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08 Greek Popular Music


This article is from the Greece FAQ, by Nikolaos (Nick) C. Fotis, nfotis@theseas.ntua.gr with numerous contributions by others.

08 Greek Popular Music

[This is from an article originally posted to soc.culture.greek by
Jon Corelis.]

Greece has an exceptionally rich and varied musical tradition, so
that it's difficult to know where to start. But the most popular Greek
music, both in the country and with foreigners, is probably music of the
two types called "rebetika" and "laika."

Rebetika music has sometimes been called the Greek blues, and
although musically it's not like the blues at all, the comparison is an
apt one in that like the blues, rebetika music grew out of a specific
urban subculture and was associated with a certain type of life-style,
in which poverty, oppression, sex, alcohol, drugs, and violence played
prominent roles. Rebetika music basically grew out of the culture of
the Greek refugees from Asia Minor in the early 1920's. These people
were settled in Athens and other areas and continued to live for the
most part in their own communities, usually under conditions of great
hardship. They created through the fusion of the Anatolian musical
modes they brought with them with native mainland Greek musical
traditions a unique new type of music called rebetika (no one really
knows where the name came from) which reflected both the rough,
oppressed condition of their lives and the resilience, toughness, and
good humor which enabled them to survive.

Rebetika is also similar to the blues in the development of its
social position. In the twenties and thirties it was popular with the
urban poor who created it, later it became scorned as "low-class" music,
and then in the sixties it experienced a revival, becoming immensely
popular among young people, some of whom formed their own rebetika bands
to revive the music of the great rebetika artists of the past.

Giving a discography for Greek music is always a bit difficult, since
records tend to rapidly go in and out of print. But I'll give the names
of a few popular records which are probably still available. Perhaps
the best place to start is with the soundtrack album from the film
"Rebetiko," issued in Greece by CBS records. This film, which told the
life story of a typical rebetika singer, included numerous musical
numbers, some of which were old rebetika songs, others of which were
especially written for the film in rebetika style. Rebetiko is one of
the very best Greek records ever, and remains immensely popular in

For the real thing -- collections of rebetika taken from the original
recordings of the 1920-1950 period -- an excellent series is the six
volume Rebetiki Istoria, issued in Greece by EMI. If you can find all
six of these, you'll have about the best introduction to rebetika you
could hope for. A very interesting record issued in the U.S. is
Greek-Oriental Smyrnaic-Rebetic Songs and Dances (Arhoolie/Folkloric
9033,) which concentrates on the early rebetika style which still
retained much of its Eastern flavor.

As for other records, it's probably better to give the names of some
of the better artists rather than listing individual records that may
no longer be in print. So look for the names Toundas, Tsitsanis, Markos
Vamvakaris, Rosa Eskanazi, Sotiria Bellou, Papaiouannou, and Rita

Fortunately for us English speakers, there exists a very good book in
English on rebetika: Road to Rebetika by Gail Holst (Third ed., 1983,
Athens, Harvey.) This book is sometimes found in university libraries
in the U.S., and can probably be obtained by your local library via
interlibrary loan service. You could also try writing the publisher at
Denise Harvey & Company, Lambrou Fotiadis 6, Mets, Athens 407, Greece,
and see if you get a response. It may be a bit of trouble to track this
book down, but it's absolutely worth it if you want to investigate this
type of music.

The other type of music is a looser category sometimes called
"laika," which basically means just "popular music." This is the music
"everyone" listens to -- sort of like rock music in the U.S. And like
rock it includes music of many different subtypes. Again, it will
probably be better to give names rather than individual recordings.
One of the best, and probably the most popular, of the artists in this
field is George Dalaras, who has worked in a wide range of genres --
recently he has branched out to include Spanish music in his
repertoire. Another good artist, who has often worked with Dalaras, is
Haris Alexiou. These two are perhaps the best introduction to laika
music at its best. A singer with a smaller but devoted following is
Arleta (she goes by her first name only,) who tends to do relaxed but
often very beautiful folk-type songs, with minimal acoustic
accompaniment. The composers Hadjidakis and Theoradakis have
innumerable records and have to some extent become popular outside of

Perhaps I should also note that there is a certain amount of overlap
between rebetika and laika: Dalaras has recorded several rebetika
albums, Alexiou usually includes some rebetika songs on her records, and
Hadjidakis frequently uses rebetika songs as the basis for his
orchestral arrangements.

A final note for anyone who plans a trip to Greece: the best place
I've found to buy Greek music is the record shop Pop 11, at Pindarou 38
(corner of Tsakalof) in the Kolonaki section of Athens. They have a
huge selection, the staff are knowledgable and speak English, and they
take credit cards. The staff will also be able to advise you on places
to hear rebetica and other Greek music in Athens.


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