Smyrneika & Rebetika

Smyrneika was the Greek cabaret tradition from Smyrna (Izmir), songs born in the Anatolian tavern, or cafe-aman. Intricate melodies and popular sing-along refrains (often reflecting the musical influence of Smyrna's Turkish, Armenian, and Jewish populations), were set to sensual dance rhythms (tsiftetelli, karsilama), and played on the santouri, outi, violi, clarino, doumbeleki, and zilia. The colorful lyrics centered around love (usually unrequited but hopeful), nostalgia (for the lost homeland), and the celebration of life through music and dance. These songs required a combination of superb vocal skills and a flair for entertaining on the part of singers - Antonis Dalgas, Roza Eskenazi, Rita Abadzi, Marika Kanaropoulou, and others - whose virtuosity and artistry still shine through the hiss of surviving 78s. * Kefi is an ebullient mood, an intense state of mind, considered essential for making music.The irrepressible kefi of the Asia Minor refugees resulted in a rich musical legacy, a testament to the indestructible Greek spirit. As Roza Eskinazi wrote: "We sang for the world. Our songs had a genuine, true feeling, full of joy, verve, and artistry."

My Dimitroula, tonight I want to get drunk,
And have a party with you, my spirited one.
Let's go to Rafina, woman of the world,
Where there's fish and retsina, my playful one.

I'll bring you a latern
a [barrel organ],
You make the kefi* and buy the drinks.
Your teasing ways - leave it!
With your hips - break it!
And I'll pay for all that's broken.

Tavern-keeper, bring us some kokinelli,
My love is dancing the karsilama.
Shake your little body for me,
Strike your little heel.

My Dimitroula, good health to you!
Take it all for yourself!

(From Dimitroula, recorded by Roza Eskinazi, ca.1934)

Semsis, Tomboulis and Roza Eskenazi, 1930
Dimitris Semsis, Agapios Tomboulis,
and Roza Eskenazi, 1930

Rebetika was the heavier "blues" style which developed when Anatolian refugees, finding themselves unwelcome and assimilation difficult, combined musical forces with Athens' lower class. Initially there was much cross-pollination with the Smyrneic genre, but these songs reflected the harsher realities of lives spent forgetting misfortunes through drinking, gambling, womanizing, and smoking hashish. Smyrneic instrumentalists and vocalists joined with, but soon gave way to, the bouzouki, baglama, guitar, and a blunter style of singing. At first shunned by the Athenian bourgeoisie, this music eventually achieved popularity and respect.
My Dervisaki [hashish smoker],
won't you stop smoking the dalmira.
Again you want to get stoned,
and take it out on me.

Aman, my dervish,
again you break dalga
[escape your blues],
Aman, my dervish,
don't smoke the black stuff!

(From Dervisaki, recorded by Andonis Diamandides, 1931)
Rebetes from 1935
Four rebetes: Stratos Payioumidzis,
Markos Vamvakaris,
Batis, and Anestos Dhelias, ca. 1935