Saturday, October 29, 2005


The basic part of rebetiko has its roots in the geographical area of modern Greece, its main vehicle being these peculiar plebeian down-and-outs, the rebetes. The prison and the so-called «tekes», that is the hashish-smoking dives of the rebetes, were primarily the venues where rebetiko was played and listened to, exclusively by men; the main instruments were the bouzouki and the baglamas. From a musical point of view these songs were artless and naive and the subject-matter of the verses was limited to the suffocating, narrow social environment of the rebetis. However, at the end of the 19th century, another kind of music appeared: The «Cafe Aman» emerged in the large urban centers of mainland Greece, but basically of Asia Minor, like Constantinople and Smyrna. These were musical cafes, where the Greek bourgeois entertained themselves. Their name probably originated in the old Turkish cafes, where two-three singers improvised verses in the form of a dialogue and contrived the exclamation «Aman!», in their effort to gain time in order to think up for the next verse. The music played in the «Cafe Aman» was rich and artful, capable of satisfying the demands and tastes of a public cultivated and high-standing, both socially and in what regarded their education.

The year 1922 stands as a landmark in the development and spreading of the rebetiko. It will be remembered as the year of the Asia Minor catastrophe. The huge wave of refugees swarming mainly the large urban centers of Greece (Athens - Piraeus - Thessaloniki) brings about significant and substantial changes to the social and cultural reality of the country. The uprooted Greeks, facing as they now did poverty and unemployment, shared the same social lot with rebetes.

Many refugees joined the rebetes, getting to know their instruments and music. Accordingly, refugee businessmen opened their own «Cafes Aman» in which rebetes musicians were employed. Thus, from the moment rebetiko broke away from the narrow limits of the prison and teke, it began to appeal wider social strata. In the meanwhile the Greek folk song, product of an agricultural society, had gradually reached saturation point. After an age-long flourishing it could not be inspired any more, because of the new urban development of the country. The gap was evident; the coming together of the two worlds, the refugees and the rebetes, came to fill it. In this manner the conditions were created for rebetiko to be spread at a national level. Elias Petropoulos distinguishes three periods of the thriving of rebetiko. The «Smyrna» period (1922-1932) in which the «Cafe Aman» style of Smyrna prevails, the «classic» period (1932-1942) characterized by the return to the underworld rebetiko; and finally the «popular» period (1942-1952), where rebetiko, ripe and rid of the underworld syndrome, became a national music of Greece