Rebetiko

Die Musik der Diaspora


Der Rebetiko

Die Bouzouki ist rund wie eine halbierte Melone, sie hat einen langen, mit Intarsien verzierten Hals und vier Doppelsaiten. Doch für Kostas Papadopoulos ist sie mehr als ein Instrument. Schon als Junge war er von ihrem Klang fasziniert. Nichts konnte ihn daran hindern, die Technik zu erlernen. Nicht der Tod seiner Eltern, erschossen von der Wehrmacht in Piräus. Nicht sein Onkel, der ihn großzog, die Familie vom Busukispielen ernährte und fürchtete, der Knirps würde das Instrument beim Üben beschädigen. Seit 57 Jahren spielt Kostas Papadopoulos Bouzouki. Die Bozouki ist sein Leben.

Gebannt schaut das Publikum dem Virtuosen im Musikclub Taximi auf die Finger, die über das Griffbrett hüpfen, laufen, jagen. In die orientalisch anmutende Melodie stimmen eine Gitarre und ein wuchtiges Akkordeon ein. Fingerzimbeln schallen, und die Baglama, die winzige Schwester der Busuki, beginnt zu scheppern. Monoton erhebt der Sänger Alkis Mavros seine Stimme: »In der Stunde, in der es Nacht wird / gehe ich gebeugt meinen Weg/ Kummer zehrt mich aus / Grau sind die Haare, krumm ist mein Körper.« Das ist der Blues der Griechen, der Rembetiko heißt und vor gut hundert Jahren in den Gassen schnell wachsender Hafenstädte entstand, in denen entwurzelte Menschen ihren Unterhalt verdienten. Vom Überleben handeln die Lieder, von Haschisch, Tod und Liebe, von stämmigen Metzgern und weinenden Müttern.

Ein alter Mann aus dem Publikum steht auf. Er breitet seine Arme aus wie ein Adler seine Flügel. Mit geschlossenen Augen bewegt er sich in engen Schritten. Schwer und träge tanzt er den Zeibekiko, der zum Rembetiko gehört. Keine Schrittfolge ist vorgeschrieben. Jede Bewegung entspringt dem Herzen. Ursprünglich war Zeibekiko ein Kriegstanz kleinasiatischer Stämme, der »Rebet-Asker«. Nur ein Mann allein durfte ihn vollführen. Wer mitmachte, verletzte die Würde des Tänzers und musste in Griechenland noch vor sechzig Jahren damit rechnen, dem gezückten Messer des Entehrten zum Opfer zu fallen. Heute gehört Zeibekiko allen. Der alte Mann stampft mit dem Absatz zum Neunachteltakt, springt plötzlich hoch, trippelt selbstvergessen weiter. Andächtig lauschen die Zuhörer dem Lied von Einsamkeit und Schicksalsschlägen. Verliebte und Schwiegermütter sind unter ihnen, Bewunderer der Musiker und alle, die nachts der Blues befällt. Wer der Seele des kleinen Landes am Mittelmeer auf den Grund gehen will, ist hier gut aufgehoben. Als der letzte Tonverstummt, bricht tosender Beifall los.

Es ist Samstag, zwei Uhr früh. Während die Laternen im Athener Stadtteil Exarchia orangefarbenes Licht auf das Pflaster der engen Straßen werfen, flackern auf den zwanzig Holztischen im Taximi die Kerzen. An der Bar schenkt der Patron Whisky aus. Seit Stunden spielen die Musiker auf der winzigen Bühne. Über ihnen prangt wie ein Sinnbild ein riesiges Foto, das vor vielen Jahren auf dem Fischmarkt von Piräus aufgenommen wurde: Ein Musiker hält eine Laute im Schoß, um ihn hat sich eine Gruppe Männer geschart. Vergilbte Porträts von alten Rembetiko-Stars hängen überall an den Wänden bis ins Treppenhaus hinein. Hier wird die Erinnerung zelebriert. Das Taximi ist keine Lifestyle-Adresse.

»Hol mir Gras, Schwester«, singt Alkis Mavros mit brüchiger Stimme

Kostas Papadopoulos macht Pause und bestellt ein Wasser. »Der Rembetiko ist Teil unserer Identität. Er ist das soziale Gedächtnis Griechenlands«, sagt er leise. Von sich und seinem Leben zu erzählen fällt ihm schwer. Kostas ist ein zurückhaltender Mann mit schütterem Haar und freundlichen Augen. Er raucht nicht, trinkt nicht, trägt ein ordentlich gebügeltes Hemd, braune Hosen und schwarze Schuhe. Man könnte glauben, er sei ein netter alter Herr, den eine nostalgische Laune hierhergeführt hat, läge nicht neben ihm seine Busuki. Hin und wieder streicht er mit einem weichen Tuch über das Instrument: »All die alten Rembetiko-Spieler auf den Fotografien gibt es schon lange nicht mehr. Doch der Rembetiko lebt weiter, weil er zeitlos ist«, sagt Kostas. »Es sind immer die einfachen Dinge, die uns berühren: die Töne, eine Stimme.«

Manolis Dimitrianakis, der andere Frontmann, ist jetzt auf der Bühne im Einsatz. Stündlich wechselt er sich mit Kostas ab. Denn Rembetiko ist ohne Busuki undenkbar, er gehört zu diesem Instrument wie die Gitarre zum Flamenco. Keins der Lieder kommt ohne Busuki aus, obwohl deren Siegeszug ziemlich mühsam war. Noch in den fünfziger Jahren war sie das verpönte Symbol der Unterschicht, kümmerlicher Klangkörper zwielichtiger Gestalten und kauziger Kiffer. Erst mit der Zeit avancierte sie zum Nationalinstrument. Eine bittere Melodie entsteigt Manolis' Busuki. Alkis Mavros zupft die Baglama dazu, die so klein ist, dass er sie locker unter seinem Jackett verstecken könnte. Und er singt: »Hol mir Gras, Schwester / geh, hol mir Gras / Wenn wir zusammen berauscht sind / ist eine Busuki alles, was ich brauche.« Rau und streng klingen die Lieder. Der Rembetiko hat die Sehnsucht des Fado, die Kraft des Flamenco und die Schwermut des Blues. Und er ist doch so klar und unverschnörkelt wie die Säulen eines dorischen Tempels

An vier Tagen in der Woche treten die sechs Musiker im Taximi auf. Keiner hat eine professionelle Musikausbildung, einige können nicht mal Noten lesen. Sie haben ihr Handwerk in Wohnzimmern und Tavernen gelernt. Außer Kostas kann keiner von ihnen von seinen Auftritten leben. Doch das scheint ihre Hingabe an die Musik eher zu befördern: »Der Rembetiko ist wie ein intravenöser Schuss. Er geht direkt ins Blut«, sagt Alkis.

Nach seinem Auftritt steht Manolis an der Bar und trinkt Whisky. Sein schütteres Haar ist zerzaust. Schweiß perlt dem 61-jährigen Rechtsanwalt von der Stirn, der tagsüber in Gesetzesbüchern blättert und nachts von harten Kerlen singt. Seit 42 Jahren ist er dem Rembetiko verfallen, und wie alle Verliebten wird er nicht müde, von den Anfängen zu erzählen und von den achtziger Jahren, als die Musik gesellschaftsfähig wurde. Doch der Boom ist vorbei: »Es sind schwere Zeiten. Das große Publikum will keine Musik zum Zuhören. Es will eine Show.« Manolis kennt die Musiker und die Szene. Gut zehn Clubs gibt es in Athen, alle kämpfen um ihre Existenz.

Frauen umtanzen einander wie Liebespaare, Geschirr geht zu Bruch

Doch in dieser Nacht ist Leben im Saal. Im Scheinwerferlicht glitzern die Armreife der Frauen, die sich beim Tanzen wie Nattern winden. Außer ein paar müden Whiskytrinkern, die am Tresen abhängen, sind alle auf den Beinen. Die Musiker verschwinden hinter der wogenden Menge. Manolis singt: »Im Bad von Konstantinopel schwimmt ein Harem / Mohren halten Wache und bringen alle zu Ali Pascha / Er raucht die Wasserpfeife mit türkischem Haschisch.« Kreisend umtanzen sich die Frauen wie Liebespaare. Graziös spreizen sie die Finger über dem Kopf und rekeln sich. Auch das ist Rembetiko: die ansteckende Lust, nur noch klangdurchströmter Körper zu sein. Männer umkreisen die Frauen, einer lässt Nelken regnen. Da fallen von einem Tisch Gläser und Teller zu Boden und zersplittern - wie eine Ermahnung an die Flüchtigkeit des Augenblicks.

Es ist fünf Uhr früh. Die Morgendämmerung kriecht durch Athen. Vom Meer weht eine leichte Brise. Im Taximi werden Aschenbecher geleert, Gläser gespült. Die Musiker packen zusammen und winken ein Taxi heran. Sie fahren nach Psirri, in eine Taverne. Dort werden sie essen, trinken und rauchen - und erst dann nach Hause gehen, wenn sie den Blues noch einmal für sich allein gespielt haben. ( "Die Zeit" )

Ueber 100 griechische Lieder ins Deutsche uebersetzt findet man hier:

www.greeklyrics.de

Eine gute Nachricht fuer alle Freunde griechischer Musik:

Das Schallplattenlabel "Lyra" wird das Werk des Komponisten Manos Chadzidakis (1925-1994) auf 19 CDs erneut auflegen unter Verwendung der Original-Aufnahmen (!) sowie der seinerzeit von namhaften Kuenstlern gestalteten Cover. Die ersten CDs sind:

"O megalos erotikos" (1972) mit "Chorion o pothos" von 1977 .Diese neue Serie wird von Chadzidakis' Sohn Jorgos betreut.

Rebetiko-Clubs in Athen & Piraeus :

Taximi, Ecke Charilaou Trikoupi und Isanron 29, Tel. 0030-210/3639919.

To Aptalico, Ironda 8 (in der Nähe das alten Stadions), Tel. 0030-210/7242172.

Tsivaeri, Phormionos 131, Tel. 0030-210/7601732.

ANIFORI V. Georgoiou 47, Pasalimani , 4115819.
I NEA ELLAS Pl. Ag. Dionisiou 12, Piraeus , 4620568.
LEFAKIS GEOR. REMBETASKER Loudovikou 24, Piraeus, 010-417892.

O ONTAS TIS KONSTANTINAS Om. Skilitsi 76, Piraeus, 4220459.
TO PROPOLEMIKON Dervenakion 22, Piraeus, 4616408.

In den Lokalen wird kein Eintritt verlangt, Wein und Whisky ab 40 Euro die Flasche. Im Sommer sind fast alle Clubs geschlossen.

Der Mythos Rebetiko von Asteris Kutulas

"1934 sah ich zum erstenmal in meinem Leben echte Zebekes. Sie stiegen in Smyrna aufs Schiff, mit dem ich nach Konstantinopel reisen wollte. Sie trugen die alten Trachten der Zebekes. Einer von ihnen, ein Fünfunddreißigjähriger, sprach etwas Griechisch, und so konnten wir uns unterhalten. Er berichtete voller Bewunderung von einem seiner Kameraden, der so hervorragend tanzen könnte, daß ihm keiner darin nachkomme. Als die Sonne unterging, verließ das Schiff mit Ziel Konstantinopel den Hafen. Und in diesem Augenblick begann besagter junger Mann tatsächlich auf dem Deck zu tanzen. Er war klein und gedrungen, veränderte sich aber sofort bei den ersten Schritten. Er war nicht mehr derselbe. Seine fast wilde Männlichkeit wurde seltsamerweise von etwas wie Demut und Dankbarkeit unterstrichen, einer Dankbarkeit, von der man nicht wußte, wem sie galt. Mir schien es, als danke er voll Ergebenheit einem Gott für das Wunder, das das Leben ist. Der Tanz wurde von einem Tumbeleki begleitet, einer türkischen Trommel, die den magischen 9/8-Takt vorgab. Ich spürte Erotik und Männlichkeit und gleichzeitig den entfernten Hauch des Todes."
Der Maler Jannis Zaruchis, von dem diese Zeilen stammen, hat in Hunderten von Skizzen und Bildern verschiedene Motive von Zebekiko-Tänzern festgehalten. Für viele griechische Maler, Komponisten und Dichter ging seit den dreißiger Jahren von diesem Tanz und von dieser Musik eine seltsame Faszination aus. Möglich, daß sie im Neid auf solch elementare Wirkung von Kunst wurzelte, möglich auch, daß sie das Erstaunen über diese spontane, noch mitten im 20. Jahrhundert existente Identifikation mit einer Kunstform ausdrückte. Zaruchis verdeutlicht zumindest eine Ursache dieser Faszination: Der Zebekiko-Tanz gilt ihm als Sinnbild, ja als Hervorkehrung des ewigen Kampfes des Menschen gegen den Tod, also gegen sich selbst. Der Tänzer verwandelt sich, ist nicht mehr der, der er vorher war und der er danach wieder sein wird.
Die Zebekes, über die Zaruchis schrieb, gaben dem Tanz den Namen. So bezeichneten sich die Krieger eines Stamms, der in Kleinasien und Thrakien ansässig war, jedoch nicht die muslimische Religion angenommen hatte. Der Zebekiko, der Kriegstanz dieses Stamms, wurde später, von der griechischen Rebetiko-Kultur assimiliert, zum wichtigsten Tanz der rebetischen Musik. Das rhythmische Kennzeichen des Zebekiko ist der unregelmäßige 9/8-Takt, der durch den überhängenden Schlag Unruhe und Schwermut erzeugt - typisch für die Atmosphäre des Rebetiko. Eines der klassischen Rebetika, das auch textlich zu den interessantesten gehört, ist das Lied "Mondlose Nacht" des Komponisten Kaldaras aus dem Jahre 1947. Der, wie so oft, mehr allegorische Inhalt setzt sich mit der Situation während des griechischen Bürgerkriegs auseinander. Dieser Zebekiko wurde so bekannt, daß er von der Militärregierung gleich 1947 verboten wurde.
II
Die Ursprünge rebetischer Musik, zu der auch der Zebekiko gehört, verlieren sich im 19. Jahrhundert, in der Zeit nach der Befreiung Griechenlands von türkischer Herrschaft um 1830 und der Konstituierung eines griechischen Nationalstaats. Der erste von den Schutzmächten England, Frankreich und Russland eingesetzte griechische König - Otto I. von Bayern - sorgte dafür, daß sich weder eine selbstbewußte nationale Bourgeoisie entwickeln konnte, noch daß die wichtigsten nationalen Probleme gelöst wurden. Der neue griechische Staat entstand als Mißgeburt mit großen Identitätsproblemen. Die ehemaligen Angehörigen der griechischen Befreiungsarmee, die vorher meist leibeigene Bauern der griechischen und türkischen Großgrundbesitzer waren, hatten die osmanischen Okkupanten nach jahrelangem Kampf zwar besiegt, wurden dafür aber weder mit demokratischen Rechten, noch mit der geforderten bürgerlichen Bodenreform belohnt. Viele von ihnen, genauso wie ehemalige Generäle (wie Makrijannis und Kolokotronis), wurden, weil sie gegen die neuen Machtverhältnisse protestierten, zu langen Freiheitsstrafen verurteilt, die sie zumeist in den eigens dafür erbauten Gefängnissen der damaligen Haupstadt Nafplion verbüßen mußten. Hier entstanden viele Lieder, die später eine wichtige Quelle für die Rebetika waren. Die Gefangenen begleiteten ihren Gesang mit einem selbstgebauten Instrument, dem Baglamas, einer kleineren Version des Buzukis, das besser unter dem Mantel zu verstecken war und sich sehr leicht anfertigen ließ.
Markos Vamvakaris, ein klassischer Vertreter des Rebetiko, schrieb 1936 den Zebekiko "Die Gefängnisse hallen wider" - eine Adaption des Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts in Nafplion entstandenen Liedes "Es hallt in zwei Gefängnissen wider" - und stellte sich damit thematisch wie musikalisch bewußt in die Tradition der alten Gefangenenlieder:
Die Gefängnisse von Nafplion hallen wider.
Die Glockenschläge hallen auch.
Bist du eine Mutter und fühlst Schmerz,
komm eines Tags und besuch mich.
Komm, bevor sie mich verurteilen,
weine, daß sie mich freisprechen mögen.
Zwar wurde der bayerische König 1862 abgesetzt, doch zu einer eigenständigen ökonomischen Politik, die auch zu einer Industrialisierung hätte führen können, kam es nicht. Trotzdem spielte sich das gesellschaftliche und wirtschaftliche Leben, bedingt durch Handel und Seefahrt, zunehmend in der Stadt ab. Große Häfen entstanden, in denen ein reger - auch kultureller - Austausch stattfand. Vor allem mit der griechischen Küste Kleinasiens, die sich natürlich jahrhundertelang die orientalische Kultur einverleibt hatte. Die Rebetiko-Musik entwickelte sich als neue künstlerische Ausdrucksmöglichkeit einer gerade im Entstehen begriffenen Bevölkerungsschicht, die nicht mehr einer bestimmten und intakten Dorfgemeinschaft angehörte, sondern sich vielmehr aus Entwurzelten zusammensetzte, deren neue Heimat die schnell wachsenden Städte waren. Ihre kulturellen Bedürfnisse wurden in einer Übergangsphase vorwiegend durch orientalische bzw. orientalisierende Musik befriedigt, angefangen beim Tsifteteli, dem Bauchtanz, bis hin zum Zebekiko. Die Assimilation dieser ganzen Kultur durch griechische Sänger und Instrumentalisten erfolgte langsam, konnte aber durch nichts aufgehalten werden, da die neue Musik die Sehnsüchte und Ängste der Matrosen, Händler, Handwerker und vieler verarmter Bauern, die in der Stadt nach Arbeit suchten, am besten auszudrücken vermochte. Etliche von ihnen entschlossen sich, den Ozean zu überqueren und in Amerika ihr Glück zu versuchen. Diese Gastarbeiter machten Aufnahmen von Rebetiko-Liedern und produzierten die ersten Schallplatten mit Rebetiko-Musik. Die Ferne zur Heimat und Schwierigkeiten mit der neuen Umgebung führten zur intensiven Suche nach der eigenen Identität und damit zu einer kulturellen Blüte in Übersee.
III
Dieser bruchstückhafte, banale Inhalt ist für die Anfangsphase des Rebetiko charakteristisch und blieb es, abgesehen von einigen Ausnahmen, bis zu seiner Endphase. Ganz anders als die episch angelegte demotische Dichtung der dörflichen Volkslieder, entwickelte sich die rebetische Musik als textliche und musikalische Improvisationskunst. Bei ihr kam es darauf an, eine momentane Befindlichkeit musikalisch und textlich festzuhalten, wobei melodische Phrasen und eine feste Rhythmik als Grundgerüst natürlich existierten.
Das Anfang des Jahrhunderts in den kleinasiatischen griechischen Hafenstädten gegründete Cafe-Aman war der Ort, an dem Musiker und zumeist eine Sängerin und eine Tänzerin solche auf festen Metren basierende Improvisationen, oft war es der Bauchtanz, darboten. Diese Musizierweise hatte einen gewissen Einfluß auf die Rebetiko-Musiker, die zunächst - in enger Anlehnung an die orientalische Tradition - ihre Lieder weder in Moll noch in Dur komponierten, sondern türkische Skalen benutzten. Später gelangten sie zu einer Annäherung und Verschmelzung mit den westlichen Dur-Moll-Tonleitern - das eigentlich Interessante an dieser Musik.
Im Cafe-Aman sang die Sängerin, wenn ihr kein Text mehr einfiel, das Wort "Aman", das sie solange wiederholte, wie sie brauchte, um sich eine neue Strophe auszudenken. In der späteren Phase des Rebetiko wurde dieser Ausruf, der so viel wie "o weh" heißt, als feste Floskel in vielen Liedern benutzt.
Die allmähliche Verschmelzung orientalischer und griechischer, auch demotischer Tradition zur neugriechischen Musikkultur des Rebetiko führte zu einem neuen Klang-Ergebnis, das eine gänzlich neue Tradition begründete und all seine Quellen absorbierte. Das führte dazu, daß die griechischen Rebeten Lieder im orientalischen bzw. anatolischen Stil komponierten und sie als solche auswiesen. Dabei benutzten und verarbeiteten sie das orientalische musikalische Material nach eigenen Kriterien, was sich auf die Instrumentierung als auch auf Melodik und Rhythmik auswirkte.
Das Moment der Improvisation in der rebetischen Musik, das auch in ihrer Blütezeit als Buzuki-Improvisation (Taximi) die Virtuosität des Solisten zu Beginn des jeweiligen Liedes unter Beweis stellte, gab Anlaß zum Vergleich von Rebetiko und Jazz-Musik. Neben musikalischen Aspekten war es vor allem das soziale Umfeld, in dem diese Musik entstand, das zu diesem Vergleich anregte.
IV
Nach den Balkankriegen und dem 1. Weltkrieg versuchten das griechische Königshaus und die griechische Oligarchie 1922 in einem Krieg gegen die Türkei, ihre Vorstellungen von einem Groß-Griechenland mit der Hauptstadt Konstantinopel militärisch durchzusetzen. Doch Konstantinopel blieb Istanbul, und die verheerende Niederlage der griechischen Armee gegen die Truppen des Kemal Atatürk 1923 ging als Kleinasiatische Katastrophe in die Geschichte ein. Der folgende Friedensvertrag von Lausanne sah einen Bevölkerungsaustausch vor, in dessen Folge 1,5 Millionen Griechen aus Kleinasien nach Griechenland strömten. Die meisten von ihnen gründeten um Athen neue Siedlungen, die ähnlich den Slums der amerikanischen Großstädte einen Gürtel um das Stadtzentrum bildeten. Die kleinasiatischen Emigranten kamen nicht nur mit ihrer Kultur nach Griechenland, sondern auch mit ihrem Schmerz und ihrer Verzweiflung über die verlorene Heimat. Viele der Entwurzelten - und das kennzeichnet eine ähnliche Situation wie die der ehemals auf Veranlassung des Königs gefangenen Soldaten der Befreiungsarmee 1830, nur betraf es diesmal eine viel größere Schicht der Bevölkerung - griffen nach dem in ihrer ehemaligen Heimat gebräuchlichen Haschisch, um ihre Lage wenigstens für einige Stunden vergessen zu können. Dieses sich mit den Emigranten rasch verbreitende Ritual wurde meist in unterirdischen Tavernen, den Tekedes, vollzogen, die nur Eingeweihten bekannt waren.
Einer der Raucher hatte ein Buzuki mit, und sobald es ihn, wie es im Jargon hieß, "überkam", fing er mit einer Improvisation an. War einer der Zuhörer in Stimmung, stand er auf und gab sich einem wiegenden, ja meditativen Tanz hin, was den bislang auf dem Buzuki Improvisierenden veranlassen konnte, ein Lied zu singen, wie etwa Michalis Jenitsaris 1937 seinen klassischen Zebekiko "Ich sah aus wie ein Filou", in dem die Befindlichkeit des Sängers durch Slang und Interpretationsweise besonders deutlich wird: diese Ihr-könnt-mich-mal-Haltung, gepaart mit einer hintergründigen Verletzlichkeit.
V
"Es war bewundernswert, wie der Tanzende seine Lider mit einer süßen Unterwürfigkeit senkte, was ganz im Gegensatz zu der Kraft seines Körpers stand, denn zur gleichen Zeit trat er mit den Füßen, mit denen er die Erde traktierte, auf etwas Unsichtbares ein, das sich am Boden bewegte. Man hatte den Eindruck, daß, während er dem im Denkmal verewigten Krieger glich, der den Drachen bekämpft, er sich zugleich mit ihm vereinte - nicht aber durch sein unsichtbares Schwert, sondern mit seinem unsichtbaren Glied."
Der Vergleich mit dem Erzengel Gabriel stammt ebenfalls von dem schon zu Beginn zitierten Maler Jannis Zaruchis. Die Verklärung des Rebetiko hat bei ihm rein künstlerische Gründe: Das erotische Moment, die übersteigerte und gleichzeitig rührselige, vom Schicksal gezeichnete Männlichkeit, war tatsächlich für die Rebetiko-Kultur sehr typisch. Der egoistische, sein Gefühlsleben kultivierende Mann. Doch der Aussteiger offenbart sich nicht nur im Tanz oder beim Singen und Spielen; er mißachtet auch die gesellschaftlichen Normen. Mit Blick auf den Entstehungsprozeß des Rebetiko Mitte der zwanziger Jahre ist er nicht von der Subkultur und der Unterwelt getrennt zu sehen. Totschlag, Raub und andere Delikte waren in der Szene alltäglich, wovon auch viele Lieder berichten. Aber das betraf, sogar in ihrer Anfangsphase, nicht die ganze Rebetiko-Kultur als solche, sondern lediglich eine kleine Schicht der damals ohnehin nur in wenigen Städten bekannten Rebeten. Erstaunlich ist jedoch, daß zu einer Zeit, da in Deutschland Hermann Hesse seinen Steppenwolf von den Alternativen Narkotikum, Musik und meditativer Kult probieren ließ, zu einer Zeit, da in Frankreich eine Gruppe von Künstlern die surreale Revolution über den Umweg des Rausches und Schocks auszulösen suchte, daß also zur selben Zeit in Griechenland eine Gruppe von ungebildeten Leuten ihren blinden Protest gegen die Gesellschaft durch anderes Verhalten, Kleiden, Sprechen und besonders durch die Flucht in den Rausch der Droge und der Musik dokumentierte. Eines der berühmtesten Zebekika von Vasilis Tsitsanis aus dem Jahre 1942 besingt diesen Drang zur Flucht und das gleichzeitige Bewußtsein über die Vergeblichkeit dieses Versuchs. Denn für Tsitsanis, der zusammen mit Vamvakaris die Rebetiko-Musik auf eine neue qualitative Ebene erhob, spielte Drogenkonsum als Lebensinhalt keine Rolle mehr.
VI
Mitte der fünfziger Jahre war der Höhepunkt der Rebetiko-Musik überschritten, die dann massiv Einzug in die Vergnügungszentren verschiedener Coleur hielt und besonders von den Massenmedien vermarktet wurde. Es folgte die totale Kommerzialisierung dieser Musik, die durch ständige Nachahmung verflachte und ihre einst kathartische Wirkung, die den Maler Zaruchis so fasziniert hatte, einbüßte. Zum Modeprodukt verkommen, konnte sich das Rebetiko nur durch das Wirken weniger herausragender Persönlichkeiten wie Vamvakaris, Papaioannou, Tsitsanis und einiger anderer weiterhin als authentischer Ausdruck eines Lebensgefühls behaupten.
Die gesellschaftliche und musikästhetische Anerkennung erfuhr die Rebetiko-Musik allerdings erst durch Manos Hadjidakis und Mikis Theodorakis, die ihre Kompositionen seit Ende der vierziger Jahre immer mehr auf die nationale Tradition und besonders auf das Rebetiko stützten.
© Asteris Kutulas
***

Ueber die richtige Schreibweise Rebetiko oder Rembetiko wird noch heute gestritten. Dabei geht es zumeist um die Ethymologie des Begriffs, um die Herkunft und Echtheit der Musik - aus als der "griechische Blues" bezeichnet. Aus Rebetiko wurde wahrscheinlich Rembetiko, weil im griechischen Alphabet das "B" wie "MP" geschrieben wird, um aus dem "P" ein "weiches P" also ein "B" zu machen.

Der Rebetiko, ist ein griechischer Musikstil, der aus den VolksmusiktraditionenGriechenlands und der sich nach dem Befreiungskrieg im 19. Jahrhundert und zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts in den Städten Athen, Piraeus und Thessaloniki bildenden Subkulturen hervorgegangen ist. Der Rebetiko wird oft auch als der griechische Bluesbezeichnet, weil die Texte ähnlich wie im Blues von den alltäglichen Sorgen und Erfahrungen der einfachen Leute handeln. Der Rembetiko erlebte in den 1930er bis 1950er Jahren seine Blütezeit.

In den Anfängen seiner Entstehung wurden Rembetika nur von den in Piraeus lebenden Rebetes und von den Flüchtlingen gespielt, die im Jahr 1922, dem Jahr der so genannten kleinasiatischen Katastrophe, aus Smyrna und Kleinasien in das Mutterland geflohen waren. Später entwickelte sich daraus eine der populärsten Musikformen Griechenlands. Hauptinstrumente sind das Bouzouki, der Baglamas oder Tsouras, die Gitarre, die Santuri und die Geige. Die bekanntesten Komponisten des Rembetiko sind Markos Vamvakaris, Michalis Jenitsaris und Vassilis Tsitsanis.

Die wesentlichen Liedtypen des Rembetiko sind Chasapikos, Chasaposervikos, Zeibekikos, Karsilamas, Aptalikos, Tsifteteli und Sirtos.

***

Einige Plattenempehlungen (CDs) fuer Einsteiger:

The Diaspora of Rembetiko - Network Medien LC 06759- ISBN 85965-10652 - Doppel-CD mit booklet. Im web: www.networkmedien.de oder bei 2001.

Rembetika - Songs of the greek underground 1925-1947 - Trikont - 4015698-0293-2 - Doppel CD mit booklet www.trikont.de

Diamantia tou Rembetikou - Lyra - 5-202483-060129

***

Ausfuehrliche, englischsprachige Einfuehrungen in die Rebetiko-Musik:

REBETIKA - A BRIEF HISTORY *

by Ed Emery [Institute of Rebetology, London]

From about the 1850s, in the side streets of Asia Minor's Smyrna, the popular quarters of Istanbul, the back alleys of the port of Siros and the working-class areas of Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki - not to mention the United States, and all parts of the world where emigré Greeks had flocked in their thousands - a new music began to be created: popular song, and the style of song that we now call rebetika. It spread rapidly. First among the Greeks of Asia Minor, then in emigré communities in the US, and finally - after 1922 - on the Greek mainland.

Rebetika reached the height of its popularity between the two world wars. It was standard musical fare in clubs and bars and featured largely in the discography of 78 rpm records that were produced in Greece and the US at that time.

The support enjoyed by rebetika at the popular level was not matched among the arbiters of morality and cultural values. The music was heavily censored in the 1930s. But the censorship did not kill rebetika; far from it. Immediately after the Second World War it witnessed a major boom in Greece, which lasted through to the mid-1950s. A boom explained in part, perhaps, by the sufferings and social upheavals caused by the Civil War and in part by the economic pressures that contributed to the growth of urban centres such as Athens and Thessaloniki.

During the past twenty years all the main exponents of rebetika - the heirs of the singers and composers who came from Asia Minor after the military disaster of 1922 - have died. They have left behind a wealth of recordings, which are slowly being collected and catalogued by rebetologists. In the meantime new generations of singers and players are emerging, to keep the tradition alive. Not only in Greece, but in Greek communities in the US, Britain, Australia and elsewhere, there are clubs where the old songs are sung and enjoyed and where a tradition of new songs is being forged.

The purpose of this introduction is to sketch some of the background and history of rebetiko music.

Greece and the Greeks

Greece today is a country of more or less fixed borders, on the Mediterranean, between Italy and Turkey. A member of NATO and the European Union. A country with a strong national identity, reinforced by its distinctively non-accessible language and alphabet and its all-pervasive Orthodox religion. But even today the borders of Greece are subject to pressure and liable to erosion - the general threat of Turkey's military might; specific Turkish pressures in the Aegean and on the eastern mainland; pressure from the proponents of a 'Greater Albania'; and the recent emergence of Macedonia as an independent state to the north.

More importantly, Greece is Diaspora, scattered all across the world, as communities of political refugees and economic migrants. Since the days of Alexander the Great there have been Greek communities found throughout Asia. In the past century Greeks have migrated as far afield as Australia and the United States. And the past fifty years have seen large-scale migrations within Europe itself. Greeks, and their communities, are to be found more or less everywhere. In a very real sense, as much as a fixed geopolitical entity, Greece is an 'imagined community'.

And, despite the best efforts of Greek nationalists to prove the contrary, Greece is a bastard culture. A rich and complex admixture of cultural elements deriving from far and wide. It is precisely for this reason that, through the various periods of flag-waving Greek nationalism, rebetika has proved such a reference point for dissident spirits. It is fiercely transgressive; it flies in the face of accepted moralities and legalities; but it too is a bastard culture par excellence. A complex coming-together of musical modes and rhythms, combined with a distinctive argot that borrows from all the languages of the Mediterranean seaboard.

A shifting, changing entity

As regards its formal borders, the original Greek state, carved out of a 400-year subjugation to the Ottoman empire, was established in 1832 by the Convention of London. In 1864 the Ionian islands (Corfu, etc) were annexed and in 1881 Thessaly and part of Epirus were added. During the First World War other territories were taken from Turkey and added to Greece - the rest of Epirus, Macedonia, Western Thrace, Crete and the islands of the eastern Aegean. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the First World War was the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which gave Greece the right to occupy Eastern Thrace, but also the hinterland of Smyrna (present-day Izmir, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast). Directly from this derived what Greeks call the 'Asia Minor catastrophe' (see note 7 below). Subsequently, in 1948, the islands of the Dodecanese were also annexed to Greece.

As regards the diaspora, Greeks were to be found wherever there was trade. They are, after all, a major maritime nation. In the 1790s a Greek was mayor of Moscow (a relative of mine, as it happens). In 1815 the newly founded (and revolutionary) Greek Friendly Society had active branches in Moscow, Bucharest and Trieste, as well as all the major cities of the Levant. By the turn of the century, outside Greece itself the major urban centres with Greek populations were Smyrna, Istanbul and Alexandria, and within Greece, Athens, Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Patras and Ermoupolis (the port of the island of Siros). Furthermore, prior to 1922, there were upwards of 1,000 Greek communities living in Anatolia (Asia Minor), in what is now Turkey, from Cappadocia to Trebizond.

The population shifts and migrations were many-fold and all contributed to the great magmatic, largely urbanized, multinational conglomerate which now constitutes 'Greekness'.

As regards Athens, in 1834 the city became the capital of the newly formed Greek state. In that year its population was a mere 10,000. By 1920 it had grown to reach 285,000 and a mere eight years later, thanks to the massive influx of Greek refugees, it stood at 453,000. By 1980 it had risen to 3 million, out of a total national population of 9 million - in other words, a third of the population of Greece lived in Athens. A similar industrialization and population growth affected the other sea ports, especially Thessaloniki, which was a rail terminal and trading outlet for the landlocked countries of the Balkans.

This phenomenon of urbanization, with country populations moving into cities, went hand in hand with an outward migration. Over the 30-year period 1893-1924, the United States drew in the labour-power of 500,000 Greeks, from a country whose total population was 2,500,000. And after the Second World War Greeks emigrated to Western Europe in their thousands, some looking for work in labour-hungry states such as Germany, others seeking to escape the constraints of Fascist-Orthodox Greece and find new freedoms - for instance in Paris, where some of today's rebetologists were among the students of May '68, and Italy, where the universities had a massive presence of Greeks throughout the 1970s.

Setting the scene

To give an idea of the social ambience in which rebetika originated, we have the following picture provided by Lysandros Pitharas, who made an excellent documentary on rebetika for British television:

It's 1935, in a working-class bar on the Athenian waterfront. From the outside, the bar looks like a ramshackle hut, but inside, the atmosphere is furious. In air thick with the smoke of narcotics and incense, a small band sits on a stage. The lead bouzouki-player - eyes half shut - plays a lingering solo (taxim) to shouts of 'aman... '. Suddenly, the other players thump their feet and begin playing a harsh, incessant rhythm, with the singer's voice rasping:

Stash up my weed, sister,

Go get some weed,

When we're stoned together,

A bouzouki's all I need.

(Markos Vamvakaris, Alaniaris, 1935)

The crowd, made up of poor people, mostly men, roars its approval. One of them, hat cocked to one side and jacket hanging from one arm, rises to the floor. Eyes shut and body swaying, he dances, bringing his hand now to his forehead, now to the ground, all the time beating the rhythm of the music with the soles of his shoes. This is the dance of the mangas [spiv], a dance known as the zeibekiko. The music he is dancing to is rebetika - a Greek blues... 1

The meaning and derivation of 'rebetika'

Like all subculture musics, rebetika poses difficulties of classification. And these difficulties begin even with the meaning and derivation of the word 'rebetika' itself. Individual rebetologists each have their own explanations, duly averred, and if one is true then it follows that the others, equally firmly asserted, are not. What follows is merely a selection:

The most likely derivation is rembet, an old Turkish word meaning 'of the gutter'.

Some people claim that it derives from the Serb word rebenòk (pl. rebia'ta), which means 'rebel'.

The Turks called their irregular troops rebet asker. Thus the rebèts were people who would not submit to authority.

It very probably derives from the Persian and Arabic root reb, rab, ruba'a or arba'a, which mean four. In the plural form ruba'at or arba'at mean fours but also quatrains... In Arabic, rab also means God and Lord...

The word may have its roots in the Hebrew rab, from which the word rabbi is derived.

The word rembetiko is a corruption of the archaic and also modern term remvastikos (meditative) and is derived from the verb remvo or remvazo, which means 'I wander'... literally... and in the figurative sense of 'my mind is wandering in an anxious mood'.

The strongest assertion as to rebetika's historical origins, and perhaps the most suggestive for us, is the following, by the late Ole Smith of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Having studied a recent discography of pre-Second World War ethnic recordings in the US, he says:

It is now possible to give a much more balanced view of the emergence of the term 'rebetiko', which can be shown beyond doubt [my emphasis] to have made its first public appearance as a musical term among Greeks in the US... It is now absolutely clear that the term was first used in print in the United States, and that the first to have songs characterized as 'rebetiko' must have been Marika Papagika, who recorded a 'rebetiko' at least before December 1926. This was the song ÓìõñíéÜ on Greek Record Co. 511. [... ] At present we cannot say why the songs were called 'rebetika'.2

The social setting of rebetika

What we can say is that rebetika was the music of the rebetes. So now the question is, 'Who were the rebetes?', in the sense of the people who lived and created the songs and music of rebetika. The present book is an attempt to provide the answer to that question. But I would like to begin by sketching the elements of the broader social and musical setting.

In the rapid growth of population on the Greek mainland from 1850 onwards, there was a large migration to the cities. In part, this was made up of people leaving the countryside. In part, it was the massive arrival of refugee Greeks from various parts of the diaspora community.3 From Russia after the Revolution... from Pontus and the shores of the Black Sea... and from that part of Asia Minor (Smyrna in particular) which is now Turkey. From Asia Minor alone, in 1922-23, an estimated 1,500,000 Greeks arrived on the Greek mainland as refugees.

Rebetes in Piraeus 1937

The effect of these forced migrations was to shatter the previously existing social and economic structures of Greece. Classes and hierarchies that had existed in the diaspora communities were turned topsy-turvy in the bedlam of flight and the ensuing struggle for survival. There was no housing to accommodate the newcomers and little health or education provision. Unemployment was the rule, since jobs could not be created out of nothing, and the incoming refugees faced the additional pressures of racism.

So the violent break-up of traditional social structures was accompanied by another violence, in the ways in which social spaces and living conditions were organized for the newly arrived migrants. Large slum communities, shanty towns, grew up around the big cities, Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki chief among them. They were characterized by poverty, unemployment, rootlessness, homelessness, police oppression, social deprivation, prostitution, criminality and drugs.

The transition, from 1832 onwards, from a rural to an urban-based economy brought into being a new form of song - the urban song - in the same way that, in the US, the blues songs of the countryside developed into 'urban blues' when black labour-power was drawn into jobs in the cities. Within this generic urban song, the distinctive style that we now know as rebetika began to emerge.

It was a musical sub-culture, a music of the lower classes. And this we could call the first phase of rebetika.

Petropoulos explains:

The womb of rebetika was the jail and the hash den. It was there that the early rebetes created their songs. They sang in quiet, hoarse voices, unforced, one after the other, each singer adding a verse which often bore no relation to the previous verse, and a song often went on for hours. There was no refrain, and the melody was simple and easy. One rebetis accompanied the singer with a bouzouki or a baglamas [a smaller version of the bouzouki, very portable, easy to make in prison and easy to hide from the police], and perhaps another, moved by the music, would get up and dance. The early rebetika songs, particularly the love songs, were based on Greek folk songs and the songs of the Greeks of Izmir and Istanbul.4

In the large urban ghettos that had developed around Greece's major cities the social upheaval was immense:

In Piraeus, the port of Athens, tens of thousands of unemployed people inhabited these ghettos, where their only livelihood was petty crime, smuggling and odd jobs. In the tough life of the city a new urban sub-culture held sway, with their own dialects, codes of dress and ways of life - that of the manges. At night they gathered in hashish dens to hear the new music that by the turn of the century had transformed the bouzouki into a symbol of their urban pride...5

The dynamics of this urban song were transformed utterly by the arrival of the Asia Minor (Anatolian) refugees post-1922. This was in fact a two-way population transfer, agreed under the terms of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne: Greek-speaking Turks from the present entity of Greece were shipped en masse to Turkey, and Greeks from what is now Turkey were shipped to Greece (many of them in the face of murder, rape and torture at the hands of the Turks, intent on repeating their massacre of the Armenians). These migrant Greeks brought with them a musical culture that transformed the rebetiko song tradition.6

The cataclysmic Smyrna catastrophe was crucial to rebetika history.7 After a futile war, one and a half million Anatolian Greek refugees suddenly poured into the Greek cities and inflated the problems of the urban poor to breaking point. The music that the refugees brought with them was at first very different to that of the manges. It was oriental. Their clarinets, violins, santouris (hammer dulcimers) and kanonakia (zithers) vied with the bouzouki-players for the attention of the urban poor.

In a 1993 interview, Mikis Theodorakis (Greece's best-known composer, who shifted from being a communist dissident to becoming a conservative minister) outlines the process involved in this transformation of rebetiko song. First he describes the long-standing folk-music tradition and the Byzantine hymnology, with its roots reaching back to classical Greece. He talks first about modes, then about the strong Italian influence, and then about the incursion of tonal music into the Greek world of modal music:

Rebetiko music is based on musical modes - it is a modal music - whereas the music of urban songs is tonal. Modal music had its origins in the modes of the ancient world. In ancient Greek music, the modes were a series of eight descending sounds which were characterized by different orderings of tones and semi-tones. There were three main modes - the Dorian, the Phrygian and the Lydian - but there were also others, such as the Ionian, the Mixolydian, the Hypophrygian, etc. In fact Plato himself, in his Republic, distinguishes between Western and oriental music, between the Ionian and the Dorian, and says that oriental music should be rejected...

Both these modes passed into Greek popular song - and also into Arabic and Turkish music. Byzantine scales also had a great influence on Turkish and Arabic music - and the Byzantine scales were based on the Dorian, Ionian, Aeolian scales, etc...

Theodorakis then describes the musical revolution that took place in Europe under the Enlightenment, with the advent of the tempered scale, which made harmony possible - whereas in Greek, Turkish and Arabic folk song the music is isophonic, or without harmony.

However, rebetiko song significantly remained within the modal tradition, which is characteristically oriental and ultimately derives from classical Greece. It is a music which is paradoxically, challengingly, strikingly at odds with the Western musical tradition, which partly explains why it is so enticing to the European ear. Theodorakis continues:

So, at the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth, Greek folk song was predominantly modal. In the Ionian islands, on the other hand, because of the Italian connection and trade with the rest of Europe, the tonal revolution had made a breakthrough, in the form of serenades... But then the refugees arrived from AsiaMinor, bringing with them a music that was basically Turkish...

At this time, the bourgeoisie, on the other hand, was influenced by tonal music, European music. On the island of Siros, and in Patras and Smyrna, they already had lyric theatre, musical review shows and operetta, brought from Europe via the merchants. The bourgeoisie were humming the tunes of Italian opera.

But the ordinary folk loved and sang Turkish music, with Turkish words, and rebetika, with words in Greek, because these gentle melodies were more in tune with their bitter experiences of life [...] The chosen instruments of the rebetes were the bouzouki and the baglamas (the latter because it was small and could be easily concealed), and these were the instruments played in the prisons... These were men of great sensitivity, who lived in city environments, and whose state of mind could not be expressed in the serenades of the islands, nor in the imported European music, nor in folk song, nor in the Byzantine hymns and the music of the Church. But their feelings could be expressed fully in the rebetika and the bouzouki...8

To this Costas Ferris adds a note about the role of Giovanikas:

The great explosion and development of rebetika came with the growing popularity of the Smyrnean Minore mode (also known as the 'Minore of the Dawn'), which was created towards the end of the nineteenth century by the violinist Giovanikas. Born in Wallachia (Romania), he lived in Mytilene, Constantinople, Smyrna, and often toured in free Greece. Giovanikas, who had a classical musical culture as well as knowing a lot of traditional island music, had the brilliant idea of combining gypsy (Balkan) polyphonic (and thus 'Western') chords in the cymbalon, santouri or other instruments, with the monophonic oriental Niavent dhromos mode in the melodic lines of the soloist singer or violinist. This mating produced a vibrant combination of Western polyphony with Byzantine and oriental monophony.9

Markos Vamvakaris and the manges

Sociology apart, the social setting of rebetika is perhaps best summed up in the figure of Markos Vamvakaris. In the words of Lysandros Pitharas:

The 1930s were the Golden Years of rebetika and the life and times of its most famous composer, Markos Vamvakaris, gives a flavour of what this era was like. He was born in Syros in 1905. At the age of eight he was already bored with working in factories; by the time he was twelve he had been imprisoned for black marketeering. In 1920, when he was just fifteen, Markos stowed away on a ship bound for Piraeus and started a new chapter in his life.

On reaching the mainland, he found work loading coal, but quickly discovered the underworld of this tough city. The petty hoodlums and smugglers of the port soon became his friends and by his late teens Markos' companion was an older whore, and his life that of the tekkedes [hash dens].

Markos had two great loves in his life - smoking hashish and bouzouki. It was not long before he started to become known as a mangas. The nearest English equivalent to the term mangas is wide boy, or spiv. The culture of the manges was so underworld that even Greeks disagree about what they were. Generally, they were twilight characters living on the edge of the law. Many of them spoke their own street dialect (koutsavakika) and dressed with a streetwise swagger (hats, spats, suits). They were involved in the petty crimes of the ghettos, often carrying knives. These were the characters behind the most underworld themes of rebetika - the songs about smuggling, prison and so on.

By 1933 Markos had won their admiration with his music. He had teamed up with two Asia Minor refugees, Stratos and Artemis, and a fourth musician mangas called Batis. They were the most popular rebetika band to win a wide following all over Athens with songs like Ime alaniaris... [I'm a wide boy... ]:

I'm a wide boy wandering the streets,

So stoned I don't recognize anyone I meet.

(Markos Vamvakaris, Alaniaris, 1935)

But life was cruel to the mangas. Markos' brother, for instance, died of a drug overdose early in the 1930s. His second brother became a knife-carrying thug, spending most of his life in prison. Artemis too died in 1943 from a drug overdose, an event he prophesied in the most famous rebetiko junkie song, The Junkie's Lament:

From the time I started to smoke the dose,

The world turned its back on me.

I don't know what to do.

From sniffing it up I went onto the needle,

And my body began to melt...

(Kostis, Apo tote pou archisa, 1910, recorded again by A. Delias, 1934)

The social acceptability of rebetika

Rebetika had its travails. As a musical form, it was banned by the Metaxas dictatorship in 1936. The rebetika musicians became targets for arrest and victimization by the authorities. Tekkedes were frequently raided, and if people were caught singing rebetika (or indeed playing the bouzouki), they were likely to be taken for dissolute hash-smokers and shipped off to internal exile.

And the smoking of hashish was no small part of rebetiko culture. In the Ottoman empire hashish had been freely available and was openly smoked in cafes. In Greece too, for a period, people smoked freely. The hash den was known as a tekkes - from the Turkish tekke, meaning dervish convent - and the rebetes who frequented these dens sometimes referred to themselves as 'dervishes'. Hashish cost virtually nothing and was a poor man's way of forgetting life's troubles. There are songs aplenty celebrating the smoking of hashish (in fact two Danish rebetologists have produced a whole book of them, and a French company recently issued a record of hash-den songs.10 After the Second World War, however, they began to disappear. During the Nazi-Fascist occupation of Greece no rebetika recordings were made - although this is not to say that the songs were not sung.11

Vassilis Tsitsanis, one of the greats of rebetika, was apparently singing songs featuring hashish right through the period of Nazi occupation, but these could only be issued as recordings after 1946, when the record factories reopened in Greece. Then, in 1947, censorship was reimposed and drug songs were again banned. That censorship is still in force today - the law has never been repealed, and in theory the words and music of all recordings must be submitted to the censor's office (although presently the law is not enforced). Rebetika was also attacked by the Communist Party, for instance by Nikos Zachariades, who described it as the music 'of knife-fights and decadence'.

The first public sign of rebetika's emergence into respectability came in 1948, right in the midst of the fratricidal war that was tearing Greece apart. One of the country's leading modern composers, Manos Hadzidakis, made a speech at a conference, defending rebetika and claiming it as an integral part of the Greek musical heritage. Up to that point the cultural elites had seen it as a music of criminal low-life, sung and danced in prisons and dope dens, and linked to drugs, violence and prostitution. Hadzidakis, albeit a conservative, claimed it as an authentic music of the people, an art form of high musical quality and nobility. He also pointed out that the taste for rebetika united all classes of Greeks, right across a geographic spectrum that had previously been regionally divided. It was - and this was a poignant moment in a country divided by civil war - a unifying force between all Greeks.

Shortly afterwards, with the Civil War ended, rebetika was 'discovered'. It came out of its low-life backwaters and into night clubs where rich people went. And at this point the character of the music changed. The bouzouki went electric, everything went electric, and the players began to perform for the upper bourgeoisie. Rebetika became a fashion. You only have to see the photos of Giorgos Zambetas playing for the Kennedy family and Aristotle Onassis to understand how far it had come from its humble beginnings. The music became heavily commercialized - over-orchestrated, with insipid lyrics - especially with the mass production of long-playing records in Greece after 1955. The songs lost their edge, lost their pain and depth of feeling. And the places where rebetiko music was played were among the most expensive night clubs in Greece.

Smyrna

At this point we should go back a couple of hundred years to look at what had been happening musically in Smyrna. For Greeks the city was a little Greece, experienced emotionally as part of the motherland. A rich trading port, it had an active harbour and a fertile hinterland. And it had a flourishing musical life that was noted by travellers even 300 years ago. The Frenchman Joseph Tournefort commented in 1702: 'The taverns [in Smyrna] are open at all hours of day and night. They play music, they eat good food, they dance in the European, Greek and Turkish style... '. Another Frenchman, Bartholdy, observed:

For a Greek to dance, any time of the day is suitable. The taverns in Smyrna and the other ports are continuously filled with men drinking, dancing and singing. Even on the decks of their boats they manage to find a bit of space where they can dance...

And in 1878 the folk-musicologist Bourgault-Ducoudray wrote:

Smyrna is a very musical city. Nowhere have I seen so many barrel-organs.'12

In the smart salons they sang romantses (a Spanish song-form) with piano accompaniment. The ordinary folk had the 'cafe-amans', or musical cafes, which is where the dais13 would hang out, as described by a Smyrniot poet whose name has not come down to us:

I am a dais, and when I dance the khasapiko, the ballo, the karsilamas and the tsifteteli, with the sweet violin of Giovanaki, all of Smyrna is proud of me. I'm a dais, and ouzo is my god [... ] I have a good time, I dance, I drink and I get drunk, with santouris, and violins, and drums.

What is important in all this is that the musical life of Smyrna was both highbrow and lowbrow, both Italophile and Turcophile, both East and West, and when the Greeks were driven out of that city, they took their musical culture with them wholesale and transplanted it onto the Greek mainland.

The musicians who came as refugees were not just semi-skilled amateurs or street musicians:

The musicians, like most of the other refugees, were, in comparison to the Greeks of the host country, extremely sophisticated; many were highly educated, could read and compose music, and had even been unionized in the towns of Asia Minor. It must have been galling for them to live on the periphery of the new society in poverty and degradation; most had lost all they had in the hasty evacuation, and many, from inland Anatolia, could speak only Turkish. In their misery they sought relief in another Ottoman institution, the tekés or hashish den.14

Performers and composers of rebetika

The original rebetiko music, as we have said, derived from Asia Minor and was strongly Turkish in character. Here we are talking about a distinct first generation of rebetika composers and performers, most of whom derived from Asia Minor - Panayiotis Tountas, Kostas Skarvelis, Evangelis Papazoglou, Yannis Dragatsis, KostasKaripis and Spyros Peristeris, all of whom were born between 1880 and 1895. By the 1920s there were two distinct 'schools' of rebetika. The first was the Smyrna school - songs with distinctly oriental melodies, which were often sung by women, such as Rosa Eskenazi (d. 1981) and Rita Abatzi (d. 1969). They were accompanied by a small Turkish-style band, playing violin, santouri and ud (lute). The songs were often mournful laments, known as amané, from the characteristic ritual refrain of aman-aman (roughly, 'mercy, mercy') which came between the verses, often as a way of giving the singer time to improvise the next verse. This style is still to be found in the raimusic of Algeria. The level of pathos reached in some of this Smyrniot song is truly heart-rending.

In the period 1900-30 these women singers performed in Smyrna itself, in the port town of Volos, and in the ex-Ottoman and strongly Jewish city of Thessaloniki, a cultural crossroads and a major trading port serving the Balkan hinterland. It would be performed in the cafe-aman, with the singer and band occupying a small platform, where the rebetes would come up and dance.

The Piraeus school,

on the other hand, based in the sprawling urban port area serving Athens, was very different. Here the instruments were the bouzouki and the baglamas. This was more a dance music - based on the khasapiko and the zeibekiko, rather than the oriental tsifteteli. And the voices were rougher, deeper and more generally male.

The distinctive change here was the introduction of the Western tonal system into the music. Now the Western major and minor scales entered rebetika alongside the oriental dhromi.15 The key figure in this change was the great bouzoukist Markos Vamvakaris, born in Siros (an island port, and the most Westernized of Greek communities at that time . Vamvakaris, the composer of the well-known rebetiko song Frangosyriani, set up his famous Piraeus Quartet in the 1930s, which influenced a whole subsequent generation of rebetika performers and composers. His main counterpart in this period was Yannis Papayioannou, the composer of Leave me, leave me... [Ase me, ase me... ].

In chronological terms, the second generation (who came from various parts of the extended Greek community and were all born between 1920 and 1925) included Vamvakaris himself, Dimitris Gongos, Apostolos Kaldaras, Kostas Kaplanis, Giorgos Mitsotakis, Yannis Papayioannou, Stavros Tzouanakos, Vassilis Tsitsanis, Apostolos Hajichristos, Manolis Chiotis, Stelios Chrysinis and Giorgos Zambetas. Some of these had a solid musical training and had no desire to be identified with the older low-life traditions of rebetika - the prisons, the drugs, etc.

In the 1940s there was something of a rebetika revival, under the auspices of Manolis Chiotis and Vassilis Tsitsanis. Chiotis added a couple of strings to the bouzouki, thereby extending its potential for musical virtuosity. Tsitsanis moved the lyrics away from the traditional motifs of drugs and prison and introduced sentimental and social themes. His ambit saw the involvement of women singers in the Piraeus school - notably the great voices of Sotiria Bellou and Marika Ninou.

The Second World War, the German occupation and Greece's subsequent Civil War (1946-49) were important in the popularity of rebetika, since the songs were seen as embodying something of the national Greek identity through the times of hardship, repression and censorship. It is no accident that classical composers such as Theodorakis used this music as a fundamental part of their creative output. As Theodorakis himself explains:

During the years of internal exile, first at Icaria and then in Makronissos, during the evening hours we sang rebetika, and the Piraeus people taught us how to dance the khasapiko and zeibekiko in the tents of the concentration camp. It was in a tent on Makronissos that my first symphony had its debut performance, with an orchestra of violins and mandolins - in the 'generals' tent', where the generals of ELAS (the Resistance Army of National Liberation) were housed. I remember someone protesting because General Serafis, instead of singing our revolutionary songs, was crazy about rebetika! On Icaria I asked my comrades to sing me rebetika songs and I wrote down the notes. I wrote, I sang and I danced. That way I collected about eighty songs. And then, when the 'Colonels' sent me into internal exile in Oropos in 1967, I attempted to harmonize rebetiko song and interpret it in a tonal mode. [... ]

In those very difficult years of 1947-49, the terrible years of the Civil War, so full of hatred and death, I believe that the urban songs - discovered by the people, sung at the front by both government soldiers and communist partisans, and sung in the prisons and the internal exile camps - had a fundamental importance for people's stability of mind. It was the element that united us.16

Recordings

No account of rebetika would be complete without a note on the recordings that are available. Here excellent work has been done on the Internet, and I would refer the reader to my Institute of Rebetology website for further references. Here, though, is a brief but useful summary, again by Lysandros Pitharas:

The richness of rebetiko history prevents any comprehensive list here. Artists to look out for in each of the various periods are as follows:

* For the oriental-style rebetika of the '30s listen to Rosa Askenazi and Rita Abatzi, the twin stars of the period. Their exquisite voices are especially known for their rendering of the Middle Eastern lament, the amané.

* For the music of the Piraeus school, look for the innumerable Vamvakaris collections now available. These driving, rasping blues songs are considered the finest of the period and are a good introduction to the now plentiful compilations that include the music of the most famous Piraeus-school musicians.

* For the '40s and '50s, look out for the music of Sotiria Bellou and of Marika Ninou, around whose life a famous film, called Rebetiko, was based. In Bellou and Ninou, the name Vassilis Tsitsanis often appears. He is considered one of the greatest composers and singers in the Twilight era, along with Papayioannou, a gangly, grinning composer famous for his lyrical melodies of great charm.

* For the revival period, buy the Giorgos Dalaras records of rebetika. Listen also to Eleftheria Arvanitaki, the best female singer among the rebetika revivalists.17

Elias Petropoulos

Elias Petropoulos was born in Athens in 1928. For many years he lived in Thessaloniki, a city he knows intimately (not least as regards the history of its Jewish community). During the Second World War and the ensuing Civil War he was a member of illegal left-wing organizations. From 1965 to 1975 he lived in Athens, where he earned his living as a journalist and writer. He then moved to Paris, where among other things he pursued Turkish studies at the École Pratique. He still lives in that city. During a lifetime of work he has published upwards of 80 books and 1,000 articles and essays. Many of the books were self-publishing ventures, sometimes in small-run art editions designed by himself. Twenty-seven of them have now been published in Greek in the Collected Works by Nefeli publishers, Athens (these are listed in my Bibliography).

Petropoulos is a terrific man of Greek letters. There is a boldness of conception in the way that he combines sociological research with biting satire, guaranteed to get up the noses of Greece's academic establishment. His avowedly anarchist temperament has led to repeated brushes with the Greek state prosecutor. In 1968, at the age of 40 and in the second year of the Fascist junta, he published his Rebetika Songs [Rebetika Traghoudhia], a very personal combination of anthology, sociological dissertation and photography, on a subject which at that time was taboo - the sub-culture of rebetiko music. This led to his first prison sentence.

The second prison term came three years later, with the publication of his Kaliarda (1971), a unique dictionary of Greek homosexual slang. The next moment of notoriety came with his publication of The Manual of the Good Thief(1979), a shocking description of conditions in Greek prisons, which Petropoulos had experienced at first hand. Apart from its factual content, the book has a biting edge of satire that appalled some and delighted many, and it remains a favourite among free-thinkers to this day.18 It was immediately banned (by this time Greece had emerged from Fascism, but the old laws still applied) and both Petropoulos, by then resident in Paris, and his publisher were sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Today it can be freely bought in any bookstore.

The range and diversity of Petropoulos' writings over the years can be judged from the Bibliography: Turkish Coffee in Greece (1979); The Brothel (1980), a study of historical and present-day brothels in Greece; Graves of Greece(1982), a remarkable illustrated essay on Greek graveyards; Holy Hashish (1987), a detailed sociology and practical handbook of hashish; Corpses, Corpses, Corpses... (1988), the author's macabre memories of the occupation of Greece and the ensuing Civil War; and The Moustache (1989), a study of the moustache in the culture of Balkan manhood.

The year 1999 has seen the publication of his illustrated History of the Condom, and a republication of his Cemeteries of Greece is in the pipeline. And rest assured, there is more to come. At the age of 72, Petropoulos is not stopping yet!

NOTES

1. Lysandros Pitharas, Music of the Outsiders, leaflet, 1988. This accompanied the documentary made for British television (Channel Four).

2. Ole L. Smith, 'New Evidence on Greek Music in the USA: [Richard] Spottswood's Ethnic Music on Record', Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, vol. 18, no. 2, 1992, pp. 97-109. For a scathing and penetrating critique of the state of rebetology studies, see Ole Smith's other major article, 'Research on Rebetika: Some Methodological Problems and Issues', Journal of Modern Hellenism, no. 6, 1989 (part reprinted in Appendix A below).

3. In November-December 1993 the Athens-based music magazine Defi published a special issue (no. 18) on the Greek diaspora in Asia Minor. It contains important research articles on the musical culture of that community. I have translated some of these articles and placed them on my Institute of Rebetology website (for details, see Appendix B below).

4. See Petropoulos' preface (pp. 13-14) to Katharine Butterworth and Sara Schneider (eds), Rembetika, Songs from the Old Greek Underworld, with essays by Markos Dragoumis, Ted Petrides and Elias Petropoulos, Komboloi, Athens, 1975.

5. Pitharas, Music of the Outsiders, op. cit.

6. By way of a side note, the complex interplay of Greek song and dance with the indigenous traditions of Asia Minor is exemplified in an extraordinary account from Xenophon's Anabasis, which I have included as Appendix C.

7. As the price for Greek participation on the side of the Entente in the First World War, the Allied Supreme Council in Paris authorized the landing of Greek troops in Smyrna. The occupation of Smyrna developed into a catastrophic war with Turkey, now under the new regime of Kemal Atatürk. The Greeks, ill-advised or imperfectly restrained by West European politicians, launched a general offensive in Anatolia in January 1921, which was defeated, and then, in July, obstinately renewed. By September they were in full retreat. In August 1922 the Turks launched a final offensive that drove the Greeks out of Anatolia in September. For Greeks this was the 'Catastrophe'.

8. Vassilis Vassilikos, 'Interview with Mikis Theodorakis', Euros, no. 5-6, Sept.-Dec. 1993; similar ground is covered in the George Giannaris biography, Mikis Theodorakis: Music and Social Change, Allen & Unwin, London, 1973.

9. Costas Ferris, CD-Rom Encyclopaedia of Rebetika, in preparation.

10. Suzanne Aulin and Peter Vejleskov, Chasikilidhika Traghoudhia, Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, 1991; Grèce: La tradition du Rébétiko. Chansons des fumeries et des prisons, performed by the Rebetiko Tsardi group, Ocora 558648 (1985/9).

11. Giorgos Dalaras has produced a wonderful record of rebetika songs of the Occupation period, with sleeve notes containing illustrated source materials. Giorgos Dalaras, ÑåìðÝôéêá ôçò Êáôï¸Þò [Rebetika of the Occupation], Minos DAL-MSM 391 (1980).

12. Cited in the special issue of Defi magazine, vol. 18, Nov.-Dec. 1993, devoted to an overview of the music of Asia Minor.

13. The dais (pl. daides) was the 'tough guy', usually armed and a sort of hero of the underworld. There were three 'classes', or categories: 1. The 'real, wise dais': usually a quiet, not-so-young man who had done time in prison (the crime would have been a serious offence, but one respected by all the outlaws as a 'crime of honour'). This man had now been accepted back into society and would have some independent job such as working as a bodyguard, keeping a coffee-shop, managing workers in the port, etc. He was very fair in his dealings with his clients, whether friends or strangers, and would not harm anybody - unless he was morally offended or insulted, in which case he could kill. He was also very loyal and ready to protect the people he loved and admired (i.e. singers or musicians). He had a very strong sense of justice. 2. The 'second-class dais': usually a common criminal who was constantly in and out of prison. He liked to act as a 'tough guy', trying to provoke someone into giving him a reason to kill. 3. The 'pseudo-dais', or koutsavakis: a young outsider who imitated the real daides by walking lamely (koutsos means lame), dressing like a mangas and wearing only one sleeve of his jacket. He was incapable of handling a real fight and played the 'tough guy' only in his dealings with the weak and the very young. [I am indebted to Costas Ferris for this information.]

14. S. Broughton et al. (eds), The Rough Guide to World Music (London, 1994), which has an excellent section on Greek music.

15. For further information on dhromi, see my Institute of Rebetology website.

16. Vassilikos, 'Interview with Theodorakis', op. cit.

17. The biggest stockist of rebetika, and indeed all Greek music, in the UK is the Trehantiri record shop, which has a website and does mail-order worldwide. Address: Trehantiri, 365-367 Green Lanes, London N4 1DY. Tel/fax: 020-8802.6530. E-mail: trehantiri@greekmus.demon.co.uk.

Zeno's Greek bookshop has a stock of books on rebetika and orders titles from Greece. It also has a website. Address: Zeno Booksellers, 6 Denmark Street, London WC2H.8LP. Tel: 020-7240.1968. Fax: 020-7836.2522. E-mail: zenobooksellers@aol.com.

18. The Manual of the Good Thief , Digamma, Athens, 1979; reprinted Nefeli, Athens, 1979. Here Petropoulos endearingly describes Greece (thinly disguised as 'Antiqua') in terms guaranteed to offend: 'the national drink of its inhabitants is Turkish coffee... '; 'the national food is a Turkish dish, imam-bayildi... '; 'and all queers who are not priests are regarded as criminals'. As he says elsewhere, 'I have been amnestied for this and that, but not for my crimes against the Church. I am under sentence from the law that protects the Church. For blasphemy. I write that all bishops are poustis [queers]. I use terrible insults against the Church... '.

* This article is reprinted from Rebetika: Songs of the Greek Underworld, Saqi Books, 26 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 5RH. Tel: 0207 221 9347. Price £12.95 pb.

An Introduction to Greek Rembetika


Fifty or so years ago, in a small, rather shabby cafe in the Greek city of Piraeus, you could have witnessed some of the many varied moods of rembetika. They were usually moods of despair, lost love, imprisonment, dispelled briefly by the smoking of hashish and perhaps permanently by meeting with Kharos (the ferryman - death). But there was always the music to revive a tortured soul. A music that was centuries old, but was as fresh as the sea air. A music that compelled you to sing and dance and which could ease for a while the kaimos (despair, blues) that was eating into your heart.

Imagine a lone figure sitting in this cafe. He is a manga, a creature of the underworld. His mode of dress is instantly recognisable - kind of gangsterish look, with a heavy knife stuck through the belt, the jacket slung over one shoulder, a fedora hat, a cigarette hanging from the mouth, and all the time the kombolo (worry beads) twirling incessantly in one hand. His eyes are rivetted on the corner of the room where a small group of musicians are tuning their instruments, a bouzouki, a guitar and a baglamas (a small bouzouki). Finally satisfied with the process, slowly the bouzouki player begins a series of notes that lead to a particular key. When he has found the thromos (road) his companions provide the accompaniment, a heavy zeibekiko rhythm. Slowly the manga begins to snap his fingers, then rises and begins to dance, bending and weaving his body. His eyes are closed and he seems to be in a trance. When the music stops he returns silently to his seat. As a dancer he was very good, yet no-one applauds. He has been released. He has danced for himself alone. To applaud would have been an insult.

Origins

The origins of rembetika can be traced to the middle of the last century. The agrarian economy of the country gradually began to change after the War of Independence in 1921 into a more concentrated urban development. After 400 years of Turkish rule the cities and ports underwent an industrialisation programme, increasing their size and population. As the lower classes, in the face of this changing situation, turned inwards for support and strength, a sub-culture - the Rembetes - became separated from normal society, which they eventually came to mistrust and despise. The Rembetes became definable as a people who were anti-establishment and who defied the traditional behaviour pattern. They would scorn work, refuse to marry, hate the police and would consider going to jail a point of honour. This, in a society where marriages were often arranged and men regarded work honestly, looked after their families and respected law and order, was a complete reversal of the status quo.

During this urban development the Rembetes (or manges) were establishing control of all the various underworld activities. In their favourite hang-outs in Piraeus, Athens and Salonika, they ran the lucrative hashish markets, brothels and gambling houses and organised the smuggling and distribution of stolen goods. Even to a casual observer, it would not have been difficult to recognise a manga. His mode of dress was quite startling - almost a modern equivalent of the Regency beau: a dark, tight suit, collarless purple shirt, narrow pointed shoes (with high heels), a fedora hat, and a heavy sash around the waist. The latter served as a repository for money, tobacco (or hash), a knife, or a revolver. Anyone who stepped on this sash was in trouble! Persecution by the police was intense, and consequently the songs that were composed whilst in jail form an important part of the rembetika chemistry. These songs are rich in information about the trials and tortures of the Rembetic way of life. They have their own argot, which even to this day would produce a frown on any middle-class Greek face.

In 1922, following the failure of Greek territorial exploits in Turkey, there began a mass exodus of refugees from Asia Minor to the Greek mainland culminating in the burning of the port of Smyrna by Turkish troops. This displacement of one million people, Greek in name but entirely Turkish in existence, had a dramatic effect on Greece both economic and cultural.

The dominant Turkish mode of singing and music, known in Greece as the Smyrnaic style quickly established itself on the Greek mainland and, combined withintroduction of a whole range of new instruments, had a direct influence on mainstream Greek music that lasted until the early Thirties. Over the next two decades however composers such as Vamvakaris, Papaioannou and, the greatest of them all, Vassilis Tsitsanis, were to emerge and to shape forever the styles of singing (usually two- or three-paharmony) and accompaniment (bouzouki, baglamas and guitar) that characterise Greek music to this day.

Although some of the song content would inevitably have been censored and the length of performance curtailed, gramophone recordings from the earliest years of this century have fortunately captured these separate musical traditions and above all the emotion of the music.

The Music

In rembetika, about a dozen different keys are used and these are usually decided upon by the makam, a long, wandering series of notes, the final result of which is known as a road. Some of the 'roads' correspond to Western scales of the minor variety but mostly the use of minor 7ths and 3rds and augmented intervals make them quite different.

The human voice, being the first musical instrument, would tend to lead the direction of the instrumentation, and this was certainly the situation in 'the cradle of rembetika', the Cafés Aman. Originally Turkish (Mani Kahuesi), these were the places where the manges would hang out, smoking their hash and singing and playing their music. The songs would almost always be improvised and in order to find the time for spontaneous composition the phrase Aman Aman would be used, held over a long series of notes.

The zeibekiko originated with the Turkish Zeybek tribe and was introduced into Greece at the time of the Smyrna incident.

It quickly became the favourite of the Rembetes who preferred it for its highly individual style of performance. The dancer is allowed great latitude, for as well as being a serious, introverted dance, humour can be introduced by various feats of showmanship (standing on bottles, lifting tables, chairs, etc). Most zeibekiko dances commence with a taxim - a long series of wandering notes eventually settling down into a mode - thus creating an atmosphere and setting the mood.

The hasapiko, or Butcher's Dance, has a 2/4 or 4/4 time and is performed by two or three dancers. An atmosphere of camaraderie is created with arms linked around shoulders and a set pattern of steps changed or created with each performance. In modern times a watered-down version, known as the sytaki, has become the favourite of tourists, dancing en masse in their hotels and tavernas.

The karsilama is a variant of the zeibekiko with a 9/8 rhythm, and is a couples dance, its name coming from the Turkish karsi (i.e. opposite) and lamar (i.e. to do).

The tsiphte-teli is basically a belly dance with a 4/4 rhythm. It was not popular with male Rembetes but a favourite with female singers and dancers.

Instruments

To a large extent the film Never on Sunday gave the outside world its first taste of the bouzouki. However the history of the instrument in its current form can be traced back to the early 1800s. It derives from the Turkish sazfamily of instruments and was originally equipped with gut or brass-wire frets and simple wooden tuning pegs. The name derives from the Turkish buzuk (i.e. damaged or broken).

The older form of the bouzouki used in Rembetika had six strings tuned in pairs. Although capable of many different tunings the most common were D-A-D, G-A-D or an open tuning A-E-A. These tunings, or douzenia, varied according to locality and musician but generally the third or thickest strings were a split octave. For sounding the notes the fingernail was originally used but but later a simple pick or plectrum was employed. Because of the nature of the tuning the melody would be played on the first string with the others used as drones. This differs from modern bouzouki music which uses eight strings, tuned in pairs, and tuned to the first four strings of the guitar but a tone down - C-F-A-D. This enables the musician to play rapid passages more easily and, of course, to change key without retuning.

The baglamas is a smaller version of the bouzouki. Due to its size it was an ideal instrument to play when in jail as it could be easily concealed. On many recordings you will hear it as a light tinkling on the off-beat behind the guitar and bouzouki.

Other instruments employed by Rembetes (in addition to universal ones such as the banjo, guitar and violin) include the oud and the tomboul (a multi-string guitar). The kanoni (or kanonaki) - a zither-like instrument - and the sandouri - a member of the dulcimer family - were also popular, while accordions and clarinets featured from time to time.

Songs

The great rembetika singer Sotiria Bellou sings a song H Koinonia (Damn Society) on Rembetika Songs (Lyra 3248). This superb recording made in the mid-Sixties is for me a total expression of the opinions and attitudes of the Rembetes.

Damn Society

Society persecutes me,
It has wronged me, truly
And my body does not cease, for one moment
To suffer and be tormented.

chorus:
I felt what society is
I felt the cruelty in the world.

What I have loved, I have lost
I've not seen any joy in the world.
Society has deprived me
Of whatever I deserved in life.
From the world's injustices
That pursue me constantly
In my embittered life
I will always be tormented.

Protest songs take many forms and this one is straightforward in its message from the underdog. However, to fully appreciate many of the songs of the Rembetes, a closer look must be taken at the hopes, fears and taboos of the society in which they had to exist.

The themes of most of the songs, whether Smyrna or Athens style, were emigration, hashish, prison, women, sorrow and despair, while death, mothers and lost youth featured prominently.

The mother fixation is very strong and the despairing cry Mana (mother) or Mana-moo (little mother) can be heard on many recordings. If the mother was adored, then the mother-in-law was not, generally being regarded as cruel and scheming. In one song from the Thirties an account of an actual murder case cites the mother-in-law as the organiser of the crime.

If the role of the wife of a manga followed the traditional pattern, his girl friends were generally more liberated. Many would have been prostitutes or factory workers - or gypsies whose love of hashish and devil-may-care attitude made them very popular.

Crazy Gypsy

Crazy gypsy, where are you going,
All in the night , where to ?
Your leaving is sorrow
In my heart forever.
Where are you going alone and so fast,
Like a passing stranger?
Take me with you to a faraway place,
I'll come with you forever.
Crazy gypsy, where are you going?
All alone, you abandon me.
Let's go, gypsy, before the dawn,
I'll come with you whatever happens.

Recorded by Tsitsanis-1948.

The years of suffering endured by the Greeks in the Second World War inspired a great many songs. The partisan army (EAM-ELAS) seemed to hold the country together while under Italian, German and finally British and American occupation. Coupled with the Civil War (between Left and Right, culminating in Communist witch-hunts) the conditions were, to say the least, harsh. But life goes on during such times and this was certainly true with the Rembetic underworld. There was always the chance of making money by stealing jerry-cans of petrol from German trucks, and the cafes and restaurants provided work for singers and musicians as usual.

One of the most famous of all Rembetika songs was written during the War years. Cloudy Sunday, by Tsitsanis, is one song I think every Greek to this day seems to know. The song was written to commemorate the death of a Greek girl killed by the Germans.

Cloudy Sunday

Cloudy Sunday, you look like my heart
Which is always cloudy, Christ and the virgin.
You're a day like the one I lost my joy.
Cloudy Sunday, you make my heart bleed.
When I see you rainy, I can't find a moment's peace,.
You make my life black and I sigh deeply.

Violent death was forever a real possibility to the Rembetic while drug and drink addiction took its toll. Furthermore tuberculosis was prevalent until the middle of this century and was regarded stigmatically by many Greeks, as cancer is today, and deaths were often hushed-up by the families of the deceased.

The Bed of Pain

In this bed of pain
I've tossed years without a cure;
Before me I see my death,
When we're young it makes us ghosts.
My chest hurts, sweet Mom,
I feel like my body's tearing apart.
The leaves are falling, the bell's tolling,
Night's blowing in, black and dreary.
Tell me, sweet Mom, what punishment
Tyrannises me without pity ?
Maybe it's because of your own sins
That even Kharos shows me no pity.
In this bed of pain
I beg Kharos to come
And deliver me, sweet Mom,
From this hidden martyrdom.

Recorded by Tsitsanis -1949.

The hashish trade formed one of the most lucrative sources of income in the Greek underworld. The progression from 'soft' to 'hard' drug addiction was the same then as today and is chronicled by Kostis on From the Time I Began, first recorded in 1910 :

From the Time I Began

From the time I began to snort smack
The world turned away, I don't know what to do.
The junk I sniffed started me on the needle
And slowly my body began to waste.
Nothing in the world was left for me to do
After smack drove me out on the streets to die.

However, to escape a violent death or beating at the hands of a fellow manga or in police custody, there was always emigration. This was regarded as the worst of all fates, a living death. In fact nearly all the songs on this theme had some reference to H Mayph Eenitia (a black foreign land). Life in a new country was tolerated for the sole purpose of sending money home, and the day of return to the motherland was eagerly awaited.

This Alien Life

This alien life's making me old and eating me alive,
I can't stand it, Mom, my body's wearing out.
This alien life holds misery, it holds a lot of bitterness,
It takes kids from life and wastes their poor bodies.
I'm leaving, Mom, I can't take it : I'm returning to you
Mom, and getting out of the misery of this alien life.
But I met a woman here in this foreign land,
I'm bringing her, Mom: all three of us will live together.

John Harrison