Greek Music Bouzouki and Rebetika
Bouzouki is by far the most recognizable and distinctive Greek musical instrument. Bouzouki is a descendant of ancient Greek and eastern instruments and was known to many pre-Hellenic cultures like Egypt, Assyria, and China. In recent discoveries of ancient wall paintings and sculptures, the Bouzouki did exist during the Byzantine era. During the Byzantine period, the Bouzouki was known as Thampoura or the Tampoura.
The history of bouzouki is actually intertwined with the rebetika songs, which is among the most distinctive Greek music sounds.
The culture of rebetika songs started blooming in the hashish venues and prisons of the port towns in Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea islands at the early years of the 20th century and reached its peak later during and between the main World Wars.
In the first years, the assembly would include the singer, two players of bouzouki that played simple chords at first, and of course the baglama, which is a small version of the bouzouki. Its sound and rhythm are little different than bouzouki, being more of a staccato rhythm. At first, though, it was always accompanying the bouzouki.
In 1960 Greek music was rapidly gaining worldwide recognition. Never on Sunday, Melina Mercouri and from the film Zorba the Greek, Mikis Theodorakis music served to highlight the fact that the Greeks had something new and fresh to offer.
Markos Vamvakaris sings the song Fragosyriani
a famous Greek song composed and written by Vamvakaris himself. Fragosyriani means Catholic girl from the Greek island of Syros. The song was written in 1935 when Vamvakaris visited the island of Syros for the second time. The island of Syros has many Catholic residents, which are called Francs by the Greeks – a remnant of older times.
Markos Vamvakaris is acknowledged as one if not the most influential Greek rebetiko musicians who established the orchestra of bouzoukis and baglamas. His recorded songs are over 200, recorded mainly on vinyl records of 78 rpm during the years between 1933 and 1956.
Vamvakaris was born on the island of Syros on May 10th, 1905. He was the first-born child of the family and he later had five more brothers and sisters. He didn’t graduate school, as his family of farmers couldn’t afford the expenses. Since his early age, he had been working several jobs, like shoe-polisher, paperboy and worker in the yarn industry. At the age of 12, he fled Syros and relocated to Piraeus to work in different jobs during the following years. He later decided to learn how to play the bouzouki and started composing his first songs.
Grigoris Bithikotsis and Mikis Theodorakis
The video featured here is part of a concert given in 1977 during the transition period of Greece towards democracy. Bithikotsis and Theodorakis. Grigoris Bithikotsis sings Ena to helidoni, one of the most known and beloved Greek Songs, which translates to “Lone is the swallow”. The song Ena to helidoni is composed by Mikis Theodorakis, one of the most important Greek Composers and the lyrics are written by Odysseas Elytis, one of the two Greek Poets that have won a Nobel Prize of Literature. Ena to helidoni is part of the poem Axion Esti, which is considered among the top poetic creations of the previous century.
Ena to helidoni is one of these defining moments in Art, where three major artists of different genres meet. Theodorakis, Elytis, and Bithikotsis are three major personalities for Greece, each one with a leading role in his field of art.
Ena to helidoni is a song-poem referring to the Greek Civil War, and the use of swallow is metaphorical, referring to Greece as a country trying to gain its freedom. But this freedom, the turning of the sun in the poem, takes a lot of work and blood.
Due to its lyrics and meaning, the song composed by Theodorakis was used as a means of protest against the Greek Junta, the dictatorship from 1967-1974 in Greece. The translation of lyrics cannot really depict the strength and intensity of the poetic nuance in Elytis words, because his words cannot be rendered to English easily
The song Sto perigiali to kryfo, a Greek song which translates to “The hidden seashore” in English. The song is also known as Arnisi and is one of the most known Greek songs composed by Mikis Theodorakis. Arnisi means “Refusal” or “Renunciation” and is actually a poem written by the Nobelist poet Giorgos Seferis.
This poem by George Seferis refers to a small shore and cove in Konnos Cyprus, where Seferis was the ambassador of Greece for some time. George Seferis is a Greek poet, essayist, and diplomat who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963. Seferis is considered to be the most distinguished Greek poet of the pre-war generation of the 1930s. In his, work Seferis combined the language of everyday speech with traditional poetic forms and rhythms. The recurrent theme in his poetry and this particular song as well is exile and nostalgia for the Mediterranean and freedom of speech and life. Stoperigiali to kryfo (Arnisi) was written in 1931 and was set to music by the composer Mikis Theodorakis in 1960, and became enormously popular in Greece.
I arrived in Rhodes in the early 1970s at the “old Airport” just outside Maritsa village. The airport was constructed in 1935 and closed for international passenger traffic 1977. This was my first visit to Greece and my first impression was a strange and unexpected feeling that “I felt I been here before”. Friendly and welcoming people smiling at you with the words “Jasso Fille”.
I remember vaguely the confusion in Greek Mythology regarding the identity of the god of the Sun. Apollo or Helios? However, I was grateful to both gods. The daily menu of blue sky and sunshine, surrounded by the changing blue colours of the Aegean sea made this island my home for several years.
The Greek Tavernas, international restaurants (not many), bars and Mandraki harbour become the natural meeting spots many with live music and just before midnight time for bouzouki until the early morning sunshine gratefully switched on by the gods.
If that was not enough of music the daily walks around Rhodes Town were filled with popular music, especially from the music shops playing Demis Rousso’s Forever and Ever at full volume. “Maria me ta kitrina” from 1973 and the forever popular Syrtaki music and dance originated from Zorba the Greek film.
Haris Alexiou appeared in the Greek music scene in the early 1970s. Her charismatic voice, combined with a unique way of performing and a strong scenic presence, very soon led her to the top. Today she is still at the top, giving prestige and value to the contemporary light and popular Greek music. She has recorded over thirty albums and has been featured on albums of other musicians. On 14 March 2010 Alpha TV ranked Alexiou as the first top-certified female artist in Greece in the phonographic era (since 1960).
In the year 2004, the Olympic Games was held in Athens. Haris Alexiou, sings at the closing ceremony, along with D. Galani, Marinella, Y. Parios, G. Dalaras.
Zorba the Greek
The film was released 1964 with Anthony Quinn playing Alex Zorba, Alan Bates playing Basel and Irene Papas is playing the widow. Zorba the Greek is a novel written by the famous Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis and it was published 1946.
The music is composed by Mikis Theodorakis the world famous Greek songwriter and composer who has written over 1000 songs. Mikis Theodorakis was born on the Greek island of Chios. He spent most of his childhood years in various provincial Greek cities such as Mytilene, Cephallonia, Patras, Pyrgos. Mikis Father, a lawyer, and a civil servant were from the small village of Kato Galatas on Crete. Miki’s mother, Aspasia Poulakis was from an ethnically Greek family in Çeşme, Turkey.
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