MUSIC THAT FELL INTO OBLIVION
by Bülent Aksoy [
I was a participant in the conference on rebetika organised in
1998 by the Conservatory of Athens University and
Now I would like to focus on another aspect, complementing what I wrote in that paper: namely the specific category of songs which were performed by Greek musicians but using Turkish lyrics. However to sketch the general picture I shall first refer to some of the points raised in my 1998 paper.
In the existing literature on rebetika it is not easy to
discern precise differences
between related genres such as smyrneika (
Incidentally, I also have an objection to the term
"Smyrneika". Greek writers and music editors make a distinction
between the Smyrneika style and the
It is not possible to give an exact birthdate for this
music. However what we can say is that that it existed for between five to
eight decades. Rebetika ceased to produce new songs in the mid 1950s, and began
to decline. In the late 1960s and during the 1970s and 1980s there was a
revival which brought new Greek singers and musical groups onto the popular music
stages of Greece, sometimes reintroducing the old rebetika melodies. This
created an interest in old or authentic performances, which resulted in an
archiving activity, transferring old 78 rpm records to LPs and CDs. The period
post-1970 also saw a growing activity of research on rebetika. Several books
and articles have been published in
The most authentic sources of rebetiko are, of course, the
78 rpm records. These records were made first in
As we know, rebetiko borrowed many elements from Ottoman music: the makams, rhythmic patterns, compositional forms, musical terms, and musical instruments. The bouzouki, which seems to have been inspired by the bozuk (an Anatolian folk musical instrument, member of the baglama family) is the chief musical element in rebetiko. The bouzouki was devised to be used in the urban Greek popular music that developed at the start of the twentieth century.
The presence of all these musical elements is evident in the
rebetiko recordings. However, what is more (or most) interesting is the fact
that rebetiko also borrowed melodies from Ottoman music, i.e. from the central
Ottoman music. As a matter of fact, borrowing – of melodies – is an aspect of
the Ottoman musical environment, and it is not peculiar solely to rebetika. As
we know, Ottoman society was a multi-national society in which the cultures of
various ethnic and religious communities existed side by side. Each community
preserved its religious music in its place of worship, and its folk music
within its customs and mores. The music of various ethnic or religious
communities formed the peripheral musical culture of the Empire,
while the music of the Ottoman élite constituted the central culture (urban
light music was a branch of the classical tradition). The Ottoman central music
was cherished not only by Muslim musicians but also by non-Muslims: Greek,
Armenian, Jewish and other communities. The interesting point was that a great
number of non-Muslim musicians were active both in their own religious milieux
– in church, in the synagogue, etc. – contributing to their local or folk
music, and also in the sphere of the central music. This peculiarity led to
musical exchanges and borrowings. A very typical example of this process is
observed in Jewish liturgical music: Jewish cantors singing in
A similar process of borrowing is observed in the case of
rebetiko. Since the rebetiko "community" was interested in urban
light Ottoman music, Ottoman-Greek musicians borrowed only popular and folk
songs and adapted them to the music of the rebetiko world. This required a
re-arranging of the borrowed material, the most prominent aspect of which was
the creation of different song-texts that would appeal to the rebetika men and
women. The Greek musicians sometimes borrowed more serious songs but
popularised and converted them to lighter forms. The difference between the
Jewish musicians and rebetiko musicians is that the former re-arranged the
secular pieces in a manner to be used in liturgical music, whereas the latter
re-arranged the already popular pieces for even lighter performance. This
re-shaping is a characteristic aspect of Ottoman music. Of course, the
Turco-Greek war of 1918-22 and the ensuing population exchange, and the
inevitable nostalgia it caused for the "lost homelands", accelerated
the ongoing borrowing process. Yet even if that tragedy had not happened, borrowing
would have continued to exist in the
On the other hand, the same process of borrowing-lending is also observed in Anatolian rural folk songs. We find rural folk melodies that are still popular both in Turkish and Armenian folk music with different (Turkish or Armenian) lyrics, some of which cannot easily be attributed to either of the two communities.
What kind of songs were borrowed and how they were used within the rebetiko / Greek tradition can be defined by developing a series of categories. Some of these melodies basically remain unchanged on the 78 rpm records, and the Greek singers performed these songs in a style much the same as that of Turkish music. Yet, others, curiously enough, have been used in quite a varied manner, both with regard to the melodies per se and their lyrics, and this process we can call "musical adaptation". This re-shaping seems to have served the immediate expectations of the rebetiko public, alongside the formal or musical needs of the rebetiko genre. Having listened to about 50 rebetiko CDs and a great number of 78 rpm records, I have established 12 categories indicating the sources of the borrowed melodies. Each category includes melodies belonging to the same genre. However, a second category which distinguishes the melodies in terms of their lyrics is necessary. The latter category proposes to study the melody, isolated from the lyrics, to be able to see the nature of the music in question.
The following are my 12 categories:
4. “Kantos”, in other words Ottoman pop (night club entertainment) songs. This was a new genre born in the late Ottoman period, in the nineteenth century.
5. Folk songs from
various regions of
6. War songs.
8. Instrumental zeybeks.
9. “Aranagmeleri”, or instrumental interludes between songs.
10. Gazels / amanes / vocal improvisations sung with Greek words.
11. Gazels or /and / amanes sung with Turkish words.
12. Popular classical or semi-classic songs, or other songs incorporated into the classical repertoire of Ottoman music.
However detailed this classification may be, it is still not sufficient to indicate the nature of the borrowings. For the Ottoman impact on rebetika one can find more complex examples. In some songs one observes a process of amalgamation, or simply a mixture, which begins with the "aranagmesi" (instrumental section) of a particular song, borrows the first line of a different vocal melody but creates an original or original-looking refrain. In others the rebetiko musician borrows the basic theme of a certain song but develops it with his own variations. One can also distinguish a further category in which the main theme seems very familiar to Turkish ears and is reminiscient of a well-known Ottoman melody yet a closer examination may show that the two songs are not identical.
For a typical example, compare the following melodies: (a) Roza Eskenazi, "Tserkesian Woman", in "Armenians, Jews, Turks and Gypsies in Old Recordings", ed. Petros Tabouris, The Greek Phonograph, The Greek Archives 634, FM Records, Athens, 5201364706347, vol. 8, song no. 16; and (b) an Istanbul folk song ("Suya iner tavsanlar / Yine oldu aksamlar") in makam saba. The two melodies are not identical note for note but show great similarities.
It is important for music lovers who are interested in the history of rebetika to identify such songs and compare their Turkish and Greek versions. (I prepared three cassettes juxtaposing various rebetika songs or "loan-songs" and their Turkish versions, and presented them to the organising committee of the conference in 1998.) A more extensive study would be likely to bring out many other loan-songs. Original rebetiko melodies – in other words melodies created by Greek musicians designed for the rebetiko world – must be separated from the borrowed songs.
In the above categories, Ottoman-Turkish songs performed
using Greek lyrics, and instrumental pieces performed as vocal compositions
with Greek lyrics, are the most common. We should not be misled by tunes sung
to Greek words. Whatever the language is, the melody itself should be
considered. Most particularly the rural folk songs with Greek words should be
dealt with particularly carefully by folk music researchers. At least some of
such pieces may have been the Greek versions of older melodies belonging to a
particular region in
It should be noted that many of the leading Greek musicians
included in the rebetiko genre were brought up and received their musical
My interest in the present paper is the songs performed by Greek musicans with Turkish words. Although categories 1, 3, and 11 in the above list include pieces performed by Greek musicians with Turkish lyrics, the pieces that fall into this category were not the main point of my 1998 paper, and hence remained unexamined.
Now, let me introduce this music, the conditions in which it was produced and the identity of its musicians.
Most of these records were made in the
On the other hand, these records and their musicians are not
The question is: should we not include this music – i.e. the songs with Turkish words performed by Greek musicians – in the rebetiko repertoire? One can immediately hear the objection: rebetiko is by nature Greek and its songs are always sung to Greek words, hence music in Turkish words belongs to Turkish music and these musicians should be regarded as part of the Ottoman tradition.
The truth is that the music in question is an exceptional
case; it stands on the borderline between the peripheral rebetika and Ottoman-Turkish
central music. It is neither exclusively Greek nor exclusively Turkish. So
whose music is it? And who were its audiences in the
Apart from Parsekian (also the name of the record company),
the records released in the
The most interesting of these Greek musicians is Achilleas
Poulos. Although I have many of his records in my personal collection I
know nothing about his life. Most probably he received musical training in the
Marika Papagika, a well-known female singer, is another Greek musician who
recorded Turkish songs in addition to Greek ones. Unlike Achilleas Poulos,
Marika stays closer only to the folk or popular genres of Turkish music. One of
her Turkish records is particularly interesting: "Çanakkale içhinde
vurdular beni" (I was shot dead in Chanakkale /
The following are the names of some of the other Greek
musicians who also sang songs with Turkish words: Konstantinos Marcelos
(active in the US), Lefteris Melemenlis (sang Anatolian folk songs for
the Favorite record company in Turkey, then moved to Greece and continued to
make Turkish-language records), Demetrius
Evstathiadis (active in Greece), Theodores Demirtzoglu (Anatolian
folk songs, active in Greece), Kostas Gandinis (probably active in the
US) , Virginia Maridou (probably active in the US), Demetrius
Evstathiadis (active in Greece) and Olga Douly (active in the US).
None of these names is known in
Roza Eskenazi, probably the most famous female singer of the genre, sang just a few pieces in Turkish, but in many songs she included Turkish words here and there. Roza was born in Istanbul, and appealed to the Greek section of the city. In 1953 she visited Istanbul and made a record of a "huzzam turku” (a Turkish urban folk song in makam huzzam) , "Eminem'e babasi chikolata almis" / "My Emine's father bought her chocolate"), probably with Turkish musicians. This record was included in a CD released in 1998 in the United States entitled "Women of Istanbul" (Traditional Crosswords, produced by Harold G. Hagopian, 1998, USA). In the enclosed booklet we find this information: "This recording is not known in Turkey as it was recorded for a NewYork based label (Balkan) whose producer happened to be in Istanbul during her stay there." The same album was also released in Istanbul by Kalan Musical Productions the same year.
These are the records I have seen and listened to so far.
There may be many more that I have not been able to access. Apart from vocal
pieces we also find instrumental pieces (taksims, instrumental
improvisation) on the records released in the
The reproductions of old rebetiko records on CDs, and also
ensuing research on this music, have revealed many aspects of the genre. Yet
this present aspect of the rebetika still remains unexplored. Songs sung in
Turkish are the least known, or recognised, or appreciated aspect of the
"rebetiko repertoire", or music made by Greek musicians who may also
be regarded as the marginal popular exponents of the Ottoman tradition. These songs
have not been reproduced (on CDs) in any country since the revival of the genre
The Ottoman-Greeks who had to emigrate
As long as these 78 rpm records are not reproduced they will be doomed to gather dust in obscure archives, eventually being excluded from history. The purpose of my paper is to draw attention to this remarkable repertoire.
1. Cemal Ünlü, a researcher of Turkish 78 rpm records,
presented a paper in 1998 at the conference in
Four songs by Greek singers who sang in Turkish
1. ACHILEAS POULOS: Vocal improvisation in makam acemaşiran:
“Kimseyi dil-teng-i-âzâr etme, sultanlık budur”
Lyrics: Nazîm (XVIII century poet)
Victor V-76000 A.
2. ACHILEAS POULOS: Vocal improvisation in makam nihavend, with Greek words:
“Tin teleftaia mou stigmi”.
3. MARIA PAPAGIKA:
“Çanakkale içinde vurdular beni” [“I was shot dead in Çanakkale”]
4. MARIA PAPAGIKA: Aegean folk song in Turkish:
“Sendeki kaşlar bende olsa” [“If I had such beautiful eyebrows as yours”]
Organiser: Ed Emery