Abbreviated & Abridged 

Quick & Dirty and On the Fly

Very

Simplified

" Unified Field Theory "

Of

Rebetiko History

for

" The Rest of Us "

OR

The  Complete " Idiots Guide "  to the Greek Urban Blues

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The story of Rebetiko is a subject that has always been somewhat obscure and often effectively shrouded, by the many underlying Ethnic complexities, emanating from a regional historical context, that has perennially dominated both sides of the Aegean. These issues specifically involved the interaction of various forces and events that were once prevalent before and during the developmental periods in the evolution of Rebetiko. The relationship among these variables and the influence they had on the music has always been difficult to examine in detail. This for the most part is the consequence of a poorly documented history, as well as a history that until recently, was not considered worthy of serious examination.  It is considerably beyond the scope of this Web Site to attempt an exhaustive systematic examination of some of the more contested issues on the subject of the origins and evolution of Rebetiko.  However it is possible to at least attempt a topical examination, regarding some of the more significant events, that are generally agreed to have been the most significant, in the creation and development of Rebetiko music.  Hopefully the uninitiated will at least come away with a rudimentary perspective regarding some of the conditions and circumstances that were operational during the various periods of development.

Rebetiko was essentially the music of the Greek urban "Underclass" population, from the first half of the 20th Century.  The word  " Rebetiko "  is actually a derivative term probably originating from the Turkish word " Rebet ".  This was a word that is usually translated  to wild, nonconforming, outsider etc.  The music itself was combined of various elements from traditional Eastern and Western musical styles, that eventually evolved into a sound that was unlike any other that preceded it.  Early elements of the genre were usually heard in the Opium Dens , Hash houses (Tekedes), Cabarets and Prisons on both sides of the Aegean. Mostly in urban areas and Port cities such as Smyrna, Constantinople ( present day Izmir & Istanbul respectively) Athens and Thessalonika.  It was a sound that had been created by Ethnic Greek composers for a primarily Greek audience.  Probably the best place to begin our journey, would be the city of Smyrna, located on the west coast of present day Turkey.  This is arguably the best place to begin, for the simple reason that Smyrna was the city where several of the constituent elements and influences that eventually evolved into what later became renown as " Ta Rebetika ", were first documented. The story goes something like this... 

In the beginning once upon a time long ago and far away in a land called Anatolia, there lived a group of people who were ethnic Greek by birth, but long assimilated citizens of what was left of the old Ottoman Empire. Many of these individuals were well represented in the social spectrum of the middle and upper Classes (see photo below),  of the contemporary Turkish Status Quo. They had descendent from primarily Anatolian Greeks, who had lived there from practically time immemorial. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and over the next 469 year period, many of them along with a large number of Seraphidic Jews (who had been thrown out of Spain at around the same time as the fall of Constantinople), played an important and instrumental role in the day to day affairs and administration of the old Ottoman system of Government. A good number of them did rather well for themselves, having associated their fortunes with that of the Ottoman Sultanate and they had attained a fairly good measure of power, influence and wealth through-out the Empire. Before and after the turn of the century, in cities such as Constantinople, Smyrna and to some extent in Athens as well, there appeared a number of establishments frequented (mostly) by men for the purpose of recreation and entertainment. These often took the form of nightly Cabarets that also provided their patrons with various types of "Recreational Pharmacology" such as Opium, Cocaine and Hashish.  We must remember that until the 1920's, most of these drugs were not illicit in this part of the world. In fact most were all quite legal and long accepted forms of recreation during this period and business as they say was booming. The regular Clientele as well as just about anyone else who happened to be in town, would occasionally frequent these places for the old time tested purpose of "forgetting their troubles" for a while. Apparently it was most effective.  It was in this  environment, that one of the more exotic elements of what we have called the "Rebetiko Ethos" was born. This was named the "Cafe Aman " or Smyrnaic style of Rebetiko and it firmly established itself as the most popular musical style from the period . The term "Aman" often gets translated as the Turkish equivalent of the old American Gospel expression " Have Mercy ". The conventional contemporary conjecture regarding its use by vocalist of the day, was that "Aman" was a term that was frequently used, when performing songs whose lyrics were being improvised live on stage. These performances were often characterized by a good deal of subtle eastern style vocal and instumental Pyrotechnics.  Singers would sing the term " Aman  Aman " while simultaneously creating additional lyrics for the rest of the song. This period of the Smyrnaic style flourished during the first part of the century and lasted until the early 1930's.  However this particular sound was never actually recognized as Rebetika during it's time. It was usually called  "Smyrnakia " and referred to a specific style that came to be most identified with the Ethnic Greeks who lived along the West coast of Asia Minor.  Some speculation has suggested it was this group of  Greeks, who (more or less) inherited most of what was left of the musical legacy from middle-age Byzantium and to some extent, possibly even that from Greek Antiquity. This inheritance along with a few other eastern flavored influences, some from Turkish Classical as well as some Mid Eastern music, combined to give us the sound that comprised the Smyerniac mode of musical expression. The " Cafe Aman " style cabarets also eventually became part of the night life in a few cities across the Aegean, such as Athens and Thessalonica.   

Meanwhile the Greeks on the mainland also had inherited something of a musical tradition. This was the very rich and complex sound of Hellenic Folk music. This was a style practiced by predominately poverty stricken individuals, that had lived in the small towns and villages scattered thru-out the Greek mainland. The Bourgeoisie Class in the larger urban centers such as Athens however, had yet another type reserved for them. It is important to take note of this distinction because the difference in the patronage and especially the sound of these two specific musical forms, illustrates some of the social and economic disparities, that to a great extent were the consequence of foreign imposed political and social institutions, that had developed and evolved in Greece since the 15th century.  First by the Ottomans, then by an artificially contrived Bavarian based Monarchy, that had been created by the European powers following the Greek " War of Independence " about 1831. This second type of music was a style that eventually became know as the " Cafe Chantant ". This was the sound most associated with the Bavarian influenced Greek " Upper Class ".  It represented the Western European musical influence in Greece from this period.  However from about the later part of the 19th century, some of the more Traditional sounds of the Folk music began to be heard in various areas of the urban mainstream. These songs and melodies usually came from the small towns and villages, by people who had migrated to the cities seeking employment. This authentic Folk music eventually underwent a process of  "urbanization ", when many of it's practitioners were introduced into the city environment. These three influences (Cafe Aman, Cafe Chantant, and the Traditional Urbanized Folk music of the interior) served as the primary constituent elements that would eventually combine, interact and evolve into what we recognize today as the sound of Rebetika.  How and when these elements combined and interacted is a very complex issue and has always been problematic as well as the subject of a good deal of debate and speculation by Academics familiar with the genre. But combine and interact they did. However there did take place an event, that can be clearly identified as having been the single most responsible for having served, as something of a catalyst that accelerated this cultural interaction.  It was to occur in Asia Minor during the Summer of 1922.  For it was in the late Summer of 1922, that the lifestyle of the upscale Ethnic Greeks living on the west coast of Asia Minor was to come crashing down in flames and much like the refrain from an old American Country & Western song "The good times were over for good "!    

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