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Immigration and rebetiko
Immigration and rebetiko
Rebetiko music is all about these massive population movements that led to changes in country, job and financial circumstances. These changes contributed to a radical change of lifestyle and social interaction that instigated a change in the mindset of those members of society who were subjected to - and participated in - this process. The denuding of traditional areas of life in the Greek countryside of their human population and the growth of major urban centres were effected through a process of decomposition of pre-existing social and economic models bereft of a historical raison d etre in the new global division of labour, should nonetheless have taken place in a way that would have had a smaller impact on people s psyches. However, this violent disintegration of traditional structures was accompanied by another period of turbulence, which had to do with the composition of new areas in which these transported social groups could live and function. Nostalgia for home, being uprooted, poverty, unemployment, misery, social injustice, prostitution and drugs were the characteristics of a long period of time in the lives of these groups, problems which together with love, the mother-figure and romance would grow into the themes of rebetiko songs. Amid this period of violent change connected to the re-establishment and creation of the modern Greek state, large social groups, from the exhausted agricultural masses, to internal migrants, refugees and emigrants to other countries and especially the U.S., became the protagonists of rebetiko. From the late 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th it appears that over a quarter of Greece s agricultural populations moved either abroad or to cities inside the country. The majority headed to foreign lands, and especially the U.S. A small minority became assimilated into the growing working class and the lower strata of the middle class, which composed the majority in the social make-up of the country s urban centres. But not all immigrants to urban centres would become assimilated immediately, while there were also those social groups that reacted to this assimilation process one way or another. Rebetiko is a typical example of a form of popular culture, and it came to express those groups who had become assimilated into or who had been expelled from the urban social system. It is easy to observe that the basics of rebetiko, the conditions for its existence, were heavily underlined by the phenomenon of migration. This element of movement and changing lifestyles also existed in internal migration as well. The Greek immigrant to the U.S.A. came to form an ethnic minority in a multi-ethnic social body. Although the Greeks scattered to different cities across America, they still felt a need (especially the first generation) for unity and solidarity, knowing this would help them overcome the hardships ahead and the war that would be waged against them by other minorities. Greek immigrants found a haven in the songs from their homeland, demotic and rebetiko, and in the Greek cafes where they would gather after a hard day s work. So the railroad employees, factory workers, miners, shop-owners, businessmen, the unemployed, the unionists and the card sharps would meet at these cafes, talk, play cards or listen to the songs of the motherland. Sometimes after certain chords of a minore, a sorrowful introduction, one would see two or four young men linking their arms together and starting to dance, as the others encouraged them and clapped. Rebetiko travelled to the U.S. as well, and it caught on. One noteworthy fact is that during this time a lot of songs from different parts of Greece which had never been recorded before were also brought to America by the immigrants. The following categories appeared during this period of history: - Urban popular songs, the precursors of rebetiko, whose subject matter had to do with the tribulations of the working class in Smyrna. This music is influenced by Byzantine music and is played by an orchestra, whose main instruments were the violin, the santouri or the oud, the lyre and the kanonaki. These songs would be sung in the street, at inns, in taverns and in night clubs all around Smyrna. They were even included in the repertory of some of the smartest clubs. The composers, singers and musicians of Smyrna and Istanbul, other, of course, than the ones that perished in the disaster, were both the propagators of Smyrna songs and of rebetiko in the period following 1922. - Urban songs influenced by European musical forms that are performed by small instrumental and vocal ensembles, (estudiantines) and in which the main instruments were the mandolin and the guitar. - Songs influenced by the Eastern musical traditions of minorities (who lived together with the Greeks) and whose exact provenance is not clear. These songs can be found in different musical variations and in the different languages spoken in the region. They are played on the oud, the kanonaki, the lyre, the zournas and the tambouri. - A different category of songs that became popular through the theatre (especially revues and melodramas) and were usually influenced by western music. These recordings included songs that had already been known for decades. Greek recordings of rebetiko in America (1900-1942) In the early 1900s, the Greek state had a population of 2,631,952. Official documents show that from 1890 and up until 1922, there were 400,000 Greeks living in the United States. This number refers just to Greek who left the Greek mainland, because Greeks living in other parts (Asia Minor, Constantinople, Cyprus and the islands of the Aegean would not have Greek citizenship when they arrived in America and there is, therefore, little data concerning their movements. Illegal migration was also very widespread and it is impossible to even guess at the numbers. It is not, however, a stretch of the imagination to say that the number of Greeks living in America during that period was probably well over half a million. The immigrants came from every social group, but the majority were farmers, merchants of all kinds or seasonal labourers. Once in America they worked on railroad construction, in mines and large factories, or did low-paid grunt work under extremely difficult conditions. The Greeks who went to America were not intending to stay forever, but just wanted to earn enough money to allow them to return to their home village or town in and get a job that was better than the one they had before moving away. Many, of course, returned to a situation that was a lot worse than what they had left behind. One of the ways they chose to vent their frustration, to have fun and express themselves was through their music, their songs. Their musical heritage provided an escape from the difficult and ugly conditions of life away from home, a means of profound connection between one another and another way, their own way, to live. The first recordings of this music on vinyl took place in America, by musicians from the 1910 to 1934 wave of Greek immigrants. But the songs themselves belonged to an oral tradition that went way back. At the time, for a song to ever be recorded it had first to become enormously popular with everyone. But because up until then, songs were only ever heard when they were performed live, therefore it took a long time before they became firmly embedded in people s minds, an extremely slow process. The first songs to come out on albums were those that had been passed down from generation to generation, but the singers were unknowns. It is, therefore, not unlikely that the earliest songs to be recorded dated to well before 1910, probably to the late 1800s or even further back than that. These recordings are of great historical value because they clearly illustrate the musical origins of rebetiko. We can hear the influences of Turkish demotic music, Greek demotic from the islands of the Aegean and from Asia Minor, Byzantine church music and Arabic rhythms and melodies. In certain songs, moreover, we can clearly see how all these different influences come together to create and form that special tone and the characteristic rhythm of the earliest rebetiko. Between 1900 and 1942, American recording companies RCA Victor and Columbia covered a great breadth of Greek music, especially of rebetiko. Almost every well-known musician and singer at the time had recorded with these companies. In 1919 small Greek recording labels, such as Panhellenion Record Company, were founded. Panhellenion was founded by the singer Ka Koula and clarinet player Yiannis Kyriakatis, among other partners. Harilaos Kritikos founded Pharos, while Georgios Gretsis and Stamos brothers opened the Greek Record Company in Chicago. There were also the other Greek labels, Constantinople Record, Acropolis, Olympus, Hellas Records, Electrophone, Pyrr s, and others. The major artists to appear with these companies and who performed rebetiko to a greater or lesser degree are: - Kyria Koula (Kyriaki Vlachou), who recorded mostly rebetiko, Smyrna and demotic songs (approximately 200 of them from 1916 to 1920). - Amalia Vaka, who recorded Smyrna, Ianniotika and rebetiko songs (about 50 from 1918 to 1929). - Giorgos Katsaros, who recorded mostly rebetiko (about 60 from 1919 to 1938). - Marika Papagika, who recorded rebetiko, Smyrna, demotic and light pop songs (about 220 from 1918 and 929 and another four in 1937 for RCA Victor). - Tetos Dimitriades (Takis Nikolaou/Nondas Sgouris), who recorded songs from different genres (about 270 from 1913 to 1942). - Achilleas Poulos, who recorded Smyrna, rebetiko, dirges and Turkish songs (about 100 from 1918 to 1929). - Costas Dousas ( Dousias ), who recorded rebetiko (about 16 from 1930 to 1937). - Manolis Karapiperis and Yiannis (Jack) Halikias, who recorded rebetiko with bouzouki (10 songs from 1928 to 1931). - Stavros Kaloumenos, rebetiko (six songs from 1931 to 1932). - Y. Karras, rebetiko (unknown number). - A. Kostis, rebetiko) (10 songs and guitar instrumentals). A number of important Greek singers and musicians in America did not enjoy such a strong presence in the recording industry, possibly for financial reasons, as singers at the time were paid a lump sum and not a significant amount. Most artists, therefore, performed to work on the live circuit where wages were much higher. Among these artists were Giorgos Katsaros, as well as Costas Dousas, who had recorded just 16 songs from 1930-1937, the actor and singer Yiannakis Ioannides with 13 songs from 1920-1929, and Stavros Kaloumenos with six songs from 1931-1932. Other important figures of rebetiko among the Greek diaspora also made only sporadic appearances on record. The bouzouki players Manolis Karapiperis and Ioannis Halkias, for example, appeared in, respectively, just six (1928-1929) and four (1932) songs. A plethora of other singers and musicians from the immigrant populations added to the wealth of Greek music in America from 1896 to 1942, while during this same period the market for Greek music was also boosted by albums of reworked songs that were recorded from the early 1900s and all the way up to 1922, mostly in Smyrna and Constantinople, but also in Athens. Re-recording songs in America that had originally been recorded in Athens was a common practice from 1924 and after World War II. Another group of recordings were those that were made in Greece on behalf of American companies and which would circulate in America and then return to Greece via visiting immigrants. Another, even less frequent, phenomenon seen in the inter-war years was Greeks songs by Greek singers and musicians travelling to the U.S.A. for a live music tour. This phenomenon gained momentum in the 1950s with the younger generation of Greek artists who travelled more frequently. Marika Papagika (1890-1943) She was born on the island of Kos sometime around 1890. Her family moved to Alexandria in Egypt when she was still a young child. She began her career there, performing at night clubs that drew crowds of Greeks living in the city. She also made her first recordings at that time. In 1915 she emigrated again, this time to America, where she continued performing live and recording. She married Costas (Gus) Papagiakas, a professional tsimbalo player and together they opened a night club in New York in the 1920s. During that same period she had an on-going collaboration with the famed violin player Athanasios Makedonas. Her repertory was especially rich and included demotic, light pop and European songs. Despite this impressive track record she was always better known as a representative of rebetiko and especially for her Smyrna style of performing. Marika and Costas lost their club in the Depression in 1929 and this was also around when her recording career came to an end. This wonderful vocal artist passed away in 1943 in New York and many say that she died because of the trials that had befallen her in her later years. Marika ranks among the pioneers of recorded Greek music. In the recordings of this release play also the musicians : Kostas Papagikas - Tsimbalo, violin Markos Sifnios Cello Vangelis Naftis violin Alexis Zoumbas violin Nikos Rellias clarinet Lazaros - violin