Rebetiko (plural rebetika), occasionally transliterated as rembetiko or rebetico, is a term used today to designate originally disparate kinds of urban Greek music which have come to be grouped together since the so-called rebetika revival, which started in the 1960s and developed further from the early 1970s onwards. Rebetiko briefly can be described as the urban popular song of the Greeks, especially the poorest, from the late 19th century to the 1950s. In 2017 rebetiko was added in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
I got acquainted with rebetika in my early 20s and it instantly ravaged me. This music has this power to possess, to take you places, it can send you in a very sentimental trance. I was listening to a lot of blues at the time but rebetika touched other chords, closer to home, closer to the young Roma love songs, deep cries, vaiete i used to hear through my back window in Bucharest. It's also a nostalgia for things I never lived but I can deeply relate to. And of course that freedom and struggle and sorrow of the marginalised, that power which comes for being on outsider, that underground misterious power, that beauty of being outside of society. Soon after I discovered traditional rebetika I also listened to contemporary stuff as the Yannis Kiriakides and Andy Moor's rebetika album and I became interested in new takes on the genre.
This year 2020 I got the chance to attend an anarchist street party in Athens, in Omonia square, late at night, dancing talking to the people and waiting for the police to shut the party down. The police never came, so I got to talk to the people a bit more and what I realised then is why there is not so much beside "authentic rembetika". Because the Greeks don't want it, they want their original sound and that's it.
Mikis Theodorakis, the man who composed the music for Zorba the Greek and made rebetika famous by this courage to combine rebetika with the Nobel prize literature of Nikos Kazantazkis, was also somewhat against playing the same old music, for finding a new, modern voice of Greek music. Rebetika has a history with the powers that be, stemming from the army war horrors, and being censured and forbidden by it.
This episode features several guests, in order of appearance: Tasos Stamou, Andy Moor, Yannis Kyriakides, Mike Cooper, Viv Corringham and Sam Shalabi.
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*This article is part of the project Music & Conversations in the Attic, co-financed by AFCN.