophone: «[…] they had gramophones then and I bought a record, I had a gramophone, too […]. In the beginning, I had the chance to buy a few things, but very few, […]. Oh! In the meantime, the spring that coils and uncoils inside, it weakened, it wore down […]. I had to take it and go to Piraeus; I went to a man who fixes them […]. And I had the chance to buy 2-3 records and to those tunes I added my own inspiration, I improvised…but it had to fit in, to fit in in a nice way… not stand out».

After he completed his military service, he continued to take part in local festivals in Ikaria: «And I came back here […]. I worked in all kinds of jobs, and in all festivals and weddings and christenings […] People called me, God bless them. They loved me, and I loved them too […]. I played a bit longer, if I was in the mood for it. I played with gusto, I had the touch. In fact […], I went to Athens with my brother – he lived there – and there was a man who played the violin […]. My brother told him ‘Let my brother play too, he also plays the violin. He’s trying to learn the violin.’ And I remember him telling my brother ‘Good, he said, he’s got the touch, he said’. He didn’t tell me about the fingers. He said, “he’s got the touch” […]».

«[…] when I was young, I never sat down, I played standing up. I felt no tiredness […]. I’d even go and stand amongst the dancers. You can’t imagine. When there’s a dancer and he performs a particular move and I like it, I capture it, immediately, I keep it in my mind. I come home and I think, his [the dancer’s] feet went sort of like this. I learn from dancers, but they must be proper dancers […]. And it excites me. And I play more for them, because it gives me joy».

He collaborated with: «I took a number of people. Then my daughter grew up, who’s in Athens […]. And I’d take my daughter [lute] to accompany me, and [I’d take] strangers, too. Then my son grew up as well, and I’d take him, and I’d take my wife. The first time she [my wife] sang, I said you’re amazing […]. Many times I talked her into singing. Because I knew whom I was dealing with. And it helped me, too».

Regarding the Kariotikos and the additions he’s personally made, he said: «The Kariotikos was played by old men that were my age or younger, and they played it monotonously. I took the beat and the style of Kastania’s lyre, and I added things, and I took things out. You understand? I took out what I didn’t like and attached something else […]. I’ve created many different versions of the Kariotikos. As I played, I thought something’s not right. Let’s reach more notes, let’s reach more notes, let’s go here, and let’s go there […]. That’s why the Kariotikos is so tricky. Because there are no words, you just play music, and you reach a point where it might get away from you […], you might lose track of the pitch, the beat, and because I have experience, I always rein it in, when that moment comes».

He made a music record, on the initiative of the Pan-Ikarian Association: «I had my daughter and my sister [in the recording sessions]. A guitar and a lute […]. Vaso plays the lute, my sister the guitar […]. And Stamatis Vatougios […]. We were family, he was my brother’s godfather».

These days, Nikos Tseperkas lives in Aghios Polykarpos with his wife. Despite problems with his eyesight, he continues to play the violin, for his personal pleasure.

Translator’s Note: Kariotikos – traditional dance of Ikaria