The Jewish Women of Rebetika

rebetika ρεμπέτικο

The Jewish Women of Rebetika

Legendary Greek Jewish Singers OF THE ‘20S, ‘30S, & ‘40S
Ρόζα Ε σκενάζυ, Αμαλία Μπάκα, Στέλλα Χασκηλ, Βικτωρία Χαζάν
Roza Eskenazi, Amalia Baca, Stella Haskil, Victoria Hazan


In conjunction with a new exhibition:

Memories, Memóryas, ??á??????
The World Left Behind in Greece, The World They Found in New York, & Their Journey

Within the provocative world of the early twentieth century urban Greek Café Amans, where flamboyant characters sang about desperate love, life and death, and the seedy side of life, there were a surprising number of celebrated Greek Jewish female vocalists. Included among them were Roza Eskenazi, one of the most renowned Greek singers of all time, and Stella Haskil, who sang together with legendary performers such as Vasilis Tsitsanis. On this side of the Atlantic, Jewish women, notably Amalia Baka and Victoria Hazan, found center stage in the immigrant Greek nightclubs and community celebrations of major urban centers, as well as within the American ethnic recording industry.

All four women were held in high esteem for their extraordinary singing of a beautiful and complex repertoire, both during their lifetimes and again in recent years. Their music, making use of Eastern scales and asymmetrical rhythms, lush with intricate embellishment, and profound in its emotional content and depth, found its way into the hears of several generations of devoted listeners.

Although widely embraced for their musical contributions to urban Greek cafe music and Rebetika, their histories as Jewish women are not widely known. Using live performance and excepts from personal and family interviews, acclaimed vocalist Carol Freeman, together with virtuoso instrumentalists Haig Manoukian (oud) and Beth Bahia Cohen (violin), pay tribute to these Greek Jewish singers with a fascinating look into the songs and lives of these extraordinary women.

About the Performers

Carol Freeman

Well known for thirty years as a celebrated performer, researcher, and teacher of a variety of Balkan and Judaic vocal traditions, Carol Freeman began her love affair with Smyrneïka and Rebetika in the late 1970’s. Having been introduced to the singing of Roza Eskenazi and other great singers of that genre through recordings given to her by friends, she was immediately captured by the haunting melodies and vocal inflections of these artists, and began to seek out recordings by these and other singers on trips to Greece in 1980 and 1981. At home in New York, Carol expanded her knowledge of old Smyrneïka recordings through the generosity of American collectors. She studied the Greek language and spent countless hours listening to these precious vintage recordings, until the melodies, with their complex scales and elaborate embellishments, and the passionate stories of longing and pain, and indeed, even the singers themselves, lived within her body. She also made trips to nursing homes, where a few of the last great singers of the old Asia Minor style were still living, and had the opportunity to listen to and even sing with these individuals.

In 1986 Carol met other master musicians with a similar interest in this music, and founded The Smyrneïki Kompania, the first ensemble dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Asia Minor Greek music as it was performed in the 1920’s and ’30’s.

As she pursued her interest in old Asia Minor urban Café Aman and Rebetika songs, Carol was struck by the fact that a number of the very best of the old-time singers were of Romaniote, Sephardic, and other Jewish heritage. She was also surprised to learn that many Greeks today were unaware of this phenomenon. Having already read much of the literature written about Roza Eskenazi and having spent time with Sephardic singer Victoria Hazan, Carol became determined to further her research into the lives of these great singers and learn more about both their legendary careers as singers of Rebetika music and their life experiences as Jewish women. Since that time, Carol has been fortunate enough to have gathered additional information about these fascinating women through interviews with close family members.

Carol has performed as lead vocalist for the Smyrneiki Kompania Asia Minor Greek Music Ensemble, Song of the Shtetl Jewish Music Ensemble, and the Sevda Balkan Music Ensemble, as a founding member of Zhenska Pesna (Balkan women’s trio), and as a solo interpreter of traditional song, since 1970. She has appeared at museums, arts centers, music festivals, universities, specialized music camps, and folklore seminars, and on radio and television, throughout North America and Europe.

Beth Bahia Cohen

Beth Bahia Cohen has spent a large part of her career exploring how the violin is played in various cultures. Of Syrian Jewish and Russian Jewish heritage, she was inspired at a young age by the sounds she heard at family gatherings. She trained as a classical violinist and violist in NY, and spent several years performing with numerous symphony, ballet, opera and chamber orchestras throughout the U.S. and Europe, as well as in Broadway shows and commercial recording studios. Beth then traveled, studied and performed with masters of the violin and other bowed instruments from Hungary, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and Norway. She plays several Greek lyras, the Turkish bowed tanbur and kabak kemane, the Egyptian rababa, the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, and more. She plays village music from Hungary, Greek music from various regions of Greece, Turkish classical and folk music, and Arabic and Klezmer music. She has performed Klezmer music with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, with Itzhak Perlman and others. She has played Rebetika with Ziyia, Taximi, with Carol Freeman and Haig Manoukian, and many others. She has been the recipient of many travel and research grants, including the NEA/Artists International grant and the Radcliffe Bunting fellowship. She performs regularly with several groups and as a soloist in The Art of the Bow, which brings together the various bowed instrument traditions as well as her original music, and she teaches workshops and ensembles in universities throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Beth is currently on the World Music faculty at Tufts University.

Haig Manoukian

Born to Armenian parents in Virginia, and a long time resident of New York, Haig Manoukian is a master of the Oud. Raised as a child on Turkish and Middle Eastern music, he began to teach himself the oud as a teen. Haig moved to New York City in 1970 to begin his professional career. There he had the opportunity to work for many years in the legendary Eighth Avenue Greek and Arabic clubs, including the famed Egyptian Gardens, alongside the most influential Greek, Arabic, Armenian and Turkish musicians of the day. Haig’s Eighth Avenue years allowed him to finely hone his already developed mastery of these musical traditions, and he became one of the most sought out musicians around. Haig has performed with countless ensembles of Turkish, Middle Eastern, Armenian, Greek, Sephardic Jewish, Balkan, and East African music. Heavily influenced by his travels and of his diverse musical colleagues, Haig, widely revered as a master improviser, is also able to absorb jazz and flamenco into his style and technique, and he has been a member of several Middle Eastern jazz ensembles for more than four decades.. Haig has performed as a featured soloist at prestigious venues all over the globe, including Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. He and Carol have worked together with Carol in The Smyrneïki Kompania for more than twenty years.