It might be a valid statement in the end that once you leave your country you learn to appreciate its elements. An integral element about Greece has been the music, which I am going to gently tackle on this post. This music has been mainly part of my childhood. On all of the occasions I have attended they were playing certainly one or more of the following songs, be it school, family parties, friends’ gatherings, night life. I have made collection to give a sense of what traditional music of Rebetiko, Folk and Entechno are all about. It is undoubtedly a rich heritage for such a small country which though has been through a lot in last 120 years. I have included some -I hope- illuminating comments, links to help you understand more clearly the context and enough silly translations to resolve at least the mystery of the title of the songs. The adjective old-school was intentionally put to contradict over the tremendous drop in quality Greek music has recently undergone. Done to the best of my knowledge and I am referring as many outstanding people as possible, mostly composers, without claiming that my list is all-exhaustive.
So let’s start!
- Frankosyriani – M. Vamvakaris (1935)
This is an early recording by an important historical person of the genre Rebetiko. He is thought as the father by establishing the standard melodies with the help of traditional instruments, bouzouki and baglamas. To give you a idea: something like the Greek Robert Johnson. The present song talks about a woman kind of femme fatale, who is from the island Syros, thus “Franko-syrian”. “Dawns’ minore” is my grandmother’s favorite song. She is still singing it and remembering her brings just so many emotions. It belongs again to Rebetiko and Vamvakaris has a part in it. Moreover, a “stray” Rebetiko that deserves as well some attention is this.
- Zorba the Greek – M. Theodorakis (1964)
If you are probably going to know a Greek rhythm this is the safest best. This dance type of music, Sirtaki, first appeared on the internationally acknowledged film Zorba the Greek, an adaptation of the book by Kazatzakis. Theodorakis though has a remarkable number of songs in his discography and he is probably the most recognized living Greek composer, 91 years old . I would not risk translating this one from Nobel laureate poet Elytis about the resistance of Greece during WWII but I will confess that it was in my repertoire as a kid along with a second one. As side note, he has had an active involvement in politics.
- Gioconda’s smile – M. Hajidakis (1965)
A sample of Greek classical music by a prominent composer known for his mellow and romantic melodies. It was actually recorded in New York and released first in the US. It’s very hard to pick only one track so I included the whole album! His overall prolific contribution had a substantial impact on Greek music,specifically to the so called Entechno. His work gained an Academy award in the film Never on Sunday. If you like him, you should definitely listen to the next one and my mother’s favorite from the movie America-America “North Star“.
- Vrexei fotia sti strata mou – M. Plessas (1970)
Possibly the the heaviest Zeibekiko that exits. If you search for the translation of the lyrics you would feel the eternal pain and anger, for the title “It is pouring fire on my road”. This first edition is by the singer Dionisiou. Plessas is known for his numerous works in Greek TV and cinema. To get a taste check this.
- Zeibekiko of Evdokia – M. Loizos (1971)
If one Zeibekiko dance song come to my mind first that’s it. Loizos was a eminent composer with a beloved discography. His song “The Road” was employed as an encouragement against the oppressive regime of Colonels’ junta ’67-’74. Performing it in the elementary school choir is written indelibly in my memory. Other songs have a more romantic touch and are simply adorable. Have a look on this one for example.
- Zeibekiko – D. Savvopoulos (1972)
By its alternative title “By airplanes and ships” the song is delivered by a famous Greek folk singer S. Bellou and the music is composed by Savvopoulos. It was one of his early attempts on the folk genre and was received with considerable success. As a fun fact, the singer later rather sarcastically added on an interview “Look at this, I can excel in pop music too”. A closer to his original style song is “Karagiozis“, who was a fictional character of an all-time-classic folklore shadow puppet show.
- Pou ‘se Thanasi – G. Zabetas (1973)
Zabetas was a cherished composer in the Greek culture. He was written many successes that we frequently included in the movies. I picked this one roughly translated as “Where are you Thanasis” due to it’s catchy melody in spite of the fact that it’s theme is about loss of a loved one. On similar notes is this “Yes sir” which I dearly like. More cheerful is this about Thessaloniki.
- Itane mia fora -N. Xylouris (1973)
“Once upon a time” is sung by a renowned voice of Greek music. The singer’s birthplace is Crete, same as my fathers’ and it’s an island in the very South Aegean Sea with significant cultural heritage. Xylouris had interpreted multiple hits and he was known for his kind and welcoming personality. Sadly, he died too young at the age of 43. The music for this song was composed by Χarchakos. Another folklore song often associated with him is about the independence war of Crete. I used to sing that!
- To vapori ap’ tin Persia – V. Tsitsanis (1977)
“The ship from Persia” is one of the last songs of Tsitsanis. It’s topics was greatly controversial since it was about drugs. The fun part is that was based on true events, there was a ship in which the authorities discovered and confiscated large amount of hashish! An ultra hit of him is”Eimaste alania“, a to-go song for every Greek party.
- Kaneis edo den tragouda – N. Papazoglou (1978)
This is a romantic song about lost love for which ironically “No one sings here” as the title implies. Unsurprisingly, I have connected it with a particular period in my life. The musician and singer was an immensely popular figure during my parents’ college years, especially in my hometown, Thessaloniki, same as his birthplace. The characteristic red handkerchief was some sort of registered trademark. Another excellent and equally melancholic song is called “August“. Extremely unfortunately, never got to see him live.
- O stavros tou notou – Th. Mikroutsikos (1979)
This is melodic adaptation of Kavvadias’ poetry. The title translates as “The Southern Cross” or else the Crux, a constellation that has been predominately used by sailors for navigation in the olden times. The poet was constantly travelling through the sea and therefore his verses include plenty of naval terminology and exotic references. The whole album is totally worth listening. Mikroutsikos has also serve as Minister of Culture. I am going to provide a further one for I admire Kavvadias’ poems that much. Seen him live once.
- Erotiko – M. Mitsias (1982)
A zeibekiko, “Erotic”, with notably poetic lyrics interpreted by the singer Mitsias. One which is deeply touching goes as”Love that we called you Antigone”. Furthermore, I slightly prefer his cover Hajidakis’ of the song “Kemal“. I am confused how come I have seen one of his lives since he is my father’s favorite.
- Mana mou Hellas – St. Xarchakos (1983)
Unlike the direct translation suggests the title, “My mother Greece” is not a traditional patriotic song . The lyrics describe a bleak and sorrow situation in Greece. The state has been criticized for its hypocritical nature due to the big unfulfilled promises which resulted hurting the weaker parts of the population. It was considered highly political and controversial song at that the time. Xarchakos has composed before that a Rebetiko which feels it’s, as the title alludes, burning. Have seen a musical performance he had been in charge.
- S’ anazito sti Saloniki – D. Mitropanos (1992)
The was no chance I wouldn’t bring that track up. It’s about my city, Thessaloniki, approximately and awkwardly translated as “Looking for you in Salonica”. It is a extraordinarily memorable Zeibekiko that significantly built singer Mitropanos’ reputation. Of course, these is additionally “Roza“. Bonus a pic from our promenade. Unfortunately, never got to see him.
- Pechlivanis– Th. Papakostantinou (2000)
I love the lyrics and the tempo of this one. Despite the fact that’s relative new, it gives the impression that it belongs to the previous century. The title “Pechlivanis”, word loan of oriental origin, refers to a traveling wrestler and it is metaphorically attributed to the breeze that once you breath it, you can no longer fell asleep.
- Prigipesa – S. Malamas (2000)
This song become a little cliché due to its over-popularity. It is probably played every night at a bar with Greek music However, I am going to mention it because there aren’t that many the songs of this old-fashioned kind produced. The title translates as “The Princess”. Still have time to pay those last two relatively new guys a visit.
That’s all folks!
It has been a period of 90 years that was condensed into a single post and a couple of songs. I firmly believe though that is a tiny bit more entertaining than reading a plain article or a text from a history book. Should you have any questions or concerns, I would happily answer them. Please enjoy!
PS: Misirlou – Minor Asia circa 1900’s. I am sure you are familiar with this surf-rock version by Dick Dale that was heard in Pulp Fiction, nonetheless this was the beginning-the more you know. This song has quite a sentimental value to me and to be honest I still can’t listen to it remaining fully calm. The story is about a woman of the East, see below, and her passionate affair. It’s nevertheless a beautiful recording and it would be nice to be aware of it.