Rebetiko is a form of urban Greek music which came about in the late 19th century, originating largely from coastal cities. It isn’t necessarily considered to be a uniform gender, but rather a label that describes a variety of urban Greek styles that originated around 1900 and continued through World War II and beyond. Also referred to as the “Greek blues,” this was a form of music that early on was associated with the lower classes, only to gain more broad popularity later on. Here’s more information:
The Origins of Rebetiko
With the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1923, a great number of refugees resettled in harbor cities like Piraeus, Volos, and Thessaloniki. This intermingling of cultures had a profound impact on the urban musical landscape, with musicians constantly exchanging new ideas and inspiring each other. This music was largely associated with ouzeri, or hash dens of the time, as this is where many of the early artists created their songs, with improvisations that could go on for twenty minutes at a time in sessions that would last well into the night. Rebetiko musicians, also referred to as rebetes, sang about what they knew, with much of the lyrics focusing on disease, crime, drinking, prostitution, and other aspects of everyday life in poor urban areas.
Rebetiko’s Musical Style</h3 >
Due to its origins, rebetiko is a synthesis of European styles and various types of traditional Greek music. One of the key features of Rebetiko music is the fact that improvisation is important when it comes to both the music and the lyrics. While not popular among Asia minor’s refugees, the bouzouki, a stringed instrument, became synonymous with this form of music. Other instruments used include the baglamas, a plucked lute-like instrument, and the guitar.
< h3 >Evolution of Rebetika Style</h3 >
A major turning point for rebetiko came in 1936, with the onset of the strict censorship laws of the Metaxas dictatorship, censoring many of the lyrics, or causing artists to “self censor” in order to ensure the release of their recordings. In the 1950s, rebetiko suffered the fate of many musical genres that originated in the lower classes. It largely faded in popularity, but continued on in a form more palatable to the tastes of the refined upper class, known as “archontorebetiko.”
< h3 >The 1960s Rebetiko Revival and Beyond</h3 >
The 1960s saw a great revival in rebetiko music, with singer Grigoris Bithikotsis issuing recordings of several songs by Markos Vamvakaris, who is known as being the “patriarch of the rebetiko.” He then made his first recordings since 1954, while this form of music became the subject of serious cultural studies and writings. Reissued 78 rpm LPs in anthology form brought many of these artists to a whole new audience, while newer artists tried to emulate the sound and feel of these old recordings, popularizing the music in non-Greek speaking markets.
To this day, rebetiko continues to thrive, with many artists either paying homage to the past in their recordings, or pushing the genre forward with takes that are unabashedly contemporary. The music’s cultural importance is undeniable as now it has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. With the internet and ease of accessibility, rebetiko continues to find a new audience.