It was a sound it was an attitude and it was a way of life. It has been called many things by a variety of people at different times during its relatively short documented history. In some respects Rebetiko music has always personified the old definition of the term exotic. that of being anywhere but here at any time but now. It's contents and traditions have been analyzed, romanticized, sanitized and occasionally even demonized by posturing political pundits as well as some adherents from various Academic disciplines such as Musicologists and Sociologists. However Rebetiko for the rest of us is very much now as it was then, the sound of music. A type of music that is difficult to compare with any other routinely heard by most of the inhabitants of the Western world and one that is not always easily accessible for them. Many of Rebetiko’s early practitioners had been forced to suffer various personal indignities such as threats of imprisonment, while much of their labors were systematically banned, condemned, discredited and at times even artistically dismissed. The lyrics of Rebetika often derived their subject matter from the combined tribulations of two separate groups. Each originating from a very different social environment. The first reflected some of the more "interesting" aspects of living on the periphery of what was then something of a Greek/Turkish hybrid society, where the Hellenic social structure and Ethnic minority status was inherently fragile and precarious even during the best of times. The lyrical content from this group expressed everything from the light hearted lyrics often heard in the Smyrniac Cabarets, to the pain of alienation and loss experienced by many of that same group, who almost overnight found themselves as trapped broken and indigent refugees, in a country with which they were not familiar and what was for them (despite their Hellenic heritage) very much of an alien and hostile nation. This was the direct result of a population exchange between Greece and Turkey following the "Smyrnaic incident", that transpired in 1922. It was the music from this "hybrid" culture along with the music of the large Greek underclass population, whose urbanized Folk songs and laments from the small towns and villages on the mainland, would eventually combine, devolop and evolve into a musical art, that would one day come to be known as "Ta Rebetika".
Today many of the lyrics of Rebetika, including those that reflected the difficult social conditions which systematically excluded and drove many individuals to a tragic and self-destructive lifestyle, that included everything from the abuse of Hashish, Opium and Cocaine (legal until the 1920's ), to the more pedestrian and universal topics such as life, death, betrayal, loneliness and the infinitely cruel ways individuals frequently choose to relate to one another, have today become something of a profound testament. A testament for those who either by nature or nurture, have come to comprehend and appreciate a more universal significance to this somewhat obscure history of the contemporary Hellenic identity. It is a significance that extends considerably beyond the boundaries of a singular provincial or Sub-cultural Ethnic prospective. The music of "Ta Rebetika" not only itemized, reflected and documented the specific hardships of a people exasperated, dispossessed and left abandoned and destitute by an inflexible Class structure and intolerant society. But especially and even more poignantly, communicated to the listener a very specific "State of Mind" and it is this State of Mind, similar to the one elicited by the bitter-sweet strains of the American Blues, a Gypsy Violin or a Flamingo Guitar, that can give a rare and insightful glimpse of not only the manifest content of a single composition being performed but more importantly reflected a considerably larger (albeit deeply disturbing) Social and Psychological context as well. A context with an Ethos from a period in time, that like all distant memories is now nothing more then a shadow from the faint and flickering light from a candle, whose dying flame represents not only that of another Era gone never to return but also that of a triumphant legacy whose spirits continue and will hopefully live eternal.