Spaniards and rebetiko

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Ρεμπέτικο – Λαϊκή Μουσική (1900 – 1970)
α. όλα β. έργα γ. μελέτες / άρθρα δ. ξενόγλωσσα

Spaniards and rebetiko

in greek (original text) click here  gr 24grammata

By Panos Savvopulos

A few days ago, my good friend and collaborator George Damianos, the soul of this magazine (, which is lately starting to attract non- Greek speakers too), sent me an internet announcement on a disk with 14 rebetika (rebetiko songs) interpreted by Spaniards. My joy was great. But I was not surprised, because I know that many Spaniards have shown interest in rebetiko, and Greek music in general, in various ways. Here’s a great opportunity, I said to myself, to write a few lines on this subject! If it could be read by non- Greeks too, in a translated version, it would be really useful. So… let the story begin…
For about twenty years now, the rebetiko songs, following the international “career” mainly of blues and tango (I would add flamenco and fado), are being performed in various countries by non-Greek musicians and singers. So, there are rebetiko music bands in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Israel… even Japan. Some of these bands contain Greek musicians too. This text will focus on Spain and only.
Ten years ago, I heard in a tavern in Thessaloniki three Spaniards, Juan, Nuria and Luis. They played and sang in Greek some carefully selected rebetika and were showing a particular preference for the so-called founder of this musical species, Markos Vamvakaris. Next day I got my hands on their amateur CD with 25 rebetiko recordings, on the occasion of a presentation of the band on the local radio station. The performances were excellent, with deep knowledge and great respect of the original recordings, modest style, uncompromising ethos, and a remarkable sensitivity. I had some plans of collaborating with them, but eventually lost them. However, I still have those beautiful recordings. Let me present to you three of them:
1. Ώρες με θρέφει ο λουλάς (Ores me threfi o loulas (Markos Vamvakaris), 1933 click here ( 

2. Αφ’ ότου εγεννήθηκα (Afotou egenithika) (G. Derebeis – D. Karidakis), 1940 click here (

3. Καλόγερος (Kaloyeros) (Markos Vamvakaris), 1946  click here (
I have no video, of course, for these songs. THE GREKOSThe Spanish group which was the reason for this text is named  «The Grekos». It basically consists of the famous blues singer and guitarist Félix Amieva, commonly known as Félix Slim, who plays bouzouki, baglama and sings, and the blues musician  Ignacio Mena, who plays the guitar. But it seems that their performances involve other musicians too, as well as a young female dancer. In July 2013, they released an album containing 14 rebetika of the 1930s, recorded with bouzouki, baglama, guitar and voice, and titled  «14 REBETIKO CLASSICS».. These recordings have all the qualities I mentioned for the corresponding recordings of the other Spaniards in Thessaloniki.(listen the Grekos) and the videos , , Felix Slim: rebetiko blues here / only blues here

More generally, however, I have to tell you that what makes a huge impression to me, and I want to underline it, is that when non-Greeks perform rebetika, it is more than clear that they’re doing it with deep passion and unequaled enthusiasm, something that, unfortunately… is not always happening with the Greek rebetiko bands. The non-Greek are also paying a lot of attention, in order to sing correctly the Greek lyrics. Conversely, I have heard from several national singers humorous errors to the lyrics… I would also like to emphasize that it is very interesting, and shows a creative music “interaction” to hear the classic blues guitarists playing classic rebetiko bouzouki, without, and I underline that, ever having been taught by a Greek teacher. They have learned, ie, bouzouki, just by listening to the original recordings on 78 rpm discs. I can name here Loek Schrievers (videos here and here) , from the Dutch «Palio – Parea» band and Swede Robert Fölsch, from the «Pireus» band (video: here  και here) . Please watch the video and judge for yourself.
In Spanish, three articles and one dissertation have been written about rebetiko, and not only (from the Greek music domain, I mean). I quote them here, because it may be of great use and importance for some of you.

2003, Katsatou Lila, “La música griega de rembétiko: la cultura del hachís, la cárcel y la mal vida en Grecia de los años 30”, in X Congreso internacional de estudiantes de antropología: libro de actas (Murcia, 1 y 2 de noviembre de 2002), ed Gobierno de la Región de Murcia, 2003: p 31-54 . click here

2004, Rincón González Manuel, “La influencia del cinematógrafo en la música griega”, Estudios neogriegos, vol 7: p 60-73.

2006, Steingress Gerhard, “El transfondo bizantino del cante flamenco. Lecciones del flamenco andaluz con el rebético greco-oriental”, Revista Transcultural de Música, vol 10. . click here

2008, López Conejero Alberto, Carmina Urbana Orientalium Graecorum – poéticas de la identidad en la canción urbana Greco-oriental (series NUEVA ROMA 31, CONSEJO SUPERIOR DE INVESTIGACIONES CIENTĺFICAS), Madrid. click here 

But the relations of the Spaniards with the Greek music go even further. I can give you two typical examples.
One is that in 1978 there was issued an album of ancient Greek music, under the custody of a significant Spanish musician, Gregorio Paniagua, performed by a music band called 24 GREGORIO PANIAGUAArtium Musicae de Madrid that he founded in 1964. The revenues of this CD were intended to be used for the restoration of the Acropolis of Athens! This CD was extremely important, because it was the first that contained almost all of the written memorials, with music from ancient Greece. We should note here that, for this purpose, several replicas of ancient instruments were built, with which the recordings were made, particularly in France. That alone was enough for someone to “applaud” this edition, the most known and accepted worldwide so far (because we have seen some laughable relevant projects released…). These ancient excerpts were presented by the Artium Musicae de Madrid band, on its international tours. I remember, I was then living in Stockholm and when the disc arrived in my hands I immediately presented some parts of it on the Swedish radio, of course in Swedish. I attach here the cover of this disc and a “Delphic Hymn to Apollo” video (click here)  from this edition. See also the video with “Seikilos’ Epitaph” (video click here) and comment the contents of the inscription. You will find it on the web, in English. Try with the words «epitaph of seikilos».
The other example is the Spanish Mara Amanda, a multifaceted musical talent. Visiting Crete in 2001, she decided to stay there and be taught the Cretan music and in 2005 went to Thessaloniki for musical research. In 2002 she surprised us with a disc containing songs with Spanish lyrics (Catalan, I think) and music heavily influenced by the Cretan tradition. And that’s how the musical affinities between Spain and Crete emerged, probably because of the Arabs. I recommend you a masterpiece of this album, called «La dansa dels Fadrins» click here
I regret that the Greek ministry of culture was never interested in rebetiko, in contrast, as I learn, with the corresponding ministries of the countries that spawned other global treasures like the ones I mentioned before (blues, tango , flamenco and fado). I think the causes are essentially two. On the one we have the conservatism, because rebetiko were once considered marginal and “dangerous” songs, and on the other we have the utter ignorance of the history and importance of rebetiko, by all, without exception, the ministers who have served this position. I just stress the reality as it is and only say: Too bad! Fortunately there are Spaniards, Swedes, Dutch, etc who know, appreciate, love and disseminate rebetiko. We thank them a lot for this and inform them they will really have any help the may need. The only thing they have to do in such a case, is contacting the  e-magazine.

in greek (original text) click here