Rebetika is the Greek form of the blues. The blues, in any language, is a bitter sweet musical genre, born of pain and sorrow and of strong emotion. It’s cathartic and visceral. And it’s powerful.
The American blues are rooted in African vocal spirituals and chants, merging with the field hollers of poor black labourers toiling in the southern plantations at about the time slavery was abolished. These early blues were not a much respected art form then, but are now loved the world over.
The Greek blues, unlike the American rural based blues, were an urban music with roots reaching back to Ottoman cafe music, a synthesis of European music, Orthodox ecclesiastical chant and traditional Anatolian dance rhythms.
Rebetika came into its own as a music of despised, displaced people – in this case, the hundreds of thousands of Greeks living in Turkey, forced by war to flee the collapsing Ottoman Empire. Comfortable ordinary lives turned to misery as the ousted Turkish-born Greeks sought refuge in the slums and refugee settlements of the foreign cities of Greece.
Like the African American blues, Rebetika was forged of pain, alienation and loss, the voice of a people trapped in a hostile land. It was less a soulful blues than a subversive, non conformist, rebellious blues.
Rebetika assumed a boldly anti-establishment stance as the refugees thumbed their noses at authority. The songs told stories of crime, poverty, booze and exile – as well as love. But more than anything they celebrated life in the underworld of the hash dens and prisons.
Over the years, the music moved into the Turkish style underground cafes and eventually to taverns and night clubs.
Rebetika all but died out in the 1950’s – until a new generation of young people protesting Greece’s repressive military dictatorship in the 1960’s, discovered a voice in its defiant themes.
Ouzo Power – Greatest Hits (Volume 1)
Sample tracks from the CD:
Pou Sou Manga