Hydra Rebetiko Conference 2004 - Report











A report on the fourth international conference

"Researching Rebetika: Present Projects and Future Prospects"

held on the Island of Hydra, 13-17 October 2004



By tradition I offer an account of each year’s Hydra Rebetiko Conference, partly for our sponsors and supporters, and partly for those of our members who could not be with us. My account follows below.




But first, here are some dates for your diaries.


The Fifth (yes, fifth!) Hydra Rebetiko Conference will be held on the island of Hydra from Thursday 13 October to Sunday 16 October 2005. There will be a special event entitled “Homage to Vamvakaris” for the centenary of Markos’s birth. The more general theme of this year’s conference is “Politics and Rebetiko, and the Politics of Rebetiko”. Details and registration forms at www.geocities.com/HydraGathering. Papers are also invited, covering both aspects of the conference.


On the preceding weekend, also on Hydra (6th to 9th October 2005) we are organising an international conference on “The Role of the Donkey and Mule in the Culture of the Mediterranean”. This conference will bring together speakers from all around the Mediterranean, as well as focussing on the mule and donkey culture of Hydra itself. The conference is open to the general public.


On 23-25 June 2005 the Rebetiko Summer School will again take place at the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], London. Programme details will include papers devoted to Markos Vamvakaris, and a presentation by Stelios Vamvakaris.


On Saturday 1 October 2005 there will be a “Musical Event in Istanbul”. This will bring together Turkish and Greek musicians for free open-air evening concert in the park next to the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, plus musical seminars involving our musical colleagues from Istanbul. All are welcome – do come and join us. Write for  details.


And in March 2005 it is possible that together with Italian musical colleagues we shall be organising a “Rebetiko Roadshow in Venice” (our usual characteristic mix of seminars, musical performance and good eating and drinking).


All these events are open to the general public. If you want further details, please write in the first instance to rebetology@yahoo.com.




The general principles of the Hydra Conference are laid out in earlier conference reports on our website.


This year there has been a sea-change. Our intention all along has been to generate high-quality original musicological research, and this is now beginning to make itself felt at our conferences. Anyone who was present this year will vouch for the remarkable quality and seriousness of all our papers and presentations.


The second success has been our ability to reach out to the Greek diaspora who do not necessarily read or write Greek. I regularly receive letters from people appreciating the way that we make research into Greek music available in the English language.


The third success has been our relationship with the island of Hydra. This year for the first time the Municipality of Hydra voted to commit moneys to payment for the musicians at our Saturday Night Concert, and they are also supporting the activities of the Free University of Hydra [see below].


And the fourth success has been our project to blend the Hydra Conference activities with our London-based “Rebetiko @ SOAS” seminars – a series of monthly seminars with invited speakers and musicians, taking place on the last Friday of every month at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Work done in the one venue is also reflected in the other.


As regards the further dissemination of English-language research materials, I continue working with Yannis Zaimakis of the University of Crete on a book of “Rebetiko Research Papers”. It is slowly taking shape, and a lot of the materials have now been gathered. There is also a small project for broadcasting our SOAS seminars live on the Internet. This is planned to start in March 2005.


Our other initiative, the Free University of Hydra, is a conference-based organisation dedicated to the study and research of all matters concerning the culture, economics, history and social life of all the countries which border the Mediterranean. It operates with support from the Mayor and Municipality of the island of Hydra. A programme of pan-Mediterranean conferences is being prepared.




The title of this year’s conference was “Roads and Modes, Taximia and Maqam”.  If you weren’t with us, then I wish you had been. Cultural treasures chests were opened for us and the wealth of their contents expounded most splendidly. Anyway, rhetoric aside, we had wonderful presentations on maqam in the Phanariot music of Constantinople (John Plemmenos of the Ionian University, Corfu); on maqam in Ottoman and Turkish music (Cahit Baylav, violinist and musicologist, of London); and on maqam in Greek, Turkish and Persian music (two fine sessions by Christos Tsiamoulis of the Odeion Athinon) [Summary].


Gail Holst-Warhaft of Cornell University – the “godmother”, if she’ll forgive me, of Rebetiko studies in the English language – opened our proceedings in the Melina Mercouri Hall with "Mode, microtonality, and affect: Aristotle and the rebetika".  Wide-ranging and splendidly titled.


Recalling other papers, in no particular order: Ali Fuat Aydin of Izmir [Summary] gave an account of his own activities collecting zeibekiko music in Turkey – and presented the conference with an amazing volume plus CDs representing his studies over a period of 20 years.


For technical considerations arising in the creation of a genre, we had a paper from Pavlos Erevnidis of Athens [Paper to be posted] analysing comparative techniques between the musicians of Istanbul and Athens. Marc Dubin (London) [Summary] gave an account of the creation of his wonderful “Rough Guide to Rebetiko” CD. And Gerhard Steingress of the University of Seville [Summary] gave a comparative sociological analysis of the worlds of Flamenco and Rebetiko (not to mention Tango). Hands-on historical research was provided by Grigoris Bayiokas of Thessaloniki [Summary], with a paper analysing lawcourt records as a way of understanding the social world of the rebetes in the period 1936-40.


As well as playing some solid baglama at our Saturday Concert, Hugo Strötbaum of the University of Nijmegen [Summary] presented a paper on Dr J.K. Sutherland, ud-player and makam-specialist from Flint, Michigan. On a general historical front, Ed Emery [Summary] presented a paper on the collecting activities of French musicologist Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray in Asia Minor. And attesting to the Rebetiko interest among Greeks in Australia, George Kyriakidis of Melbourne did a teleconferencing presentation of his beloved Turconi laterna.


Stavros Stavrou Karayanni of Nicosia [Summary] presented a remarkable paper on the grammar and politics of dance, the case of the tsifteteli. Remarkable not least because Stavros gave his own memorable performance of the dance. Madelyn Taylor of California [Summary] continued her sterling work on the dances of Greece, this year featuring sessions on hasapikos and hasapaservikos. And Nikos Politis of Athens [Summary] developed a strand of work that we have being pursuing in the London seminars – on amanedhes – with a paper on the tradition of the amane in Asia Minor.


In a last minute addition to the programme Vassilis Petrocheilos of Athens gave a fulsome account of the musical activities of his grandfather Stavros Pantelidhis, a prolific composer who has been somehow lost to history. And instrument-maker Karolos Tsakirian shared with us an account of the life and times of himself and his family in the instrument-making business.




We were particularly delighted that Athens-based film director Yorgos Zervas was able to bring his new film “They Told Me Not to Love You: The Songs of Smyrna and Constantinople” to our Hydra Conference. And we thank him for his patience with our makeshift equipment.


Due to the lamentable failure of Fedex mail distribution the brand new rebetiko documentary by director US-based Turkish director Nefin Dinc did not reach us in time for the conference. So we hope to show the film – provisionally titled "Rebetiko: The Song of Two Cities" – in 2005.


Lakis Christidis of the Hydra Cinema Club had kindly offered us the use of the island’s open-air cinema for our shows. Just as well we didn’t use it. We had a massive thunderstorm and a powercut when Jason, Alexandros and Anna Melissinos presented their Karaghiozis play “O Karaghiozis Sfoungaras” in honour of the one-time sponge-diving industry of Hydra and the building where we were hosted – the Bratsera Hotel, once a sponge factory. The powercut meant that we had to continue the shadow theatre show by torchlight – a surreal and thoroughly memorable experience!




This year the Stelios Vamvakaris Band came to play for us at our Saturday Night rebetiko supper at the Douskos Restaurant. The line-up was Stelios Vamvakaris – bouzouki and vocals; Evelina Angelou – vocals; Michalis Dimas – baglamas; and Simos Kokavesis – acoustic guitar and electric guitar. This was a great honour for us, and they gave us a memorable night of music.


In another musical manifestation, Kyriakos Gouventas [violin] and Christos Tsiamoulis [outi and vocals] gave a fine concert recital of the Collected Songs of Bourgault-Ducoudray: “30 Melodies of Greece and the Orient”, accompanied by Kyriakos’s observations about the role of the violin in the music of Anatolia. The concert was filmed and recorded for our Archive.


And there was the usual round of all-night singing and playing at various restaurants on the island. Especially the late night jam session in the harbour on Saturday night. The stuff that dreams are made of…!




This year, as every year, we brought our film-maker Francisco della Chiesa from Italy to film the Conference and its associated activities. Our first film, of the Hydra Gathering 2001-2002 conferences, will shortly be available for those who want a copy. Francisco is planning to spend early 2005 in Hydra editing the film of Hydra 2002-2004. Watch this space.


For those who are interested we also have available a CD-ROM facsimile edition of the “Trente Melodies de l’Orient” by L.A. Bourgault-Ducoudray. [Please note that this is reproduction of the book, not a music CD; however a music CD is also available.]


Kree Arvanitas, as well as providing the photo of Christos of To Steki which featured on our 2004 poster, also provided photos of speakers, some of which can now be found on our website at www.geocities.com/HydraGathering.


And Chris Blackmore laboured mightily for the duration of the conference, and has produced two CD-Roms containing recordings of the speakers’ presentations at the conference. Write for details.


[Incidentally, speakers’ papers, where available, will eventually be posted on our website at the above address.]




Ivi Dermanci sent regrets to say that she would not be able to join us this year. However I was able to meet her in Istanbul, and the planned October 2005 Istanbul musical event grew out of that encounter. Paul Astin was also not able to attend – but he says that he will come for next year’s Vamvakaris commemoration even if he has to swim from the US. And Hadass Pal-Yarden couldn’t make it to Hydra. However I met her in Istanbul too, and she gave me a copy of her new CD on Sefardi and Ladino song. Can be ordered through Kalan.com. Wonderful.


Two of our musician friends were regrettably unable to attend this year on account of doing military service in the army – one in the Greek army and one in the Turkish army. Hank Bradley and Cathie Whitesides weren’t able to make it either – maybe next year!  And, sad to relate, our dear friend Zaharoula set off from Turkey to join us, but got no further than Istanbul, where she was rather seriously injured by a flying laptop computer. Strange but true.


If I have forgotten anyone in the above account (as I did last year), I apologise in advance and may the Lord have mercy on my soul…




Many people help to make the Hydra Rebetiko Gathering a success. We would like to thank the Mayor of Hydra Constantinos Anastopoulos and the Municipality for their support. Especially we thank Anna Rousi and her colleagues in the Hydra Development Office. Without Anna’s help this conference would never have happened.


Particular thanks are due to the management and staff of the Bratsera Hotel, where once again we were able to use the conference room for our performance sessions.  And we thank the owners of various of Hydra’s pensions who made rooms available for some of our speakers and musicians.


For travel arrangements once again we thank Olympic Airways, and in particular Kostas Konstantinidis (London) and Vassilis Gougoulidis (Istanbul) who were wonderfully helpful. On Hydra I should mention Lakis Christidis, who saves me from going insane when bureaucracies appear intractable. And in Athens thanks again to Sophia Arsenidou and the staff of the Museum of Folk Instruments for allowing me to use their verandah as an office once in a while. A discreet thank-you is due to our sole individual financial sponsor. And last but not least, thanks again to the Modern Greek Section of the University of Cambridge and David Holton for providing the original seed sponsorship.


My candle is burning low. I see from the hourglass that midnight has passed and we are already well into the last day of the year. So, with the last few scratchings of my quill, allow me to send you rebetological greetings for a very musical 2005,




Danai, our star performer, on spoons. Photo: Kree Arvanitas



Ed Emery

London – 31.xii.04





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