Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gadjo’s Video Jukebox #9: The Road to Rebetiko #1

Yes, the ethnic music orgy continues for one more round :-) But it’s a welcome break from our Manele journey, and is by popular request from Nikos and Pat. Rebetiko is sometimes described as “the Greek Blues”. I love this music - as indeed I love most things Greek - and pride myself on being something of an expert as I’ve quite a large collection (having lived near reputedly Europe’s largest rebetico music shop, in Haringey, North London) and have read a book on it – Gail Holst’s excellent Road to Rembetika. Due to the Rebetico milieu's low-life reputation some reactionary Greek governments banned the music. This rather compounded the as miserable as sin aspect of it. But the sound of the bouzouki sends me, particularly a good taksim* – the extemporising before hitting the tune proper – but skip it if it’s not your glass of tea:

Here’s a short clip – and here’s a longer one, should you find you like them - of the two biggest names of old-time rebetico: Vasilis Tsitsanis** and Sotiria Bellou. He’s hardly an exciting performer to watch and she doesn’t have a perfect voice, but that’s not the point. They’re totally “inside” the music, and you’re requested to be so also: just wag your head, knowingly, philosophically, in sympathy with the ongoing Greek Tragedy of being shafted by Turks, your own governments, the Earl of Elgin and, now, overly complacent EU central bankers. Sotitria has the additional glamour of being a drunk, a gambler, a lesbian, and of having once served time for throwing acid in her husband’s face; but she's a legend, and somebody who helped many of her fellow musicians:

* I’m pretty sure this word is from Turkish. In fact, early Rebetico, having been in quite large part performed by the Smyrna Greeks who were forced to leave Turkey in 1923, can sound surprisingly "oriental".

** A Greek musician told me that Tsitsanis is mainstream and that Markos Vamvakaris is The Man. I’ve got some of the latter’s music but frankly his voice is so lousy that to “get it” I guess you have to understand the words, which I don’t.


Nikos said...

So far so good and thanks!

Next we must trace rebetiko into "modern" Greek music through the works of Manos Hadjidakis.

PS Asia Minor Catastrophe September 1922.

Lulu LaBonne said...

I think this is the sort of music I like when I'm in the right sort of bar (in Greece) and I did hear something like this in Turkey and loved it.

Taksim as a Turkish word is engraved in my memory because I got tear gassed in Taksim Square, Istanbul last October - I thought it meant 'freedom' but have had a quick check and see that it means 'distribution'.

Pat said...

Thank you I enjoyed that and I think we should return the marbles.
How horrid that Lulu should get tear gassed.

Eryl Shields said...

That was fabulous, what a teacher you are!

I agree with Pat on both counts: it's horrid that Lulu got tear gassed and we should return the marbles.

Lulu LaBonne said...

please don't worry too much about the tear-gassing - it was a bit chokystingy but I discovered a terrific bar while running away down a side street.

Gorilla Bananas said...

It sounds like Greek music learned in a Turkish harem. I like the music that Zorba danced to.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Nikos, a pleasure, a big one :-) I hope to get on to Hadjidakis and Theodorakis and other rebetica sometime. (It was indeed catastrophe for many in 1922, but the population exchange I referred to was in 1923.)

Lulu, what a charming introduction to Turkey that was! Mine was a narguileh with apple-scented tobacco, which I kinda prefer. I must learn something about Turkish music and post on that too one day.

Pat, I think the argument is that if we return the marbles we'd have to return everything else too. Couldn't we just make a copy of them? Nobody would know the difference...

Eryl, thanks! I think we have a quorum; I'll draft a letter to The British Museum forthwith.

Bananas, that may not be so far from the truth. Zorba was indeed a great ambassador for this sort of thing.

Gaw said...

Great Gadjo. I feel you've broadened my musical horizons. I hope you return to this format!

Nikos said...

I thought that in particular the Smyrna Greeks were dumped in the harbour when the Turks set fire to the town in 1922! But I would not wish to split hairs as my family lived in Constantinople and seemed to have survived the Treaty of Lausanne.
There was an excellent BBC Radio 4 Documentary last year (?) on the topic of Rebetika and modern Greek music.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Gaw, thanks for the encouragement: I'm never sure how well anything like this will go down :-)

Nikos, cripes mate, sorry to have opened old wounds, I'm sure you're right. It's unfortunately a war that's largely forgotten (by non-Greeks/-Armeneians/-Turks/etc). I would have loved to have heard that documentary - Radio 4 is possibly my greatest loss out here :-(

worm said...

even though I could never imagine listening to this stuff in anything apart form microscopic doses, like Gaw I also enjoy finding out about new things!

As a musical style, I think it could be improved on with the addition of more swannee whistles and/or knee cymbals

Mary Ellen said...

I wish I did know the language - this music hints of rich, dark, old tragedy (in a robust, life-affirming way).

Gadjo Dilo said...

worm, I aimed to please everybody all the time on this blog, and I'm glad that you've found a microscopic dose of this (perhaps in the manner of a homeopathic remedy) to be beneficial :-)

Mary-Ellen, yes, I'd be cool to know Greek. Funny how tragic things can make one feel stronger.

Brit said...

What an unusual record collection you must have, Gadjo.

elkibra said...

Thank you!
You are invited to (in English) and (Thorax and Mind - in Greek)

You´re wellcome
Kostas Ladopoulos

Gadjo Dilo said...

Brit, possibly, though some might consider it foolishness itself :-)

Kostas, thanks for those links to those great sites; it's always good to meet other enthusuasts, especially expert ones!

elkibra said...

You´re welcome.
Open to anything you can need