Journey into rebetika’s world

Rebetika songs, which emerged as an outlawed form in the early 20th century, have traveled well in more recent times. Japanese artists, for instance, have used rebetika samples as snippets for their work. The old Greek song form has also proven popular as a whole, proof being the large number of non-Greek rebetika bands that exist abroad. But let’s not look so far away. A night out around the clubs of Athens offers solid proof of rebetika’s legacy. Material from this musical world’s vast songbook is commonly usurped by current popular performers, a fundamental reason being the style’s ability to provide spark to any set-list threatened by flatness. An upcoming seven-night tribute to the old song form at the Athens Concert Hall, or Megaron Mousikis, promises to be one of the best ever staged. It certainly should be the most organized, considering the involvement of figures such as lyricist Lefteris Papadopoulos, Panayiotis Kounadis, a civil engineer who has spent decades researching rare archives, and top-selling performer Giorgos Dalaras, who hails from a rebetika family. The tribute will offer insight into the roots, pivotal artists and the style’s diffusion during its early days, circa 1900, when a considerable number of Greeks migrated to the USA, taking with them their homeland’s traditional sounds, including rebetika. Another major transplantation for rebetika came later on, in 1922, with the influx of Asia Minor refugees. Pioneering rebetika acts whose work will feature at the tribute include Panayiotis Tountas, Costas Karvelis, Spyros Peristeris, Vangelis Papazoglou, Markos Vamvakaris and Apostolos Hadzichristou. Light will also be shed on next-generation artists, among them Vassilis Tsitsanis, Yiannis Papaioannou, Manolis Hiotis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Giorgos Zabbetas and Giorgos Mitsakis. Latter-day songwriters who were influenced by rebetika, such as Manos Hadjidakis, Mikis Theodorakis, Stavros Xarchakos and Dionysis Savvopoulos, as well as more recent artists, including Socrates Malamas and Orpheas Peridis, are also on the tribute’s agenda. The music will be performed by a 13-member ensemble with the vocalists Babis Stokas, Sophia Papazoglou, Zacharias Karounis and Aspasia Stratigou. Commenting on the seemingly paradoxical combination of staging a rebetika tribute at one of the country’s most polished venues, Kounadis offered examples of an unknown past that transcended rebetika’s seedy world: The late rebetika artist Giorgos Katsaros, born in 1888, had told Kounadis that King George I was a fan of early rebetika. Papadopoulos, the lyricist, noted that «more books have been written about rebetika than Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis.» Athens Concert Hall (1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333), February 11-12, 14-16, 18-19.