Evolution of Rebetika and Greek Music through Ethnic Identity

The Evolution of Rebetika

The Evolution of Rebetika: The Construction Of Greek Popular Music through Ethnic Identity


Rebetika is a genre which is fundamental to Greek national identity. While the country went through decades of political upheaval, its music in turn developed and changed accordingly. This dissertation will question the origins of rebetika – a genre which was created and performed by sub-proletariat urban Greeks. Music has always been central to Greek ethnic identity (Gauntlett, 1991). As such, this paper will explore the ways in which Greek citizens choose to align or distance them-selves from rebetika in order to assert their national identity. Furthermore, it will be demonstrated that rebetika has a flexible identity since at one time it was the music of outlaws and refugees and later it transformed to become music enjoyed by everyone from the elite to politically activists. Re-garding music and identity, this dissertation will outline varying opinions on the value of rebetika— which is often related to its ethnic origins and the status of its musicians.

Throughout the paper, the political context will be described – as this influenced the lyrics, instru-mentation and musical characteristics of rebetika over time. Music excerpts from songs spanning from the early 20th century to the 1960s will be discussed – along with examples of rebetika lyrics. Chapter 1 will cover Smyrnra-style music and its successor – mainland-Greek rebetika. Cafe music culture will be discussed along with the instruments used by musicians who performed there. The modes of rebetika (dromoi) along with their links to the Middle-Eastern makam system will be ex-plored. The history of rebetika music starting with the musicians of Smyrna and their journey to mainland Greece will be described. The aim here is to show the diverse ethnic influences in rebetika music. Greek listeners who were pro-East acknowledged the undeniable influences of Byzantine and Turkish music; however those who were pro-West preferred to deny its oriental connections. The musicians (such as Markos Vamvakaris) who identified as outlaws will also be described— along with their lifestyle, social status and lyrics.

Chapter 2 will explore the Metaxas dictatorship and the Axis occupation along with the censorship these regimes imposed on rebetika. The introduction of chordal harmony and Western influences will also be examined, including examples from artists such as Vassilis Tsitsanis. This dissertation will question the modernisation and so-called Westernisation of rebetika which took place after WWII. Greek music, politics and identity have always been at the confluence of oriental and occi-dental cultures (Holst-Warhaft, 2002b). I will demonstrate that because of this, rebetika has been in a constant tug-of-war between two sides: the East and the West. In order to do so, the various at-tempts to Westernise and censor the genre will be discussed. The different arguments about rebetika its Greekness (or lack of Greekness) will be explored. Both sides will be presented—some Greeks believe that rebetika is oriental and therefore of no cultural value, others would state that authentic Greek music is influenced by Eastern Byzantine music. As Penannen (1997) noted, Greek music after WWII was Westernised, orientalised and modernised—this theory will be put forward, ex-amining excerpts from pieces of music, identifying certain modes or dromoi, time signatures and instrumentation. It will be argued that after WWII, rebetika became globalised (rather than solely Westernised) through exposure to other nations’ influence. In Chapter 3, laika music will be dis-cussed – which evolved from rebetika. Western and global music began to influence the genre at this time. Art songs such as Epitaphios by Theodorakis will be examined, looking at how the combina-tion of poetry and rebetika changed the genre and attracted new audiences. During this time, reb-etika also became politicised and as such this process will be explored.

Greece is often torn between identifying with the East and the West, the central question in this dis-sertation is how does this impact the construction of rebetika music in relation to their national identity. It will be suggested that will rebetika has been moulded to suit the popular narrative. The ever-shifting connotations of the rebetika genre will be outlined (it was once anti-authoritarian and later it became politicised). By showing how rebetika has been used over time to fit the narrative of the listener, it will become clear that Greek identity relies on rebetika to assert itself as distinct from or aligned with rebetika culture. In this paper, my purpose is to present political context in Greece alongside musical analyses to argue that Greek ethnic identity informs the construction of rebetika music. Often the musical features do not change much but the narratives around these systems and instruments impact how certain genres are accepted and valued. Music in Greece has been used to suit the preferred national narrative of those in power—to fit both Greece’s image of itself and how it is portrayed to others.

Chapter 1

Greek Music and Identity: Before The Great Exchange

Political Context and Greek Musical Identity

The Balkan Peninsula in the late 19th century and early 20th century was ethnically diverse with a lot of cultural exchange between Asia Minor and former Ottoman nations. Greece was under Otto-man rule between 1454 and 1822 and as such, much of its art, music and culture had Anatolian in-fluences. After declaring independence from the Ottoman Empire, the First Hellenic Republic was established, followed by the establishment and collapse of a monarchy (with much influence from Western Europe) and the establishment of the Second Hellenic Republic in 1924. Folk music has always played a part in the construction of Greek identity and during these times of shifting power and rule, it became even more important in terms of reinforcing nationalism. According to Babali (2007, p.2), “Folk song unconsciously shaped and strengthened [Greek] national self-determination for many centuries; while later the use of folk song turned to be used consciously for national en-hancement, organising the struggle for Independence”.

Due to the cultural dialogue between Greece and Anatolia, music which is considered purely Greek only emerged from certain rural places such as islands and the mountains. Kleftika for example originated among agricultural people who lived in places which were relatively untouched by Eastern culture (ibid.). Due to geographical and his-torical connections, Greece during its early independence was torn between identifying with the West and the East. Greek music reflects this polarisation of cultural ties. In the early days of inde-pendence, many Greeks were inspired by European high culture and educational values (Tragaki, 2007). As a Christian country, Greece identified somewhat with Western Europe; furthermore, the West glorified Greece for its historical contribution to culture (in fields such as language, the arts and philosophy). Despite the attraction of the West, historical connections with the East remained strong and the Imperial Byzantium was a source of national pride as it was strongly influenced by Greek language and culture.

During the formation of the Greek state, i megali idea (the Great Idea) played a big part in politi-cians’ campaigns. With nationalistic pride about Greece’s power in Byzantium Constantinople, this ideology emphasised the reunification of all ethnic Greeks from across the former Byzantine Em-pire. This nationalistic desire to re-establish the Hellenic Byzantine Empire and take control over Constantinople led to war with Turkey (James, 2001). Apart from Constantinople, Smyrna was an-other cultural centre which had many talented and influential Greek inhabitants. This city was par-ticularly famous for its music, known as smyrneika—a musical genre which lay the foundation for rebetika. Yiangou (2005) emphasises smyrneika’s influence over rebetika as many of Smyrna’s per-formers became refugees in Greece and brought their music with them. The desire to bring all eth-nic Greeks together in one nation triggered Greece’s decision to invade Turkey in 1919. Their at-tempt to recapture Byzantine territory failed and fearing Turkish reprisals, many ethnic Greeks fled to mainland Greece.

The Evolution of Rebetika
The Evolution of Rebetika

Smyrneika, Early Rebetika and Cafe Music

The history and emergence of early rebetika is ambivalent as it relies on conflicting oral accounts and different points of view on its origins. Cultural nationalism in Greece fostered a Hellenocentric point of view which generally disregarded Anatolian influences. Many believe that rebetika origin-ated in Smyrna and was further developed by refugee musicians in mainland Greece (Pennanen, 2004). As explained above, even though this music was played by the Greek community, it was un-deniably influenced by the music and culture of Asia Minor. The first recordings of Smyrneika and rebetika took place in Constantinople in 1896; however some of these tunes were written earlier and many were not recorded (Tragaki, 2007). While early recordings of Smyrneika took place in Con-stantinople, this music first appeared in cafes across Smyrna, Constantinople and Piraeus and it was performed by ethnic Greeks.

Morris (1980) and Pennanen (1997) divide rebetika into two styles— smyrneika (the oriental version which was influenced by Asia Minor) and the urban bouzouki-based rebetika from Piraeus. In Greece, early rebetika is often considered ‘oriental’ due to the Turkish in-fluence and it is referred to as smyrneika tragoudia (Pennanen, 2004). As such, the musical charac-teristics of Smyrneika are more Turkish than its successor (rebetika)—in terms of the instrumenta-tion and its adherence to the makam modes. While early rebetika and smyrneika may have origin-ated from the Ottoman-Greek community, the language situation in the Ottoman Empire was di-verse and cafe singers sang in both Greek and Turkish (Pennanen, 2004). As such, the music in gen-eral was influenced by the Greek musicians’ Anatolian surroundings.

Rebetika emerged as part of the general Ottomon cafe music culture known as cafe aman or music cafe (Samson, 2013). In the earliest known record of these ‘oriental’ music cafes they are referred to as cafe santur (Tragaki, 2007); however, it seems that cafe aman became a more popular term. In Turkish music cafes, “aman, aman” was exclaimed to give vocalists time to improvise and this word often appears in rebetika (Holst, 1975). There were various music cafes in the Ottoman Em-pire offering a range of music to suit different clientele—smyrneika was one of these genres and Smyrna was considered the cultural centre for cafe music. Small orchestras (known as koumpanies) became attached to particular cafe amans (Holst, 1975). In the late 19th century, cafe music was also popular in Athens and Thessaloniki. The music and cultural tastes of the Greek population be-came polarised with the majority of people identifying with folk music and the rest leaning towards Western European culture. In the newly-founded Greek state, the elite admired French culture for example and this was celebrated in the cafe chantant (an alternative to cafe amans). Performers from countries such as France and Germany entertained frequenters of the cafe chantant with provocative performances. In contrast, cafe aman music featured the best oriental and folk artists from Anatolian cities such as Smyrna and Constantinople (Torp, 1993a).

One example of a music form which appeared in these cafes is amanedes. For Holst (1975), amanedes are one of the earliest forms of rebetika. As mentioned above, aman is a term used to en-courage improvisers and amanedes is derived from that word. Amanedes can be described as “Ot-toman vocal pieces performed, along with semi-improvised instrumental genres, in the music cafes” (Samson 2013, p.179). These amanedes emerged from Turkish gazels, which are Ottoman laments, which were historically about unrequited love. Holst-Warhaft (2016) noted that the Greeks of Asia Minor used the term amane (or amanedes) interchangeably with gazel. The amanedes can also be defined as songs which feature long, often intricate vocal improvisation in which the singer demonstrates his or her knowledge of Ottoman modes or maklamar” (ibid., p.258). The singer and song-writer Angeliki Papazoglou spoke about the amanedes she performed in Smyrna (and later as a refugee in Greece) – using the lyrics of one particular song (ibid., p.259), she described how Greeks would request songs about their period of enslavement under Turkish rule:

  • Only for an hour I am happy, when the sun sweetly rises
  • And the heart takes a rest and stops sighing.
  • When the crow turns white and the snow black
  • Then this fire will be quelled in my breast
  • And we meant by that, our slavery.

The cafe music scene in Smyrna was far more developed than that in other cities across Asia Minor and Greece (Yiangou, 2005). Their music and dances were based on Turkish rhythms such as tsifteteli (often associated with belly dance), karsilamas and zeibekiko (Pappas, 1999; Hirschon, 2003). Smyrneika songs which featured in cafe amans were both fast and slow—Smyrneikos Balos is a fast tempo kind of music in major mode; whereas the 2/4 time laments were in minor mode (ibid.). The amanedes which were performed in Smyrna before the catastrophe (the fire of Smyrna) expressed as much pain and sorrow as those which were performed by Smyrna refugees in later years. Their Greek lyrics spoke of exile and the pain endured under Turkish rule (Holst-Warhaft, 2016). The instruments used in the smyrneika music which went on to influence rebetika were primarily string instruments such as the oud, santouri (a hammered dulcimer with more than one-hundred strings played with small wooden wands), canoun, laouto and lyra (Holst, 1975). Rebetika bands usually consisted of around six members—instrumentalists and one or more vocalists. The singer was as often female as male (Holst-Warhaft, 2013). Well-known Smyrneika singers include Roza Eskenazi, Rita Arbatzi and Giagkos Psamathianos. On some occasions, there was more than one singer in an ensemble but their songs were monophonic in form. Along with musicians and singers, cafe aman ensembles would include tsifteteli performers – which later became known as belly dance (Holst, 1975).

Smyrneika and its Musical Characteristics: Modes and Byzantine Influences

Rebetika and smyrneika musicians often studied Turkish classical music as well as the Byzantine and Greek modes or dhromoi (which will be discussed later). Their instruments such as the canoun, santour and violin emphasised a Byzantine sound (Stamatis, 2011). The music played in cafe amans was based on the Turkish classical makam system (Morris, 1980). The word maklamar is the plural of makam, which is the Turkish spelling of the Arabic word maqam. The makam is a melodic mode (of which there are many types)—it is used in music across Arabia, Persia and Turkey and it is used during improvisation sections.

The improvisational style employed in this music is referred to as taxim—where the musician creates musical phrases using the notes specific to a particular makam. The function of the taxim is to demonstrate the musicians’ skill and to establish the mood of the song (Holst, 1975). The melodic line of the makam mode does not necessarily conform to Western concept of melody; however, it can be described as a melody pattern or a fixed tonal-spatial organ-isation which is associated with Middle Eastern music (Touma, 1971). Smyrneika songs are based on the makam system; whereas the rebetika which developed on mainland Greece was based on dromoi. Greek dromos (pl.dromoi), which can be translated as road (pl. roads), are the modes used in rebetika (which will be discussed later in this chapter). Akkoç, Sethares and Karaosmanoglu (2015) provide an illustration of 24 makams (see Fig.1) used in Turkish music (some of which will be referred to in this paper along with corresponding dromoi). These makams are represented in the Arel-Ezgi-Uzdilek system (AEU).


Fig 1. Twenty-four makams – represented in the AEU system (Akkoç, Sethares and Karaosmanoglu 2015, p.324)


The Asia Minor Catastrophe and the Great Exchange (1922—1924)

After a failed invasion by the Greek army, Turkey recaptured Smyrna in 1922 and many of the city’s Greek inhabitants fled to mainland Greece. A great fire occurred in Smyrna four days after the city was recaptured (an event which is also referred to as ‘the catastrophe’) and thousands of Greeks died while trying to escape. After the disastrous Greco-Turkish war, Greece and Turkey decided to exchange populations. As part of the 1923 treaty of Lausanne, this forced exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey led to the displacement of approximately 1.5 million Christians of Turkish nationality (who moved from Turkey to Greece) and five-hundred-thousand Muslims who were forced to move from Greece to Turkey (Ordoulidis, 2011a). Orthodox Christians were de-clared as Greeks and sent to live there – and all Muslims in Greece were sent to Turkey. Refugees took their music and cultural practises from Asia Minor to Greece which led to the development of rebetika—or rather, the second wave of rebetika as smyrneika is considered an early iteration of the genre. In the earlier years of the absorption of refugees, musicians still played in the Smyrna style which was referred to as Ta Smyrneika (Holst-Warhaft, 2016). However, the Smyrneika style would later diminish somewhat due to the introduction of new instruments and influences. This exchange and the absorption of ethnic Greeks from other nations asserted Greece’s Christian identity (Sam-son, 2013). However, there was a general distaste for the culture of refugee rebetika musicians as they were generally seen as anti-authoritarian social outcasts who smoked hashish (Holst, 1975).

Refugee Musicians in Greece and the Development of Rebetika

The 1.5 million refugees who entered mainland Greece mostly moved to cities such as Athens, Pir-aeus and Thessaloniki in search of work. The Greek Christian immigrants from Turkey lived in overcrowded conditions and had to learn to adapt their Turkish customs to local cultural practises (Samson, 2013). Without any work, they made money in the underworld and this is why rebetika developed to be associated with social outcasts and crime. Rebetika can be compared to the blues written by black Americans—their music was used to express the harshness of everyday life as well as the pain of living on the fringes. In this sense, rebetika music developed from Smyrneika to ap-propriately communicate the new social context of its musicians and peers—the characteristics of rebetika (which differed from Smyrneika) include different orchestration and lyrical themes (Or-doulidis, 2011a). Their lyrics reflected the particular lifestyle practised by the Greek-Turkish refugees who were social outcasts (see examples of these lyrical themes below).

The members of the rebetika subculture in Greek mainland cities were known as mangas or rebetes. The term manges (mangas in singular) were men who were on the fringes of society and belonged to the sub-proletariat. They were often involved in the underworld and they spoke with a particular slang which is heard in the lyrics of rebetika tunes (Holst, 1975). They were associated with rebetika mu-sic and were seen as “bohemians vagrants, petty criminals, addicts, and unemployed or underem-ployed ‘street people’” (Manuel 1988, p.127). Rebetes is derived from the word rebetis, which is defined as an ‘idler’, ‘vagabond’ or ‘rogue’ (Gauntlett, 1982). The words rebetes and manges both refer to the men of the underworld who were associated with rebetika. The refugee musicians from Smyrna and Constantinople smoked hashish as it had been their usual practise in Asia Minor. While hashish smoking was socially acceptable in Anatolia, it was frowned upon in Greece and many of the middle and upper class citizens of Athens, Thessaloniki and Piraeus despised the rebetes of the underworld. The rebetes preferred to be transported into an introspective state by smoking hashish —at the same time, they were proud of their ability to fight (Manuel, 1988).

Rebetika’s lyrical form comes from the rhyming two-line verse and singers used short and clear vowels in their verses. Dimitrou (2013, p.64) describes the content of rebetika lyrics: “Proverbs, riddles, anecdotes and secular parables are embedded within everyday speech and narrative, [using] language which is rich in proverbs, dramatic gestures and humour”. Many of these rhymes are lost in translation; however, many musicians and composers such as Giorgos Batis made use of comedy in their verses. When performing, Batis would act like a Piraeus criminal, omitting certain words, using slang and dropping consonants in a typically manges style (Gauntlett, 2012). During his time in prison, Batis wrote ‘Oropos Gaol’, which features his humorous take on the jail experience:“At Oropos, man, we get by just fine, Much better than Athens. Tuesdays, Thursdays macaroni, But a hustler can see out his stretch. And on Sundays meat. Even the barber’s free” (ibid., p.159)

“At Oropos, man, we get by just fine,

Much better than Athens.

Tuesdays, Thursdays macaroni,

But a hustler can see out his stretch.

And on Sundays meat.

Even the barber’s free” (ibid., p.159)

Despite the frequent use of humour, the manges were also dangerous characters and heir lyrics provide a sort of evidence of the deadly conflicts among well-known criminals:

“In Trikala at the two narrow passes

They killed Sarkaflias

They stabbed him twice

And they laid him down” (Tragaki 2007, p.28)


Rebetika Instruments

The musicians who came from Asia Minor found different instruments in mainland Greece such as the bouzouki—a string instrument which is a hybrid of a mandolin and a tambura. According to Goularas and Goularas (2014), the bouzouki had a bad reputation at that time since it was mainly used by social outcasts. Some instruments such as the baglamas (a smaller version of the bouzouki) were either made in prisons or smuggled inside for the manges who were completing prison sen-tences. The bouzouki was played in Greece long before rebetika was developed and as such it be-came an important instrument which was associated with national identity. Rebetika ensembles also featured instruments such as the guitar, mandolin, saz, tambourine or defi and the toumbeleki (a metal open-base drum with a stretched-skin cover). Percussion instruments were not always used – at times musicians would rely on the guitar or foot tapping for rhythm (Holst, 1975). Due to the limitations of being a fretted instrument and because of its different sound, the introduction of the bouzouki marked the transformation of Smyrna-style music to rebetika (Ordoulidis 2011a). The vo-calist leads rebetika songs and his or her ability to understand Byzantine music and ornamentation techniques has a big impact on the quality of the song (Stamatis, 2011).

Piraeus Rebetika and Lyrics

Ethnomusicologist Diane Holst recorded a list of musicians’ definitions of rebetika, one of which is “The rembetis… is the suffering, wronged, hunted man—the rembetika were written for him” (Sk-holeris and Ekonomides, as quoted by Holst, 1975, p.18). As such, while many middle and upper class Greeks dismissed rebetes and considered them to be criminal, they were wronged in the sense that they did not choose a life of crime—it came about as a result of the forced migration. Both sides to the rebetes persona are expressed in their music. The rebetika heard in this time period was known as Pireotiko rebetika as it was associated with the city of Piraeus. The Piraeus style of reb-etika differed from the early Smyrna style. Apart from the change in instrumentation and location, their lyrics changed to portray their experiences of hardship and the loss of their homeland.

In the late 19th century, cafe amans featured artists invited from Anatolia to Greece to perform; however, in the 1920s, these musicians became refugees on the mainland. This change in social status and environment affected the development of rebetika. Synergies occurred between the traditions of Ot-toman cafe amans (performed by classically-trained musicians from Asia Minor) and popular music from the urban Piraeus-Athens underworld (Samson, 2013). The places in which their music was played also changed. Piraeus-style bouzouki rebetika was played in various locations or magazia— which refers to any commercial establishment such as a tavern, market or shop (Stamatis, 2011). They often played in tekedes (hashish dens) and this style of music also became known as teke (Pennanen, 1997). Holst (1975) described the atmosphere of a typical shop in the city of Piraeus where men would gather and play rebetika—they would lament their lost land in Turkey and dis-cuss their troubles finding work in Greece. Refugees found solace in drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana and they also assuaged their sorrow through music. This song—“The little refugee”— describes the sense of nostalgia and longing to return to Anatolia (Goularas and Goularas 2014, p. 10):

“I am a little refugee, ah, I tell you this, I was chased from Smyrna, and since that moment I cry I drink and I smoke hashish in the café Aman Ah, my little one, aman”

Musicians of Piraeus would play both dance songs and bouzouki-based Piraeus rebetika and amanedes (Samson, 2013). In terms of the song lyrics performed by refugee musicians—they often wrote about pain, loss and the torments of refugee existence, seeing death as the only way of escap-ing their hardship. Holst-Warhaft (2016) refers to one particular refugee musician called Dimitris Atraidis who performed rebetika, folk songs and amanedes—expressing his sorrow through the lat-ter. His pain can be felt through some of his lyrics:

“When the time comes to close my eyes,

I wish to die, there in my native land.” (ibid., p.263).


Rebetika Dance Rhythms

Rebetika musicians’ repertoire was based on existing material and original compositions based on their new life experiences—they played in hasapiko (2/4 or 4/4 time) and zeibekiko (9/4 or 9/8), kamilieriko (9/4) and aptaliko (9/4) rhythms (Pennanen, 1997). The zeibekiko is said to have its roots in Smyrna (Monos, 1987). It is considered a very masculine dance which expresses the reb-etes contempt for the middle class (ibid.). During performances, it was common that one man would stand up and initiate a zeibekiko dance. This dance was so popular that it became a metonym for rebetika (Holst-Warhaft, 2002a). The performance of zeibekiko was considered a great expres-sion of masculinity and membership of the manges. According to (Riak 2007, p.45) “Acting the manga enables a male to express his masculinity”.

The main dances associated with rebetika are hasapiko, zeibekiko and tsifteteli (Holst, 1975). The hasapiko – which is derived from the Turkish work for a butcher man – is often broken up into eight-bar phrases which correspond to certain dance steps (ibid.). It is a dance which celebrates camaraderie and male pride, involving two or three men who dance with their arms around each other’s shoulders (Holst-Warhaft, 2003). The tsifetetli on the other hand was performed by women – it is a playfully erotic dance which emphas-ises the inherently-female body shape. Tsifteteli dancers would use a hand-drum such as a tambour-ine to emphasise the rhythm (Holst, 1975). These dances enhance the overall interpretation and af-fect of rebetika – unlike the friendly hasapiko and flirtatious tsiftetli, the zeibekiko is connected with the most dark and passionate rebetika songs – the cathartic dance moves intensify the experience of the music (Holst-Warhaft, 2002a). Everyone involved in the rebetika experience – from the musi-cians to the dancers and onlookers – enters one temporal space with the song (Stamatis, 2011).

Dromoi: the modes of Rebetika

Referred to as dromoi, the Greek modes used in rebetika (which developed from Smyrneika) are based on the Turkish makam system – dromos (pl.dromoi) translates as road (pl. roads). This system of melodic, compositional and performance principals is derived from Ottoman and Middle Eastern music. Tragaki (2007) notes that makams and rebetika dromoi are based on the Byzantine ihoi (‘sounds’) and these modal systems express wisdom, feelings and emotions. The Dromoi modes differ from the makam system in that they do not adhere rigidly to Turkish classical makam rules (Pennanen, 1997). The makam had to be modified for use in rebetika because of the change in in-strumentation—makam modes are microtonal and the bouzouki or similar fretted instruments can-not play certain quarter-tones which feature in the makam modes (Aydin, 2014). Fretted instruments were not used in Smyrneika so it was possible for the predecessor of rebetika to use the makam modes. In rebetika, vocalists can sing microtones and as such, a singer could adhere to the makam mode and its corresponding dromos; however, the accompanying musicians (playing fretted Greek instruments) would have to use the relevant dromos. As such, Ordoulidis (2011a) highlights that it is problematic to compare dromoi to makam since they have different theoretical backgrounds – the latter uses micro-tones and the former only uses tones and semi-tones. Pennanen (1997, p.74) com-pares the scale of makam saba to the dromos sabah scale (see Fig.2) – the distances between tones can be seen in brackets above the fourth and sixth notes in (a); however these are modified in the corresponding Greek dromos (b).

Ordoulidis (2011a) also points out that there is a lack of musical analyses regarding the structure of dromoi—and inconsistencies between the music transcriptions of particular dromoi (see Fig.3 and Fig.4 for differing transcriptions of the same dromos). This is in part due to the fact that knowledge of dromoi is passed down orally and many rebetika musicians do not know academic music theory (Stamatis, 2011).


Rebetika’s Byzantine Influences

Stamatis (2011) notes that rebetika is derived from Byzantine music ihoi (sounds). Rebetika musi-cians use 13 modes (dromoi) – seven minor and six major – the minor modes are kurdi, ousak, poi-meniko minor, sabah, kartsigar, nisiotiko minor and niavent minor (ibid.). Regarding identity, it is important to note that rebetika is considered to express ‘Greekness’ and its links to Byzantine music and the Orthodox church reinforce a sense of nationhood. According to Tragaki (2007), Orthodox Church cantors frequented cafe amans, considering themselves as experts in the oriental style of music being performed there. Tragaki notes that, “the concept of ‘oriental music’ acquires ambigu-ous meanings depending on the ideological stance of the user. For the proponents of Orthodox ihoi (sounds, the modes of Byzantine chant), alongside the Byzantine chant, the ‘oriental’ musics of cafeamans—including dhimotiko traghoudi—represent the musics of ‘our’ Orient” (2007, p.287). Therefore, those Greeks who were influenced by the West shunned Ottoman or oriental music and other Greeks venerated Eastern sounds and folk music as a means of warding off Western influences and reinforcing their national identity.

Popular Rebetika Artists and Early Recordings

One of the most well-known rebetika musicians, famed for being the patriarch of the Piraeus style is Markos Vamvakaris. He was born in 1905 in a poor village in the Greek island of Syros. He worked many menial jobs and he later bored of this and started to mix with petty criminals (Holst, 1975). He was influenced by a musician (and former prisoner) called Aivali who introduced him to the bouzouki and soon later he began to play as part of a group known as the Piraeus Quartet (ibid.). The other musicians in his group included Stratos Pagioumtzis, Giorgos Batis and Anestis Delias and they played from town to town in tekedes across mainland Greece (Stamatis, 2011). Holst-Warhaft (2013) described his vocal quality as grave and reminiscent of the manges’ underworld. This tough style of singing embodied the rebete lifestyle in Greece and it distanced itself from ori-ental-style early rebetika (Samson, 2013). Vamkaris played as part of the Many of these Piraeus musicians were not full-time professional musicians—they earned money through other employ-ment. Vamvakaris worked in a cotton-thread factory for example and his music reflects this part of his life as well as his attachment to the manges lifestyle. Vamvakaris’ music is said to epitomise the rebetika genre – his 1935 song To Portofoli ‘The Wallet’ (quoted in Stamatis 2011, p.132) captures the atmosphere of the rebete lifestyle:

In today’s world this everybody knows

The strength of a man lies in his wallet.

If they learn that you have a wallet in your pocket

They tell you that you are a gentlemen,

that you are just as you should be

Your friends want you and everyone comes near you

As soon as they learn that you have a wallet

The wallet, what do you want, it has great happiness

In every difficult time, it makes you a brave young man.


For Stamatis (2011), Vamvakaris’ music is ideal for learning Greek modes, chordal accompaniment and the melodic line. Pennanen (1997, p.83) studies his 1933 song Ta matia sou t’arapika as an ex-ample. An excerpt can be seen below (Fig.5) – the melody of this piece is based on dromos segah – it commences with a broken major triad that ascends to the octave of the root of I. The melodic line then descend from the leading tone G# to the guclu (A). The rhythm is provided by the guitar and two high-pitched instrument – the baglamas and a drinking glass tapped which is tapped with beads – play the I triad in regular 16th notes.

One of the most well-known rebetika artists was Roza Eskenazi—a Greek Jew who was born in Constantinople but raised in Thessaloniki and Athens. Eskanazi had a career before the Great Ex-change—she played in cafe amans across Asia Minor and mainland Greece and she was discovered by Columbia Records, Panayiotis Tountas (Holst-Warhaft, 2013). At the height of her career in the 1930s, she was performing alongside musicians who had once played in the cafe amans of Asia Minor. Along with other popular rebetika musicians, she made a record with the Columbia Record Company. Many recordings of Greek music were carried out by foreign companies such as Gramo-phone, Odeon and Columbia (Tragaki, 2007). By 1927, the Columbia Record Company had begun to record the most popular rebetika artists in Greece such as the composer and violinist Dimitrios Semsis (Torp, 1993a). Semsis had played in Constantinople and was admired by the sultans there as he could also play Turkish classical music. He and his family ended up settling in Salonica on main-land Greece and he went on to play across the major cities in the country (ibid.). Semsis played alongside singers such as Roza Eskenazi in cafe amans and it was this calibre of musician which was sought by certain record companies at the time. Cafe aman composers did not play rebetika in the same style as bouzouki-based Piraeus rebetika artists—it consisted of the same instrumentation as Smyrna music (with the oud and santour for example). Due to certain limitations attached to re-cording techniques at the time, the sound of recorded rebetika is different to the live equivalent. For example, the structure of recorded rebetika changed to a certain extent—the taksims became shorter and less elaborate (Tragaki, 2007). These recordings provided an alternative view of rebetika musi-cians with a more classical and respectable style which appealed to a difference audience, thus widening the fan base for rebetika (ibid.).


The Impact of Political Control on Greek Music and Identity: from the Metaxas Re-gime to WWII

Political Context of the Metaxas Dictatorship

After various political crises, in the mid 1930s, George II became the King of Greece once again (reigning from 1935 until 1947) and appointed General Ioannis Metaxas as prime minister. Greece became an extreme authoritarian state which depended on the police to keep dissidents at bay. The ideology of Metaxas included a lack of tolerance towards any non-conformist Greeks. In 1937, Metaxas announced his plans to create ‘The Third Greek Civilisation’, which was inspired by The Third Reich in Germany as well as the glory days of Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire (Pennanan, 2003). His aim was to modernise Greece while promoting the idea of hard work, order and discipline (ibid.). As such, the very definition of the rebete (an idle, unemployed or underem-ployed person) was not supported by the state. While in its early stages, the regime had no official written rules about which music was or was not acceptable; however, the preference for Western music was suggested in the foundation of a new state orchestra and the choice of music used in pro-paganda (ibid.). Along with classical and orchestral music, the dictatorship also promoted folk songs through the State Radio (Torp, 1993b). Furthermore, Metaxas sought to cleanse Greece of its Eastern influences in order to pave the way for a better relationship with the West. Nagel (1994) uses the image of a shopping cart to describe the construction of ethnic culture—the cart does not come loaded with goods from the historical legacy of a nation, it is the choice of particular items to put inside the cart (such as art, music and beliefs) which constructs cultural identity. In this paper, Greek identity has been asserted through music and as always, there is room for conflicting versions of nationhood through particular genres. Metaxas promoted the image of Greece as linked to the

Byzantine Empire and connected to the West. On the one side, there is the attraction of Ancient Greece (which is propagated by the intelligentsia and supported by the West); on the other side, Im-perial Byzantium is seen as a marker of glory in Greek history (Koliopoulos and Veremis, 2002). Metaxas seemed to draw inspiration from both sides but his overall views were conservative and he wanted to promote a ‘cleaned-up’ version of Greece—be it through Western classical music or a sanitised version of rebetika.

Musical Traits as a Mouthpiece for Political Ideology

Shared musical characteristics can be a culturally unifying force (Manuel, 1989). Similarly, even within the same nation (often including diverse populations), emphasising particular musical traits which belong to that country can emphasise national pride. Metaxas valued conservative, discip-lined and obedient citizens and found ways to punish those who were anti-authoritarian by con-trolling their musical output. Rebetika was considered oriental and morally dubious (Samson, 2013). During Metaxas’s dictatorship, composer and musician Panayiotis Tountas wrote Barbara— a song about a woman who had loose morals. His song was laden with comic double meanings about her fishing activities by night:

“A big fish/beautiful and lively

He bites Barbara’s bait/he moves her fishing pole” (Stamatis 2011, p.216)

This song provoked Metaxas as his daughter was called Barbara and soon after he officially cen-sored rebetika lyrics. The dictatorship insisted that rebetika musicians’ lyrics should be submitted for approval before any recording activities (ibid.). The entire genre of rebetika was not banned as such, in fact it was later modified to sound more Western and many of these new-style recordings are considered classical rebetika. Along with the censorship of song lyrics, in 1939, a law was passed stating that any music which opposes “the authentic spirit of Greek tradition” could be pro-hibited (Gayraud, 2018). This law was sufficiently vague for the authorities to decree any so-called unsavoury song as contradictory to Greek tradition. The regime had such control over musical ma-terial that it even made alteration suggestions when submitted lyrics were considered unsuitable (ibid.). Rebetika songs had been famed for expressing pain and dissatisfaction in a simple and blunt manner and it was antithetic to the nature of the genre to hide their disdain. As a means of subver-sion, some composers refused to write songs under their real names during the dictatorship—for example, Vaggelis Papazoglou wrote ‘The False Friend” in 1937 but credited Perpiniadis and Payioumtzis (Stamatis, 2011).

The Metaxas Regime’s Control over Rebetes and Eastern Music

Apart from the regime’s control over song lyrics, rebetika musicians and their lifestyle was also un-der scrutiny. Manges were considered unacceptable and antithetic to the new regime’s outlook. Many musicians witnessed the closure of their regular performance venues—supposedly because they promoted hashish smoking. The dictatorship forced the closure of tekedes (the hashish dens which had previously been tolerated). Many of the former frequenters of these tekedes fled to Greek islands and Thessaloniki where the conditions were less severe. This era of rebetika (from 1938 to 1946) became known as ‘the Thessalonikian school of rebetika’ as musicians thrived there more than in Athens (Tragaki, 2007). In Thessaloniki, musicians could somewhat escape the watchful eye of the regime (and later the Axis occupation). Furthermore, recording companies were no longer allowed to record songs related to the hashish-smoking lifestyle. Many musicians ended up in pris-on during these times simply for smoking marijuana or ignoring the regime’s censorship. Musicians also suffered from a general lack of promotion as the regime often did not approve of their lyrics and as such they could not record, sell or broadcast their songs. Any recordings of rebetika and cafe aman music which predated 1937 were not played on national radio due to the dark image they por-trayed of Greek society (Torp, 1993a).

Eastern and oriental influences were also attacked and diminished under Metaxas’s rule. Taking in-spiration from Ataturk, who attempted to de-emphasise Turkey’s oriental nature, Metaxas wanted to distance Greece from Eastern-influenced music and align the country with Western Europe (Holst-Warhaft, 2002). As such, in efforts to destroy any cultural links to Asia Minor, he banned amanedes and promoted rural folk music and Western European songs. Metaxas made efforts to stop the re-cording of cafe aman songs as they were of Turkish origin and did not fit the new Greek narrative. However, he did recognise the bouzouki (an instrument which once had a poor reputation) as a Greek instrument. The bouzouki which had previously been associated with outlaws was now con-sidered an esteemed national instrument which was “apparently unpolluted by the eastern influences of Anatolia” (Aydin 2014, p.72). In this attempt to irradiate any oriental influences in music, cafe aman music was no longer recorded and there was a sharp decline in the recording and perform-ances of smyrneika music. “The end result was the virtual disappearance of smyrneika by 1937 and the dominance, since the second world war, of the bouzouki as the archetypical instrument of Greek song” (ibid., p.72).

The dictator believed that people from the countryside were guardians of authentic and pure Greek folk music (Gayraud, 2018). Greek nationalistic folklore prioritised rural music over urban and mul-ticultural songs from the underworld (Gauntlett, 2012). The regime regarded folk dances such as kleftika, kalamatianos and tsamikos as Pan-Hellenic and he encouraged the teaching of these dances (Pennanen, 2003). Folk music such as kleftika received more radio air time than Anatolian-influ-enced smyrneika and anti-authoritarian rebetika. Metaxas made some contradictory selections—he attempted to reduce the production of certain Eastern music but did not acknowledge the oriental influences on Greek folk songs, Byzantine music and their so-called ‘pure’ Greek instruments. Ra-cial cleansing was not his only motivation though—as mentioned above, he did not want to promote any urban or impure music. For Holst-Warhaft (2002a, p.31), “However hybrid their own origins, the regional folk musics of Greece were generally defined by association with a particular landscape. The deracinated, urban rebetika, with their foreign derived slang, their shady milieu and anti-authoritarian lyrics were a thorn in the side of nationalists, but for the same reason they were at-tractive to modernist writers and intellectuals who opposed narrow nationalism, and to working class urban Greeks, many of whom were sympathetic to the Greek Communist Party‘s campaign for a more equal distribution of resources.”. In other words, Metaxas could not completely inhibit the attraction of working-class people to the rebetika which predated his rule.

In a more recent study, Pieridou-Skoutella (2011) examined Greek-Cypriot children’s reactions to music and found differ-ences between those living in urban settings and those based in the countryside—in general, the former preferred Western music and the latter enjoyed folk songs, laika and tsifteteli for example. Although this is from a recent study, it is interesting to note this divide here as Metaxas too realised that there was a difference between the music enjoyed in urban and rural communities. Ironically, the laika and tsifteteli appreciated by children from the countryside are not ‘pure’ Greek forms of music. While Metaxas attempted to clean up the image of rebetika, Alexatos (2006) described the need for this genre as it expressed the public’s pain under the dictatorship—many poor and starving Greeks did not want to listen to a light-hearted waltz or tango. As such, the working-class citizens of Greece identified with rebetika and continued to listen to these old records, whether they fol-lowed the regime’s ideology or not.

Not all rebetes backed down without a fight—after all, this attitude goes against the manges way of life. Tragaki (2007) notes that the famed rebetika musician Yiannis Papaioannou tried to persuade Metaxas to remove the prohibition because musicians were suffering without a means of earning money. Papaioannou played an example of his repertoire which was now devoid of any references to hashish and Metaxas approved of these songs. During the Metaxas regime, it would seem that there was a decline in the recording of rebetika but that is not necessarily the case—it was certainly censored but rebetika continued to be composed and produced. Record companies were forced to comply with the regime’s laws and many rebetika songs were re-labelled as laika (popular) music; however, they maintained many of the musical features of earlier rebetika (Gauntlett, 2005).

Vassilis Tsitsanis and the Westernisation of Rebetika

Followers of Metaxas believed that rebetika was linked to the Eastern influences which inhibited the Westernisation of Greece (Stamatis, 2011). While encouraging radio stations to play Western-European music such as Italian serenades and German Waltzes, these musical genres began to influ-ence the development of rebetika. The Turkish quarter tones were heard less often, in an attempt to remove oriental sounds from rebetika. The themes of rebetika changed and—as mentioned above— lyrics were no longer allowed to portray drugs, criminality or the underworld. The musical features also began to change and become more Westernised. Apart from the use of Greek lyrics and instru-ments, the original musical features of rebetika come from the Middle East and Turkey—such as zeibekiko, tsifteteli, and karsilamas rhythms and dromos modes such as rast, hidjaj-kar and sabah (Maliaras, 2014). With that said, rebetika would be unrecognisable if it was completely stripped of its oriental core. Pennanen (1997) compares dromos with makam and found that it is possible to ad-just the makam scale structures to fit Western harmony—making chordal accompaniment possible. By examining a transcription of the 1930 song ‘In the Basement’ by Kostas Bezos, Stamatis (2011) points out that in this earlier form of rebetika, the accompaniment was simple—for example, there were two notes in the accompanimental line: the first note of the mode and the fifth note of the mode. However, as rebetika developed in the 1930s and 1940s, the accompaniment began to follow the melodic line rather than the mode, consisting of more chords (which were similar to Western harmonisation).

Vassilis Tsitsanis began his recording career in 1937 and his image was very different to that of the manges rebetika musicians. Not only was his style of rebetika slightly Westernised but his lyrics avoided the usual rebete topics such as hardship and criminality. His style was mellow rather than tough but he did manage to appeal to those who needed music to express their pain. For example, his song Synnefiasmeni Kyriaki ‘Cloudy Sunday’ uses metaphorical lyrics to discuss the pain and suffering being endured by Greek people. Fatouros (1976, p.23) provides these translated verses of the song:

“Cloudy Sunday,

You are like my heart,

It’s always clouded over,

Oh! Jesus Christ and Virgin!

You are a day like that

On which I lost my joy

Cloudy Sunday

You make my heart bleed”

Tsitsanis wrote this piece about tragic events in Greece—he expressed his sorrow about the death, starvation, fear, arrests and executions of his people (Tragaki, 2007). Despite this intention, the lyr-ics of this well-known song are ambiguous and not necessarily easy to decipher. However, the song serves the same function as earlier rebetika in that it has a cathartic affect on listeners. Even though Vassilis Tsitsanis was not from the manges underworld, he was not sheltered from their influence. It could be said that songs like Cloudy Sunday provide a compromise in the sense that these lyrics are not offensive but they can provoke personal introspection about any kind of suffering. Furthermore, at least rebetika with socially-acceptable lyrics was Greek and as such, it provided music which was more relatable than the light-hearted Italian and German music which was also commonly aired at that time.

Tsitsanis was one of the first new rebetika musicians to make a move towards simple Western har-monies. Pennanen (1997, p.98) provides an example of the development of one piece of music overtime – two out of the three recorded versions of the song Synnefiasmeni Kyriaki are shown below (see Fig.6). In Tsitsanis’ updated version, there is a rhythmic cadence following each vocal section and the piece is in dromos rast – or a Western major scale

Westernisation and the Introduction of Chordal Harmony

During and after World War II, Greek popular music became Westernised through the introduction of chordal harmony, new instruments and other traits of Western music. Both traditional and new instruments and techniques were used interchangeably in both original compositions and remakes of old songs. Historically in Greece, music and instruments which were adopted from Anatolia have either been devalued for their oriental roots or accepted as Greek (denying their actual cultural ori-gins). Similarly, in a discussion about Western influences in Indian Carnatic music, Nettl (1997) noted that occidental instruments such as the violin and harmonium were used in Carnatic music from the 19th century onwards; however, many members of the musical public deny their Western origins and construct a narrative which fits their national identity. As Nettl (1997, p.1) suggested, “In music, perhaps more than in other domains of culture, people wish to tie their present to the past“. In Greece, this is more complicated as some see Eastern music as an anachronistic emblem of the past, viewing the Westernisation of music as a sign of progress; however, others prefer to think of Greece as Eastern (tied to the Byzantine empire and Orthodox church) and as such, they reject Westernisation. Pennanen (1997) points out that Greek music was never merely Westernised— many Eastern musical features remained from the 1930s through to the 1960s and beyond; further-more, Western chordal harmony is compatible with Eastern modes such as makam and dromoi.

Manuel (1989, p.78) notes that certain modes such as hicaz accommodate chordal harmonies easier than others—“neutral intervals naturally resist incorporation into major and minor chords, and thus the modes in which these are seen as indispensable are avoided in acculturated music”. Petropoulos (2000) points out that some of the Greek dromos correspond to Western minor scales; however, dromos differ due to the use of minor 7th and 3rds and augmented intervals. Dromos rast is an ex-ample of a mode which can be modified to sound similar to a Western major scale (Pennanen, 1997). It is also possible to find a combination of Eastern and Western characteristics in a single piece of music. Pennanen (1997, p.77) uses a song by Tsitsanis as an example: in Otan pines tin taverna (see Fig.7), a Western-music-style broken major triad is used in the opening, yet in the first bar, a dromos Houzam 0-3 (the Greek version of the makam segâh) formula in F which is construc-ted around a guçlu (known as a melodic dominant in Western music) tone c. Later in the piece, the houzam dromos modulates to a Western D minor tonality.

It is not usual to find this kind of key change (albeit including Eastern modes) in oriental or Ottoman music. This type of modulation is influenced by the Western concept of relative keys (ibid.). By the 1940s, Greek music was a com-bination of Western and Eastern influences. In music and politics, Greece has always been at the confluence of oriental and occidental cultures, which has led to unique hybrid forms of music (Holst-Warhaft, 2002b). The amount of dromoi used in Greek music did not diminish as a result of the post-WWII Western influences—dromoi were merely modified to work alongside Western mu-sical characteristics (Pennanen, 1997). Furthermore, certain rhythms associated with rebetika were not easily Westernised – the tsifteteli dance is so strongly associated with Eastern belly dance that it resisted occidental influences (ibid.) The continued Westernisation and indeed orientalisation of Greek music will be discussed in the next chapter.


WWII, the Axis Occupation and its Impact on Greek Music

During WWII, Fascist Italy invaded Greece and soon after Nazi Germany assisted and succeeded in occupying the country. From 1941 through to 1945 the German Axis occupation brought of brought death, the destruction of industry and infrastructure and overall hardship to the people of Greece. The Nazis also introduced their own kind of censorship. The occupation government suspended the production of gramophone records as their army used the Columbia record factory for their military vehicles (Tragaki, 2007). Like Metaxas, the occupation promoted Western music (particularly Ger-man and Italian songs) and as such they censored rebetika. Forced to retreat underground once again, rebetika was only heard live in illegal dens. As the Metaxas regime was no longer in power, rebetika lyrics once again discussed criminal activities (ibid.). There is, however, a lack of material to analyse from that era as the recording of rebetika was forbidden during the Axis occupation (Pennanen, 1997). Despite the ban on recording rebetika, the genre thrived in performance venues and many bouzouki-based bands were a commercial success in taverns around Greece (ibid.). Rebetika song lyrics occasionally featured political content—although they were usually experiential rather than ideological (Sarbanes, 2006). A song called “How Many Hearts Wept” is cited by Sar-banes (2006. p.30)—this piece was written by Payoumdzis Stratos during the Axis occupation:

“How many hearts wept in those black years

That we lived in slavery, treated like dirt?

How many young bodies and lives wiped out

And houses shut up without cause?

The German black market caused it all,

The misery of our people.

Let them take a good look at what made our hearts burn

While they got rich and had fun on our helplessness. “


Rebetika and the end of the Axis Occupation

Greece was liberated from Nazi control in 1945. The political climate after WWII was unstable and there was a succession of many weak governments. Once again, music (and rebetika in particular) was referred to with either pride or disdain to assert a particular ideology. Extremely conservative military forces and the Communist National Liberation Front were both against rebetika music (Samson, 2013). Even though manges occasionally wrote songs which spoke out against a particu-lar regime (as mentioned above), they represented the sub-proletariat rather than the proletariat and they rarely communicated political messages. For Holst (1975), many different political parties in Greece shunned the genre as rebetika musicians were largely anti-authoritarian and not easy to or-ganise (to take any kind of political stance). In spite of this, rebetika continued to thrive in perform-ance venues and it seemed that the nightlife in Athens was being restored to it’s pre-war glory (Koglin, 2017).


Chapter 3

Renegotiating Greek Identity through Music: from 1946-1974

The Years Following WWII: The Political Context in Greece

After WWII, the people of Greece were starving, beaten down and struggling with their political and national identity. They were torn between nationalism, Nazism, Fascism, Stalinism and their basic needs for survival and rising from difficult times (Calotychos, 2012). The civil war consisted of two sides—one side (led by Sophoulis and Tsaldaris) was backed by Britain and America and other side—the Greek Communist Party (KKE)—was supported by nations such as Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. After intervention from Britain and America, the supporters of a capitalist regime won— this further accelerated the modernisation and Westernisation of Greece (Papadimitriou, 2006). At this time, the identity of rebetika was negotiable and a young composer called Manos Hadjidakis aimed to reassert the genre as an emblem of Greek identity. In 1949, Hadjidakis gave a public lec-ture at the Athens Art Theatre, celebrating the music of Vamvakaris, leading towards his argument that rebetika should be an esteemed, inherently Greek genre. He drew comparisons between Byz-antine chant and the Greek modes used in rebetika in order to counter the establishment’s rejection of rebetika as national music (Koglin, 2017). This lecture was significant in re-asserting rebetika as a cultural asset.

In the years following his lecture, Hadjidakis and fellow-composer Mikis Theodorakis (who were trained in Western classical music) wanted to find a way to unite Greeks at a time when they needed it most. The Greek intelligentsia had historically had very different political views to the working class population which effectively created different ideas of Greek identity. As such, Theodorakis and Hadjidakis attempted to connect both groups through an experiment with rebetika (Holst-War-haft, 1999). This resulted in a new type of rebetika called ‘art songs’ (which will be discussed be-low). Various right wing regimes were in power from 1950 until the mid 1960s, when a centrist party took government. After much instability and a coup d’etat, a seven-year military Junta dictat-orship took control of Greece between 1967 and 1974 (Papadimitriou, 2006). Led by Colonel Papadopoulos, this regime brought about strict censorship once again—particularly of Theodora-kis—but as a reaction, rebetika became politicised (shifting meaning once more to suit the narrative of the rebetika enthusiast). As an act of resistance to the Junta, so-called art songs of the late 1960s were used as protest music by artists such as Mikis Theodorakis (Samson, 2013).

Westernisation and Modernisation

After WWII and with the victory of Anglo-American capitalism and culture, Greece went through a period of modernisation. In terms of music, Nettl (1985) describes the modernisation process as the adaptation of a musical system and its characteristics to move towards a Western style—how-ever, many of the essential and inherent non-Western traits may be retained. Pennanen (1997) sup-ports this view that modernisation is not just one sided; furthermore, Greek music in these years of modernisation continued to encapsulate both Eastern and Western features. Manuel (1988) high-lights that modernisation should not be seen as synonymous with Westernisation since many cul-tures retain their unique musical features while adopting the ‘song-like’ structure of Western music (characterised by its clear sense of dramatic climax and closure). The educated classes in Greece certainly did admire Western European art and music; however, it was not sufficient to appeal to local tastes. For Daniélou (1979), Western music is often simplified to such a degree that it does not successfully transmit complex ideas and emotion. As such, it could be argued that Greek composers could not express their national identity through a Western style of music alone. Perhaps a better description for this musical change is globalisation—which is not a phenomenon unique to Greece.

This global outlook reflected the identity of Greeks who took inspiration from other countries’ art, music and politics. As Nettl (1983, p.353) put it, “many societies are torn, musically, between at-tempts to maintain their tradition in a modern environment compatible with Western-derived polit-ical, social, and economic institutions, and the desire to enter the Western cultural system without completely changing the traditional music”. This sentiment echoes the aforementioned political climate where Greeks struggled to form their own identity amidst the pull of Anglo-American polit-ics versus Communism for example.

Apart from adapting Greek musical characteristics to accommodate the features of Western songs (as described in Chapter 2), many musicians such as Markos Melkon sang wistful songs about the West (Stamatis, 2011). The instruments used in popular music also began to change— the piano and accordion became popular in the 1950s and Tsitsanis often used a female pianist in his perform-ances (Holst, 1975). In 1955 Manolis Chiotis introduced a Westernised version of the bouzouki to his performances—a 4-string version (rather than the usual 3-string bouzouki) which became popu-lar among other musicians. “The new type of bouzouki with four double courses instead of the tra-ditional three became a virtuoso instrument.” (Pennanen 1997, p.67). Many songs from the mid 1950s onwards were also influenced by Italian kantades, Latin-American music and anglo-Americ-an pop—so much so that at times, the only Greek defining features were the use of bouzoukis and Greek lyrics.


Laika: a new form of rebetika

A new style of music emerged after 1947 which was known as laika—it promoted both Western-in-fluenced music and a cleaned-up and intellectualised version of rebetika. The word laika means ‘song of the people’ and it is used to describe popular Greek music in general (it was used in this way before the 1960s); from the 1960s onwards laika became a genre which fused rebetika music with Western-style songs, also taking musical inspiration from Latin America, Turkey, Egypt and India. Laika is considered to be the successor of rebetika (Pennanen, 1997). Laika is both a genre and a term—in that sense, it can be likened to pop (popular) music in the West which includes any music which is popular and successful.

The commercial goal of laika music coupled with its foreign influences have led many to deem the genre as low quality (Holst, 1975; Pennanen, 1997). How-ever, it was extremely popular from the mid 1950s onwards, laika was performed at night clubs with electric bouzoukis and singers who became the focal point of the performance. Laika music also became popular with Western tourists – touristika is Greek music which has been modified to appeal to Westerners. Syrtaki (or sirtaki) is a tourist version of the hasapiko dance – unlike tradi-tional hasapiko, it is divided into two sections: a slow hasapiko which accelerates and thus trans-forms into the up-tempo hasaposerviko. This dance was popularised by the Theodorakis theme tune to Zorba the Greek (1964).

The pendulum of cultural influence had swung towards Europe again and rebetika took on a new elite social status (Samson, 2013). According to Pennanen (ibid.), laika music at that time was played in kosmikes tavernes (“beau monde taverns”) which were luxurious venues, catering for the upper echelons of Greek society. The criminal, undesirable elements of the music were minimised in favour of treating the genre as serious and intellectual (ibid.). Some artists wrote humorous lyrics about this new elite audience for rebetika (or at least the laika version of the genre). A popular 1951 song written by composer Tsitsanis and lyricist Manesis called “Borei na Zeis Sto Kolonaki” (you might live in Kolonaki) playfully refers to the people from one of the richest neighbourhoods in Athens (as cited by Stamatis 2011, p.226):

“Maybe you live in Kolonaki

But you have a longing for the bouzouki

You are the ripest fruit of the season

The mangas of sweet waters

You don’t like the fancy bars

And you will take a good woman

She should be a flirt and a fox

And she should give you a hard time every once in a while”

Stamatis (2017) refers to this lighter type of laika song as archondorebetika—Tsitsanis and his con-temporaries wrote light-hearted songs like this to reflect the changing tastes of the 1960s. The arch-ondorebetika label points to the gentrification of the genre as the upper classes made it their own (Lee, 2008).


The characteristics of Laika: Orientalisation and Indocracy in Greece

Although Greek popular music from the 1940s onwards was Westernised, Pennanen (1997) points out that a more accurate description of this development is that it was modernised, westernised and orientalised. In that sense, it differs from rebetika in that it uses international instruments such as the piano, accordion and latin percussion (ibid.). While Metaxas and the Axis occupation sought to distance Greece from oriental music, a rejection of Westernisation was communicated through the popularity of Egyptian and Indian music in the 1950s (Gauntlett, 1991). Many old songs were re-written using traditional as well as new instruments, fusing old and new techniques. These songs retained characteristics of rebetika such as taximia and certain dromoi but they also included hints of Indian raga or Brazilian rhythms for example (ibid.). Oriental songs were often viewed with dis-dain—they were considered to be of Turkish gypsy or Indian origin.

Once again the clash of East and West appeared, where supporters of Western culture accused musicians such as Derveniotis and Kaldaras of corrupting Greek music and defenders of their hybrid compositions stated that they were inspired by the East and this was a legitimate alternative to the Westernisation of Greek music (Tragaki, 2018). Again, it can be pointed out that the combination of both influences in Greek music means that the nation’s songs were becoming globalised. Furthermore, Pennanen (2010) pointed out that Western music alone cannot easily convey the complex emotions communicated in the rhythmic modes of Ottoman and Easter classical music.

From the mid 1950s until the late 1960s, over one hundred Indian music films were screened in Greece—leading to many Greek remakes of Indian songs (Pennanen, 1997). Like laika music, Indi-an film songs were also influenced by music from other cultures and this made the genre more ap-pealing to Greeks. The Indian film Mother India (1960) and its music was extremely popular in Greece and this seems to have triggered the period known as Indocracy (ibid.). Abadzi (1998) noted that Greek composers attempted to Hellenise Indian songs by speeding them up, simplifying vocal sections and using the bouzouki rather than certain Indian instruments. Interestingly, many Greek musicians are not aware of these influences and as mentioned above, they assume that they are of Greek origin (in keeping with their personal narrative of nationhood). For example, Ordoulidis (2011a) mentioned his own performance experience with a band playing what was apparently a matzóre dromos—as a side note, Ordoulidis suggested that many Greek rebetika musicians did not tend to learn history or musicology seeing it as unnecessary—while the bouzouki player insisted they were playing matzóre, the appearance of a VII natural major chord in that dromos is rare. The piece was in D tonality, but it used a C (natural) major rather than an A major in its cadences. Or-doulidis later realised that this was an example of a Greek song which was influenced by Indian music in the Indocracy period. See Fig.8 for a transcription of that melody (ibid.):

It was not just India which influenced Greek laika, many hybrid-style songs were accompanied in the rhythmically simplified Brazilian baión rhythm for example (Pennanen, 1997). In an assessment of the different cultural influences behind Greek laika of the 1960s, Pennanen (ibid.) notes that a Tsitsanis song called “Ta limania”, recorded in 1962, features Westernised Brazilian rhythm, Greek lyrics and bouzouki in the rebetika form of the Huseyni makam. As such, laika in the 1960s was truly multicultural.

Poetry, Resistance and Art Songs

For Nettl (1997), the evolutionary path of a country’s music can either mirror or contradict its socio-political climate. Similarly, music can either support the regime or form an act of protest. In the 1960s this so-called wave of ‘high art songs’ brought about a revival and a re-thinking of the reb-etika genre. This music involved the combination of rebetika and laika music with the words of Greek poets. At a time when the Greek spirit was low, poets such as Giorgos Seferis used his poetry to appeal to ethno-Hellenistic sentiments and Greek national identity. His words were later used in compositions by Mikis Theodorakis, Hadjidakis and Xarhakos for example (Dimitrou, 2013). At the same time, Theodorakis and Hadjidakis sought to unite the Greek intelligentsia with the urban working classes by combining rebetika with poetry. Varelopoulos (2018) points out that this new musical genre called entechno-laiko (popular art song) was not merely an aesthetic endeavour—it also had political content. This movement was initiated by the prolific musician and composer Mi-kis Theodorakis, who stimulated ardent controversy with the release of his 1960 song Epitaphios, which combined the poetry of Yiannis Ritsos with bouzouki instrumentation and the voice of Grig-oris Bithikotsis (Tragaki, 2005).

The poem of the same name had been publicly destroyed by Metaxas so the song had connotations of rebellion. Many left-wing intellectuals took issue with this hybrid of poetry with rebetika as it was not considered an appropriate combination (ibid.). Rebetes had rarely sent political messages in their music. Furthermore, at the heart of the controversy was whether or not rebetika deserved the status of being considered an emblem of Greek identity. His-torically, the genre had been the music of outlaws, it went through periods of censorship and re-emerged and it was later appreciated by the upper classes in opulent tavernas. Theodorakis was brave in the sense that he wanted to appeal musically to all of these people—thus creating Greek music which everyone could identify with. Orfanos (1999) notes that Theodorakis achieved this pan-Greek relatability by using familiar hasapiko and zeibekiko rhythms along with sophisticated poetry. The wave of art songs which emerged after Epitaphios included songs such as ‘The Doomed” (with lyrics based on a poem by Kostas Varnalis). Holst-Warhaft (1999, p.12) cited the following excerpt from that song:

“In the basement tavern

Amid smoke and curses

(with the barrel-organ screeching above)

our whole gang was drinking last night,

Last night like all the others,

To wash the poison down.”

The atmosphere of this piece appealed to all Greeks who were disillusioned after the war. Interest-ingly, unlike the former attempts of Metaxas to encourage a sense of pride in the glory days of Greece, art songs such as “the doomed” provide an honest representation of the crushed Greek spirit after the war. Furthermore, this song retains the mood of original rebetika pieces—featuring the ex-periences of downtrodden people. Apart from appealing to the general public, Theodorakis also managed to politicise the genre—expressing leftist opinions through protest music. As mentioned above, rebetika had not historically been associated with political messages and as such (particu-larly during times of political unrest) those with strong political opinions dismissed their music. The 1967-1974 dictatorship banned Theodorakis’s music and he was imprisoned, thwarting his artistic endeavours to unite Greeks through art (Orfanos, 1999). However, his earlier songs became even more popular and he was seen as a hero since the Junta were largely unpopular.

Laika and its Musical Characteristics

The dance rhythms of laika songs include hasapiko, tsifteteli and zeibekiko—the latter is one of the main dances of rebetiko-laiko and it is a highly emotional dance usually performed by males. They also use Latin American and Brazilian rhythms for example (as described above). The aforemen-tioned laika art songs used lyrics from prolific Greek poets but it is interesting to note that many Greek writers were in turn influenced by folk songs and ballads when constructing the rhythm of their poems (Dimitrou, 2013). The lyrics of other laika songs covered a variety of topics from love to pain and suffering. Pennanen (1997) describes the atmosphere of certain laika songs as dismal with expressive vocals and suicidal lyrics. He also cites Gauntlett (1991) who noted that the first Panhellenic Psychiatry Conference held melancholic bouzouki songs responsible for an increase in mental disorders in Greece.

In terms of modes, minor-key dromoi were used but major keys also featured in laika music (which may or may not have been influenced by Western music). Laika in particular features the progres-sion from a major triad to its upper tertian relative. Pennanen (1997, p.88) uses a song by Manolis Hiotis as an example (see Fig.9 below) containing the chord progression from G major to B minor. The sound of this chord progression combined with chromaticism “creates a soft, dreamy mood that supports the lyricism of the song” (ibid., p.88). It is difficult to determine whether the Western concept of relative keys influenced this piece or if it was inspired by the Piraeus style of rebetika. This further supports Pennanen’s argument that there is too much emphasis on the Westernisation of Greek music post WWII without a consideration for Eastern influences.

The Politicisation of Rebetika from the 1960s onwards

The left-wing Greek intelligentsia and Communist parties had to negotiate rebetika’s links to Tur-key and the East with the fact this it historically represented groups on the fringes of society (Zai-makis, 2002). As many left-wing activists were persecuted and imprisoned during various regimes such as the 1967-1974 dictatorship, they could identify with rebetes who were also marginalised— they attempted to view rebetika through a Marxist lens. Mikis Theodorakis was a composer and a leftist so he married these two forces in his music (unlike many rebetes who were often considered to be apathetic). In this era, communists attempted to mould rebetika to fit their own ideology. For Theodorakis, music was a powerful medium for political messages; furthermore, he believed that rebetika had potential to bring the people of Greece together and therefore it should have a cleaner and artistic image to appeal to the masses (ibid.)

While the masses were emotionally stirred by the musical characteristics of rebetika, they rejected their criminal-underworld lyrics and sought popular songs to communicate their identity and social needs (Zaimakis, 2002). Theodorakis’ art song lyrics and the general overhaul of rebetika (and how it was interpreted) had an impact on the left-wing public. By the 1960s, The Communist Youth of Greece (KNE) attended rebetika concerts (Koglin, 2017) and held their first cultural event at a Vamvakaris performance, where rebetika music expressed their anti-establishmentarian views (Zaimakis, 2002). The sanitised version of rebetika which was performed at these post-1960s concerts should actually be referred to as laika since its lyrics do not reflect the atmosphere of the manges lifestyle nor the hashish dens that the genre emerged from.



This paper demonstrated that rebetika has had many faces—it has been ‘othered’ (considered ori-ental) and it has been regarded as an emblem of Greek identity. Music in general has always been considered a defining feature of Greek ethnicity (Gauntlett, 1991). From its nascence in Anatolia, it was played by the Greek community who were heavily influenced by their Turkish surroundings. As such, this paper outlined that the Greek dromoi (roads) are based on Turkish and Middle-Eastern makam modes; furthermore, popular rhythms which featured in early Smyrneika right through to the Greek laika of the 1960s include Turkish tsifteteli and karsilamas. Dromoi are Greek modifications; however, they were inspired by the Eastern makam system. These Anatolian influences in rebetika have made certain people in power (and in society) reject rebetika as a marker of Greek identity.

Apart from the disdain for Turkish influences, the lifestyle of rebetika musicians was also generally abhorred. Certain political powers aimed to portray Greece as a respectable, hard-working nation and this lifestyle was antithetic to their ideology. Furthermore, this paper discussed the gap between the Greek intelligentsia (who aimed to align Greece with the West) and the rebetes with their crim-inal associations, anti-authoritarian aura and oriental influences. This Eastern and corrupt image did not fit that idea of Greece as a progressive nation. On the other hand, this dissertation explored the links between Byzantine music and rebetika—which in some regards gave the genre respectability as Greeks glorified the era of the Byzantine Empire (and the Greek Orthodox Church). The Greek dromoi modes which feature in rebetika also afforded the genre more respectability. Overall this paper explored the various circumstances which rendered rebetika a pawn in the play for asserting Greekness.

The complex trajectory of the rebetika genre—from the hashish dens of Smyrna to the urban un-derworld of Greek cities, to elite nightclubs and finally to politicised performances—shows that the identity communicated through rebetika changed many times. Rebetika went through periods of censorship and re-emerged each time, often taking on a new form. It was always used as a vessel for communicating Greek identity—be it as a mouthpiece for the working classes or later as a vehicle for political content. Theodorakis was responsible for rebetika’s greatest transformation (becoming ‘popular art songs’) and at the root of this change was his will to unite Greek people from all social backgrounds. Rebetika which was once performed by anti-authoritarian musicians of the underworld went through various transformations and it is now considered to be music for the Greek masses. This dissertation highlighted the historical East-West divide in Greece—in terms of music, politics and its national identity. This had an impact on the way rebetika was perceived over time (during different trends and political regimes). It has had influences from Anatolia, Anglo-American music and in its later laika form, from countries such as India and Brazil. This polarisa-tion is unnecessary as it is clear that rebetika has had many international influences since its birth. In music and politics, Greece has always been positioned at the meeting point between Eastern and Western cultures—therefore, neither side of the East-West divide should deny the existence of the other influence. Following the beliefs of Pennanen (1997), this paper proposed that the presence of both Eastern and Western influences in Greek music means that the nation’s songs were globalised rather than Westernised.


Glossary of Terms

Amanedes: can be described as “Ottoman vocal pieces performed, along with semi-improvised in-strumental genres, in the music cafes.

Archondorebetika: a light-hearted version of rebetika which became popular after the 1960s.

Baión: a Brazilian rhythmic formula which is used as the basis for a range of music.

Dhimotiko traghoudi: means ‘music which comes from the people’. It originated in the mountains of Greece.

Dromoi/dromos: Roads/road—refers to the Greek music modes used in rebetika. There are many types of dromoi such as dromos houzam, rast and sabah .

Gazel: Ottoman laments, which were historically about unrequited love.

Guçlu: a Turkish musical term which is known as a melodic dominant in Western music

Hasapiko: this is a 2/4 or 4/4 metre rhythm or dance, often danced by males. The name comes from the Turkish work for butcher man (hassapis).

Ihoi: the particular sounds of a type of music such as the modes of the Byzantine chant.

Kantades: Italian romantic serenades

Kleftika: is folk music which originated among agricultural people in the mountains.

Karsilamas: a lively dance/rhythm which originated in Turkey—it is in 9/8 metre.

Laika: this translates as ‘song of the people’ and it is used to describe popular Greek music in gen-eral—it is both a term and a genre.

Magazia: any commercial establishment such as a tavern, market or shop.

Makam: derived from the Arabic word maqam (with maklamar as the plural), this is a Turkish melodic mode (of which there are many types)—it is used in music across Arabia, Persia and Tur-key and it is used during improvisation. Makam Segâh is an example of a type of makam.

Manges: (mangas in singular) were men who were on the fringes of society and belonged to the sub-proletariat. They had a particular style and often played or listened to rebetika.

Pireotiko rebetika: a type of rebetika which originated in Piraeus.

Rebete: this term is derived from the word rebetis, which is defined as an idler, vagabond or rogue.

Smyrneika: music which originated in Smyrna—it was usually played in cafe amans with instru-ments such as the oud, santouri (a hammered dulcimer), canoun, laouto and lyra. Smyrneika trag-houdi is a song from this genre.

Taxim/Taximia (pl.): refers to the improvised section in music, it uses notes of a particular makam.

Tekedes: hashish dens where rebetika musicians would gather and play music together. This style of music became known as teke.

Tsifteteli: (Çiftetelli in Turkish) is a 4/4 rhythm and folk dance which originated in Turkey—it is often associated with belly dance.

Zeibekiko: a Greek rhythm and folk dance (9/4 or 9/8) which is often accompanied by highly emo-tional dancing—usually performed by males.

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