Rebetico (ρεμπέτικο) is one of the most original and specific modern musical expressions in Greece. He arrived in mainland Greece in 1922, after the Greco-Turkish war, by expelling Greeks from Anatolia. Then, in 1923, the peace treaty in Lausanne provided for a large exchange of population between the two warring countries. One and a half million Greeks left Asia Minor before the Turkish terror. They arrived by boat, first in Piraeus, near Athens, and then some left, looking for happiness in other cities. Those “mikrasiati” (Asia Minor) or “turkosporosi” (Turkish seed), who settled in Piraeus and its surroundings, in addition to some personal belongings that they managed to save, brought with them their culture, and most of all their music, a mixture of Greek and Anatolian melodies and rhythms – rebetiko (“rugbet”, a Turkish word meaning passionate desire).
Many called rebetiko Greek blues, because just like black blues in America, it talks about love, suffering, freedom, courage, friendship, prison, alcohol, narcotics, death, loneliness, exile … The musician, rebetis, was a marginal on the fringes of society, a rebel of the anarchist spirit, but disinterested in politics. Rebetis was often a mangas (mangisa in the female genus), a little mangup, occasionally involved in petty crime, smuggling and drugs. However, rebetis and mangas would not have been remembered if it were not for the music with which they perpetuated their suffering and maladaptation.
Rosa Eskenazi, a Jew of Greek culture from Constantinople (romaniot), is remembered as the greatest diva rebetika (https://www.youtube.com/watć?v=SxorrNyfJ8o)
The great catastrophe – the expulsion of the Greeks from Asia Minor
Until World War II, rebetiko was played and sung in special taverns called also ili world, where he smoked hashish and drank alcohol with music. Miles of diabetes was closed to all other segments of society, and it was very difficult to study it. We met him, thanks to Ilijas Petropoulos (1928-2003), urban anthropologist and ethnographer, a writer whose books spoke about people from the bottom – diabetics, drug addicts, atheists, anarchists, homosexuals, criminals, prostitutes, erotomaniacs, pornographers … Born provocateur , but also a speleologist of the society, Petropoulos caused scandals with his books and drew attention to those that most Greeks did not want to see.
In his youth, Ilijas Petropoulos met Vasilis Cicanis, the most important post-war figure of a child, and very quickly became a lover of this type of music. Thus, he collected and published more than one thousand and five hundred songs by children, and at the same time he wrote analytical texts related to this musical genre.
Petropoulos believes that there are three important periods for rebetiko. The first period began in 1922, with the expulsion of the Greeks from Anatolia, and then in 1923, with a large exchange of population between Turkey and Greece. The refugees from Asia Minor settled in the larger cities of continental Greece and, in addition to their customs, brought their own music.
In Piraeus, refugees met Greeks who left the islands and headed to the continent in search of a better life. The meeting of two social and economic disasters, oriental and rural, transformed rebetiko, musically and socially. During that period, Rebetiko sang about love, rebellion, narcotics, prison, everyday life and the misfortune of people who lived on the margins. However, rebets, mangas and theirs also in which hashish was smoked, were not well seen in Athenian bourgeois circles aspiring to Europeanization. The rebetiko at that time was strongly influenced by the Smyrna tradition, and the most important representatives were Rosa Eskenazi, Rita Abaci and Panayotis Tundas.
Rebetiko, a film by Kosta Feris (1983), awarded the Golden Bear in Berlin, is based in part on the life of Marika Nina, the tragic diva of Rebetiko (https://www.youtube.com/watć?v=88tOA2niCWI)
Two styles: smirnéiko and pyreotiko
The second period begins in 1932, when, in addition to live music in taverns, the first recorded records appear (Marcos Vamvakaris). The original style, Asia Minor or Smyrna (“smirnéiko”), which was a mixture of Asia Minor musical tradition, was played on very different instruments (violin, limb, santuri, canoniki …), while virtuoso musicians were accompanied by voices in high registers.
The new style, Piraeus (“pyreotico”), was played on only three instruments – bouzouki, baglama and guitar. Musicians were not always professional or technically well-groomed, while the voices moved to lower registers. Buzuki, a mandolin-like instrument with a lute tonality, will take a dominant place in the performance of rebets and Greek popular music in general over the next decades. New generations of musicians will give birth to virtuosos, and bouzouki will gain planetary fame thanks to the great Greek composers Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis who gave him a place not only in “artistic” songs (“edehna”), but also in symphony orchestras.
At the beginning of that second period, called the classic, in 1932, Eleftherios Venizelos lost the parliamentary elections, which enabled the royalists to seize power by coup. King Georgios II was brought to the throne, and he appointed former General Ioannis Metaxas as the head of the government. Inspired by Mussolini, Metaxas introduced a dictatorship by reducing civil liberties in Greece.
Rebetico was the first victim of the dictatorship. Everything that was considered immoral and Eastern in Rebetika was forbidden. Many musicians left Athens and Piraeus and went north, to Epirus, or to the islands. Nevertheless, rebetiko survived, despite the bans, but the German occupation in 1941 stopped all kinds of artistic activities in Greece.
During the 1950s, Cicanis (sitting first on the right) reformed the rebets and led them to more popular forms without social rebellion (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GI2N-35mHA&list=PLsHt_TfzhBH2kmUEhmpO-Yuhgy09vlaFU&index=23)
The third period of rebetika covers the next ten years in which, immediately after the war, Vasilis Cicanis appears on the scene. After studying in Athens, Cicanis, before the war, moved to Thessaloniki, where he lived until 1946, and composed a good part of the rebets that would make him famous a little later. Cicanis realized that rebetiko could not gain status until it was accepted by the cultural elite of Greece.
In the early 1950s, Vassilis Cicanis performed rebetiko from the poor taverns of Piraeus and Nea Smyrni, and began playing and singing it in better Athenian taverns. Uzo, hashish, rebellion and the apology of life on the margins disappeared from the texts, and love remained, the pain of unrequited love and abandonment, what the old rebets called “sevdas” (sevdah, love ecstasy and longing).
So rebetiko moved towards a new form laikò music. At the same time, the buziki became electrified and real virtuosos (Manolis Hiotis) appeared who brought a new aesthetic to rebetiko. Also, a new generation of singers appeared (Sotiria Belu, Marika Nina), and, according to most experts, rebetiko, at that time, switched to popular melodies (lay tragically).
However, the rebetiko did not lose its original magic, as the French writer, Hellenist and translator Jacques Lacquier testified in his book “Greek Summer”. He recalls his first travels in Greece, in the early 1950s, and writes:
“For me, rebetiko is, above all, an atmosphere as much as a song, expressive and quiet faces as much as dance and shouts, mixed with the smells of recina and uz, fresh sawdust under the tables and cold cigarette butts.”
In addition to the development in Greece, Petropoulos believes that the Greek diaspora in America is also important for the history of children. Between the two world wars, various American record companies recorded rebetiko. It could be said that, in fact, the first records of rebets were recorded in America, and not in Greece.
Martha Frinzila, Greek theater director and singer, sings the famous rebetiko song “Ouzo hasis”
In today’s Greece, rebetiko is respected as an important part of history and is still played. Unlike taverns and restaurants called “buzukia” where newly composed music is played layman, a Greek turbo-folk called i skiladic (“skilos” in Greek means dog) and everything is spent in abundance, especially money – in taverns called “rebetadika” the atmosphere is different. Instead of large orchestras equipped with electric instruments, rebets play bouzouki, baglama, accordion, bass and, occasionally, drums and piano.
The great composer, Manos Hadjidakis, said that rebetiko is one of the most vivid and precious sources of modern Greek music. His assessment was too modest, since UNESCO recognized the exceptional importance of children outside Greece, and in 2017, it included it in the intangible heritage of humanity.
Rebetiko, a comic book by the French author David Pridom (published by Komiko, Novi Sad), speaks very poetically about rebets and mangas in the late 1930s, during the dictatorship of Metaxas
Today, in Greece, the tradition of rebets is still nurtured, and new generations, in addition to authentic rebets, make very beautiful stylizations, indicating that the spirit of rebets is still alive. Love, suffering, freedom, courage, friendship, imprisonment, alcohol, death, loneliness, exile – topics dear to the original children still represent everyday life to many people around the world.
“Mother, when you brought me into this world
Why did you hide it from me
That life is made up of troubles,
Made up of trouble and misery?
It was more valuable to me that I was never born
Because that way I would avoid trouble and suffering. “
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