Rebetiko on the Rocks

Greek banned Songs of Jail and Drugs #2

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PolyGram - Pandora CD PAN - 216

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This is essentially a compilation of old Rebetiko tunes, that had been banned at one time or another because of the subject matter which was the illicit  use of the "Recreational Pharmacology" of Rebetic lore.  These was the types of compositions , that the Metaxas Government of the 1930's and to some extent even the Right - Wing Dictatorship Government of the late 19 60's and early 70's tried to suppress.  Interestingly, the Kemel led Turkish revisionist government during the first part of the century, also tried to ban this type of content.  It seemed that each of the respective governments (while on opposite sides of the Aegean) looked upon this type of musical expression as something of an unsavory legacy, that had evolved from either criminal or politically disruptive elements, stemming from the old Ottoman order. A legacy that each was bound & determined and  desperately trying to overcome with arguable degrees of success. The New Order Turks needed to establish a new national Identity. One that could "plausibly" deny the brutality of the past  as well as their own contemporary proclivities for the Semi-Totalitarian type of leadership that was initiated after they had successfully usurped all political power. The Greeks on the other hand needed to cultivate a more substantial national identity and in a somewhat overzealous stampede to reestablish their connections with the West, this often took the form of trying to eliminate any and all "Cultural" attributes  from the last 400 years of their history. Especially if they they associated  these elements as having been derived from that same criminal Underworld,  or elements of a more "Oriental" nature, that had systematically evolved during that very dark near 400 year period. Rebetiko music along with many of it's creators, often fell somewhere into one or more of these categories and the occasional totalitarian response in the service of this "cultural"  Holy Crusade, was not altogether unknown on the west side of the Aegean.  Which brings us to this CD.

There are 22 numbers on this disk, with the majority of them dedicated to the old time tested activity,  of temporarily altering ones state of consciousness. This CD is produced by the same company (Pandora - PolyGram) that issues the Markos Vamvakaris CD titled "Markos O Syrianos", also reviewed on this site. The song titles are in both Greek and English, however the few liner notes contained within are in Greek only.  The tracks have been Digitally Remastered and again (as always) it's obvious some tracks lend themselves to this process a bit more willingly then others.  A few of them are actually from the mid 1920's so one has to be realistic concerning the issue of sonic expectations for this very old archival material.  Still I have to admit it ain't bad !  Usually with this type of  "specialized  content",  it is as much the historical significance with  it's inherent Sociological implications, that makes a document such as this so very interesting. Considerably beyond what you actually hear. However what you actually hear is some of the finest Rebetiko music ever written.  The track selection chosen for this document is a cut by one Anstis Dhelias (also known as "Artemis") , titled  "Junkie's Lament".  Anestis Dhelias  (1912 - 1944 ) was one of the legendary Rebetis whose life was tragically cut short by a drug overdose in 1944.  He was reportably discovered outside a Teke, lying face down with his Bouzouke still in hand.  Whether or not the  story is apocryphal is more or less academic.  Specifically because the tragic life and untimely demise of the 32 year old Anestis Dhelias, has come to represent a darker side of the Rebetic reality.  However it's time for a small "reality check" here. The truth is, that relatively few of the more well known Rebetiko musicians, actually died from a drug overdose.  In fact if one performs a cursory scan of the names of the various artists on this CD, one can't help but notice that most met their end from decidedly natural causes. Vamvakaris (1905 - 1972), Eskenazy (1881? 1980), Abatzi (1906-1969 ), Papaioannou (1913 - 1972 killed in an auto accident), Kiromitis (1903-1979) Stratos Payoumtzis  (actually died on stage while on a working visit to New York  1902-1971)  I. Georgakopoulu born 1920 and still very much with us at the time of this writing.  Some others are Sotiria Bellou (1921-1997), George Katsaros (1897 - 1998 ) and  V. Tsitsanis (1915 - 1984).  So much for our reality check! It might be more instructive to think of these types of compositions, as a musical snapshot of an "underground" community from another time.  One that often reflected some of the more self - destructive tendencies in individuals who were part of a huge disinfranchised  "Underclass" population, with nowhere to go and few ways to make a legitimate living during that period.  This perspective would also go a long way, in helping to explain the various repressive measures taken against many of the Rebetic composers.                     

There are quite a few notables on this CD, such as Vavakaris, Eskenazy, Papaioannou, Stratos, Abatzi, Dalgas, Papasideris, Ioanna Georgakopoulu and Dhelias as well as a few others, all singing about getting  "Stoned" and more importantly, occasionally hinting at the reasons why !       

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