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The Rebetiko And Greek Folk Music Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3500 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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To begin with, I chose this specific topic ‘THE REBETIKO’ because it relates to me as a Greek-Cypriot and I am interested in learning more about Greek folk music. Also, I believe this kind of music is a part of my music culture and I am keen to find out more regarding this topic using my connections in Greece and Cyprus. Most of the information written below is from my recent visit to Cyprus where I was able to find some relevant information about this topic from books and journals.

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Definition and Etymology

To start with, Rebetico can be described as a Greek urban music genre. Moreover in Greek Encyclopaedia Nea Domi (Νέα δομή [Nea dhomi], Vol. 29, s.v. ‘ρεμπέτικα τραγούδια’), rebetika songs is defined as “a musical genre which is consisted of popular songs with primarily a love related and social content. It probably emerged at the beginning of the 20th century mostly in Smyrna and Thessalonica”. Moreover, it is argued that the origins and the musical boundaries of the genre cannot be defined. Another definition of the rebetiko is that of Panos Savvopoulos who supports that the word rebetiko derives from the Greek verb ρέμπομαι (pronounced as ‘rebome’) which means wondering, enjoying and pride.( Panos, Savopoulos, 2006, pp18-19) Another slightly different definition is that of Gail Holst in his book The Road to Rebetika. Gail Holst who wrote: “What was special about the Rebetika song was the combination between traditional musical forms of the Eastern Mediterranean and the words of the songs, which dealt with the life of the urban underworld and the less reputable elements of the society.” (http://www.oud.gr/rembetika.htm, 7/05/2010)

The beginning of the rebetico song

Rebetika is a musical form that speaks to the Greek soul and reflects the trials and tribulations of Greeks as a people. Rebetica songs first appeared in the middle of 19th century and were associated with the lower classes of people at the beginning also originates from the coast of Greece and Asia Minor. During the Minor Asian catastrophe most people were hunted down and those who managed to come to the big cities on the Greek mainland (Thessaloniki, Xios, Pireas etc) timidly continue to make music in collaboration with the locals who had a somewhat different background. At this time they started to record their songs and to present them on stage. The first rebetika songs originated in Piraeus, Athens, in 1834 and they were called “mourmourika”, meaning ‘murmured songs’. The main places where rebetiko music could be heard were the Café-aman (coffee shops). Originally rebetiko in songs had no refrain and was a simple melody with one or two instruments. On most occasions the player improvised and accompanied a singer.

Social and political context

In addition Rebetiko was directly affected by the political, historical and social events that took place in Greece, from the beginning of the 20th century at the time of the population exchange in 1922 (Greek and Ottoman exchanging before and after War World 1). During this period the Greek refugees brought a different culture that shaped the traditional rebetica songs. The music that shapes the Greek-speaking refugees from Smyrna was different from the traditional rebetiko song. Greeks from Smyrna used different instruments such a clarinet and santouri. The beginning of World War II in Greece, with the German occupation (1940-1945), had a major impact on the rebetiko. The recording factories close down in Athens and songs of this time were written about German occupation.

According to Konstantinidou (Konstantinidou Maria,1994, pp. 68-69), many musicians died from hardships and many of the kentra/taverns closed due to curfews. The customers of the kentra changed and prostitutes, the underclass, Germans, profiteers, people of the underworld, people of the underground resistance towards Germans were present in the ‘night life’ of Greece. As a result, songs also started to change. For instance, there were songs about resistance against the German occupation and songs describing the pain of the people during the occupation such as the song Synnefiasmeni Kyriaki (Cloudy Sunday) by Vassilis Tsitsanis which is considered one of the most well known zeibekiko (a Greek dance in 9/8).

In 1999, the Greek musical magazine Difono ranked Sinnefiasmeni Kiriaki in the first place on the ‘100 most popular songs of the century’ chart (Eyagoras Karagiorgis, 2003,p.103). The changes in the political, historical and social scene in Greece during the period 1900-1960 resulted in the dissatisfaction and disappointment of the vast majority of the population, (which mainly consisted of underclass people)with the Greek authorities and its political system. Because of this these people developed their own dialect based in Ottoman and Greek language and their own way of dressing. These changes were accompanied by a different philosophy for life which then affected their music. As a result, rebetis (male performer) and rebetissa (female performer) can also be described as the people who belonged to a certain group with a certain ideology and features, and not solely as musicians.

Period of Rebetico songs

It is said that there are different periods in the development and evolution of the rebetiko. Elias Petropoulos identified and characterized three different periods the history of the style of Rebetiko music.

The first period (1922-1932) was the “Smyrnaic” period. It called Smyraic period because it was firstly created by refugees from Smyrna.

On this period emerged from its roots with the mixture of elements from the music of Asia Minor. The first period was characterized by Café aman style of improvisation. During this time and also during the second period of rebetiko songs, the usual themes presented were of love, lands lost to Greek-Turkish war and the underground, drugs and illegal practices, themes that involved the common place situations of everyday life. The first period ended with an important incident of Modern Greek music. This was the first recording of the “bouzouki” musical instrument (traditional rebetiko string instrument) two of the important musicians of this period Panayiotis Toudas and Markos Bambakaris recorded the first song “Fragosiriani”

The second period (1932-1942) was called the “Classical” period by Petropoulos and this defined the structural context of the music. One of the main differences concerned the instruments that they used. Also on this period women were aloud to sing, something that did not happen in the first period. The structural of the music was the same as the Rebetiko of today. In this period Markos Bambakaris along with Stratos Bouyourgis , Batis with “baglama” (traditional rebetiko music instrument) and Artemsi created the famous band of “The four Peraeus”, and for the first time went up on stage playing “bouzouki”. The third period category, known as “Popular” period (1942-1955) was the era of discovery, spread, and acceptance. This period gives more emphasis to the exposure and dissemination of the genre and development of another structural style. Moreover in this period the Rebetiko reaches the large stage in Athens. Rebetiko entered the big salons (a places that only rich people could go).On this period Vasilis Tsitsanis one of the most famous people of this genre

recorded hundreds of songs. In 1955 the creative period of rebetiko ended and started tradition of “Laiko” (modern folk) songs.

Musical Instruments

The majority of Rebetiko songs have been accompanied by stringed musical instruments, which are not the same in all periods of rebetiko songs. On the first period “rebetes”, (the people who play rebetiko music) used violin as the main instrument. They also used the “santouri” and the “kanonaki”. In the second period the style changes and the use of “baglamas”- which is a string instrument made out of pumbkin or regular wood-, “bouzouki” and guitars were preferred in addition to some other handmade small instruments used for rhythm. Bouzouki is known as the primary instrument of Rebetiko songs. Apart from Bouzouki there were other instruments such as zouras and tabouras and also some bigger or smaller instruments that belong to the bouzouki family. On the last period the musical instruments remain the same as the second period. On the third period Xiotis brought about innovation, by adding another string to the bouzouki making them four. There are different rhythms of rebetiko songs. Some of the most common rhythms are Zeibekiko, a 9/4 or 9/8 meter, in its various forms, Tsifteteli, a 4/4 meter Hasapiko, a 2/4 meter and Serviko – a 2/4 meter

Research sources

Considering all previously mentioned, research on the rebetiko needs time in order to be well organized and to make sure the information gathered is accurate. Therefore, prior to the beginning of a study, it is necessary to do a literature review on the topic. It will most likely help in determining how to proceed with the research, what is of interest, what kind of information is readily available, and what methods and means can be used in order to collect the necessary data and information.

Also, it is important to dedicate enough time in order to organize the research well and determine the sources and the research methods that will be used.

Starting the research process, the best place to gather most of the information on the genre is in a Greek music library or a Greek music school. In this case, it is definite to find a lot of information regarding the history of the rebetiko and the names and biographies of the well-known performers through Greek time periods. During my last visit to Cyprus I came across books on the sociology of rebetiko and mainly about the history or politics that affected the genre. Moreover it will be useful watching some of the educational videos that talk about rebetiko song and the influence it had on the Greek society. One really good resource is a video that the Greek music school uses for a better understanding of the history of rebetiko songs. You can find this video on the Greek www.sch.gr web page. The World Wide Web could also be useful as a main source for live footage of recorded rebetiko performances and making observations on the performers’ behaviour.

An additional source of information could be different interviews from existing performers who play in old taverns in Greece and Cyprus. From experience, there are many performers who seem to play an enormous range of Greek folk music and rebetiko who can answer most questions regarding the music compositions and improvisations used in this specific genre. This will help to musically analyze the topic. Furthermore, questionnaires can be useful if the information about the topic is to get an idea of how the Greeks feel about their heritage of rebetiko. Some possible questions used in these questionnaires might be:

– What do you think is the main purpose of the rebetiko?

Do you enjoy listening to this genre of music?

What feelings do you have when listening to this genre of music?

Are you interested in learning more about this style of music??

In addition, some other useful research sources may be some newspapers, magazines, and articles while some very good information may also be included in rebetiko CDs. A very interesting article I found, “Για το ρεμπέτικο τραγούδι” (for the rebetiko song), from the Greek newspaper “Επιθεώρηση Τέχνης”(Art research), refers to social and political contexts after the World War 2. In addition, TV or radio programmes/documentaries in Greece and Cyprus such as ‘EΝΤΕÎΝΩΣ’, which refer to this genre and its performers, can be valuable sources of information as well. Furthermore, finding additional information about instruments on the rebetiko history may also be useful for this specific topic. Finding out information about instruments of three different periods can conclude in finding out information regarding the different influences on this music. For example, if the instruments used to perform this music are also used in other cultures for their traditional music.

In conclusion, research needs time to collect as much information as you can and making sure that the information are accurate. Using information out of specific books, one may find more information about special characteristics of rebetiko songs. Moreover, attention must be paid around the analysis of the survey result and studied carefully in order to complete the statistics and conclude the results from each question answered. Moreover rebetiko’s musicians may give some interesting information about rebetiko song that may be included in the research.



Karagiorgis,Eyagoras : Το Ελληνικό Τραγούδι του 20ου αιώνα: μια διδακτική προσέγγιση για το λύκειο. [The Greek song of the 20th century: A teaching approach for Lyceum, (Λευκωσία, Κύπρος) 2003

This book is used for music education in Greek high schools and consists of enough accurate information on the topic which is being researched. Most important, is that the book concentrates mostly on the Greek song of the 20th century. Using this material it will help to inform the reader of this research about the rebetiko in past years and using information from other resources about the rebetiko today can help with the comparison of its musical structure. If the research requires information about the rebetiko today this book will be very helpful and because it is used in high school education the context is precise.

Konstantinidou, Maria, Κοινωνική Ιστορία του Ρεμπέτικου [A Sociological History of Rebetiko ], publication. Selas, Athens, 1994

This book contains information about the social approach of the rebetiko song connecting it with the social events that happened between Smyrna and Greece on this period. Also it is explains about the culture difference between two countries and how it influenced the rebetiko song. There is also some historical context about the rebetiko in this book and the information about how it became very successful in Greek history.

Information here can be compared with information from other books with different opinions which will help with the conclusion of the research.

Koutsothanasis, Tasos: Οι Îρυσες Δεκαετίες του Ελληνικου Τραγουδιου: 120 Προσωπικότητες Αποκαλύπτονται [The Golden Decades of the Greek Song: 120 Personalities are revealed] (Αθήνα: Εκδώσεις Δρόμων, 2006)

On this book you can find the biography of some of the most important Greek musician who left their mark on the history of Greek music. Their also refers in some of the most popular rebetika song of the period and the musical instruments that used in every period of rebetiko song. From this book you can find the first musicians of rebetiko songs and how they start to

compose or play that genre of music. It is essential for this research due to the historical context

Petropoulos, Elias and Ed Emery. Songs of the Greek underworld: the Rebetika tradition. puplication: Saqi. 2000

This book refers to the life of the poor people of this period that rebetiko was developed. It refers to the lifestyle of the period. Also it refers on the period that refuges of Smyrna in before and after the First World War came to Greece and the difficulties that people faced because of the different cultures. This book is essential for this research. It is important to find how the language and the culture influence the rebetiko song. It is also refers to the different rhythms that rebetiko songs have and different dances.

Savopoulos, Panos (περί της Λέξεως «Î¡ÎµÎ¼Ï€Î­Ï„ικο» το ανάγνωσμα…και άλλα) [AbouRebetiko] (Αθήνα, Οδός Πάνος Εκδόσεις) [publication:Odos Panos, Athens], 2006

On this article you can find definitions and different explanations of the word “retetiko”. Moreover, this article includes examples about the creation of the rebetiko, explains how it was created and refers examples of the rebetiko songs with brief analytical information about the musical structure. There are also author’s opinions that can also be compared with other writer’s opinions and may help to the researcher come to his own conclusion regarding what is rebetiko. This article is really useful as an introduction of the research around the rebetiko song.

Vlisides, Kostas (ed.): Σπάνια Κείμενα για το Ρεμπέτικο 1929-1959 [Rare essays about Rebetiko 1929-1959] (Αθήνα: Εκδόσεις του Εικοστού Πρώτου, 2006)

Νέα δομή [Nea dhomi], Vol. 29

This book also contains essays about the rebetiko but mostly about how different this genre is from other musical genres. The information given here is very useful to the researcher when wanting to compare this genre to other Greek genres. It also contains information about what makes the rebetiko significant and unique from other musical styles. Besides this important information there is also historical content about the creation of the genre during political problems in Greece and the affects it had on the music during World War II. Furthermore, the data given here can also be compared from other books and articles mentioned above

των Ρεμπετών’ [The world of mangas: representation of the ‘good man’ in Rebetiko], in Ρεμπέτες και Ρεμπέτικο Τραγούδι [Rebetes and Rebetika songs] ed. by Νίκος Κοταρίδης (Αθήνα: Πλέθρον, 2003)

This book contains information mostly about the reason why rebetiko songs were written. Here it explains through different essays how the music became popular and how the male and female artist had a big impact in the musical world in Greece. It explains lyrics of different songs from different periods and from what the writers were influenced by during the composition of the music. Predominantly the influences declared in this book are from drugs especially hashish and how important it was to the artists involved in the night life.


Educational video, Music in Greece, viewed: 05/05/2010


This website is the Greek schools networking. It is a network in service of education and it is use for academic purposes. This video refers to the whole history of the rebetiko. It is useful because the speaker is a rebetiko’s music young performer. The video includes information about some of the most important musicians of the three periods of rebetiko and refers to the most important songs of every period. Also refers to the instruments of the three different periods and explains how some of the main instrument such a bouzouki is developed with the byway of time.

The history of the rebetiko song, [Άρθρα], viewed: 05/05/2010 http://www.rebetiko.gr/arthra.php?article=608

This website is the official site of the rebetiko. On this site you can find whatever you want around the rebetiko song. It includes articles, speeches and you can find any kind information around the rebetiko. It is very useful for the research on the beginning. On this webpage I found a speech that refers to the rebetiko and how it is change nowadays. It is essential for a good research to know the difference from the past to the present to the specific genre and how it influenced the social life.


24 Απαγορευμένα Ρεμπέτικα [24 outlawed rebetika songs]. Various artists. 1996. Compact Disc. BMG

This CD is very helpful to the researcher because it contains popular rebetiko songs. Here, the recordings can be musically analyzed and compared; linking each song to the time it was written. The researcher can use lyrics or music from these recordings as examples in his research when mentioning the musical structure or style of music at certain periods of time. He can also compare the recordings of male singers with female singers and write the different impact this has to each song.


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