OF THE “COMPANIA KETENCOGLOU” CV
"Shared Influences in Turkish Music and Rebetika"
[Paper presented in English, with musical illustrations]
SOMETHING IS HAPPENING IN ISTANBUL
For the lover of Greek popular music as it was sung at the urban centers of Hellenism until the mid-20th century (what we now call “rebetiko”), Istanbul is a place of pilgrimage. The former capital and center of Hellenic culture was one of the principal centers of the older form of the so-called Smyrnaic song (named after its other, more recent, home). This can be verified simply by recalling the well-known Constantinopolitan and Tataulian “hasapika” and “hasaposervika” or the so-called Costantinopolitan “syrto.”
All this, of course, is old news for aficionados of rebetiko. The pleasant surprise waiting for them in Istanbul is a fully functional, wonderful local rebetiko ensemble whose members are permanent, not occasional, residents of the city. Muammer Ketencoglu, a Turk from Izmir (Smyrna) is the group’s leader and its soul. He is a truly gifted musician, an exceptional virtuoso of the accordion whose wealth of knowledge of rebetiko surprises the experts. His instrumental and vocal performances stay true to the authentic style of the genre, even though he neither reads nor speaks Greek. Evidence of Muammer’s knowledge of and love for rebetiko is his thoughtful participation in the production of two CDs of rebetika songs - chiefly of the Smyrnaic period - remastered from old 78 r.p.m. recordings. His leadership role in various musical ventures reveals that the level and breadth of his musical knowledge are not limited to rebetiko but also cover wide areas of Balkan music, and, naturally, Turkish music.
Orhan Osman, a Muslim from Komotini, is the group’s bouzouki player. An outstanding interpreter in the style of Manolis Hiotis, he also sings - and speaks - well in Greek. His youth and impressive technique promise that his continuing ease with the traditional style will render him equal to the better players in Greece. The two basic instruments are accompanied by the very able percussionist Rahmi Göçmen, a native of Istanbul. Ivi Dermanci, a Constantinopolitan Greek born and bred, is the group’s female vocalist. In her plain and very melodic voice she interprets the songs in the group’s repertory accurately and authentically, with none of the theatrics and pseudo-impressions that might diminish their effectiveness. Lastly, Stelios Berberis, from Imvros (Gökçeada), the sweet-voiced cantor of the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate at the Phanar, provides the vocal ability necessary for the group’s rendition of the older songs in their repertory.
“Compania Ketencoglu” is very well known in Istanbul, despite the fact that, in principle, they eschew night clubs, appearing instead at “boites” as well as at festivals and similar venues. They have appeared at several locales in Turkey and abroad, and several times at festivals and recitals in Greece. Although their repertory consists almost exclusively of rebetiko, from Smyrnaica to Tstitsanis and Kazantzidis, and similar Turkish songs, it occasionally extends to songs by Theodorakis.
In other words, it could be said that a small and diverse musical group is trying to express the wealth of the popular musical expression of the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural capital of the Ottoman Empire at its death-bed. Although their place, and the locus of their contribution is, and must stay, in Istanbul, one hopes we will have more frequent opportunities to enjoy and applaud them here in Greece. [Miltiadis Poliviou]