Synchronous Rembetis

I consider myself one of todays’ “Rembetes”. A synchronous rembetis, that is to say that my instincts and my thinking are out of sync with the mainstream although my way of life is somewhat tied up with it.

What is a “Rembetis”? or more to the point what are the prerequisites that distinguished this group of people from the rest of society? Rembetes were considered to be ‘wide boys’, ‘spivs’, living on the peripherals of society, involved with the underworld, getting their kicks in the hash dens around Peiraeus where they played this new type of music with bouzoukis, baglamathes and other exotic instruments in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The music came to be called “Rembetika” and it was, like early ‘rock n roll’, simple but exciting and it talked about the lives of the people who wrote and sang it, their sorrows, their loves, their run-ins with the law, some of the songs even commented on the governments, on the war(s), in fact it was just like the blues of the American negroes.

So, what gives me the right to consider myself one of them? I don’t live on the edge of society, I don’t frequent hash joints, I am not a spiv or a wide boy and I am certainly not involved with the underworld! I’m just an ordinary guy, doing ordinary things living a pretty much ordinary life, and yet, and yet I feel myself closer to these guys than any other group of people I can think of. I said right at the top that I felt my instincts and thinking were out of sync with the mainstream, actually I think it’s more than that. I am certain now as I write that it’s actually a spiritual thing I’m experiencing. The more I think about it the more convinced I become and it’s opening up a whole new way of thought for me. Why can’t I, why can’t we all as musicians be synchronised Rembetes? We can do this by expressing ourselves in our music in the same way as they did back then. God knows the world is in a pretty big mess and instead of being caught up in this consumerism and celebrity rubbish we should be out there writing and singing about the things that have real meaning for people……..the very same things that those guys were writing and singing about back in the day.

Music is a Moral Law

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. ~ Plato                                                                          And there is also a moral code that each of us must follow. Here are it’s tenants:-

1) Respect each others abilities

2) Help each other to improve

3) Do a fair days work for a fair days pay (never work tzapa unless its for charity or ‘psychiko’)

4) Work hard in order to project a positive image as a musician

5) Remember that practice = 95% of the job

6) Music is the only international language and we must use it to unite people, not to divide people

7) Always remember in all your dealings that as a musician you belong to one of the “Higher Arts”

8) Never allow people to put you and your craft down. As musicians they tend to think that we occupy the bottom of the food chain and that they can take full advantage of us.

9) Stick to your word, never let people down unless it is completely unavoidable

10) Always have a back up plan, just in case.

No these are not my Ten Commandments! just some ideas I put up for discussion. Let me know what you think………….

 

Split Loyalties

“Exi chordes Exi karthies glyko bouzou, glyko bouzouki pexe” so the song goes. I don’t think it would sound the same if it were “Okto chordes okto karthies……………” or maybe,… who knows?

When I and a lot of other guys started learning this instrument we only knew of the eight stringer. This was the instrument every body was playing and naturally if you were going to learn to play the bouzouki it was going to be an eight stringer not a six stringer. The six stringer represented the past, we knew it was there but we didn’t want to play it really. We didn’t know why, it’s just that that’s the way it was back then in the 70’s. In fact it didn’t end there, Triantafillos at the “rendezvous” played a ten stringer and later on a colleague of mine had a twelve stringer made which he played on a regular basis.

The years went by and by the late 70’s I was introduced to a book by Gail Holst called “Road to Rembetika” a story of love, sorrow and hashish, so the title said. Intrigued by the title and the fact that it was written in English by a non-Greek author I decided to read it and found I couldn’t put it down.

This book told me about how it all started, who the main characters were, about the different roads & modes, the instruments and their tunings but most of all it taught me that all the early players, composers and virtuosi played the six string bouzouki! Even the guy credited with the development of the instrument to an eight stringer played the six string bouzouki and wow could he play it!

Manolis Hiotis. Manolis Hiotis that was his name. A super talent. Not only a bouzouki player but an accomplished guitarist, violinist and ‘yerivan’ player, on top of which he wrote his own compositions and sang them to boot! Now Manolis Hiotis had a great friend and fellow musician by the name of Demitris Stergiou other wise known as ‘Mbebis’. Mbebis was also a great bouzouki player and guitarist and it was said that they often exchanged instruments and backed each other as well as ‘duelling’. Each one was the others ‘alter-ego’ each one pushed the other to ever greater exploits. If you listen to Mbebis playing on the six string bouzouki you cannot fail to wonder how it is possible to get so much from an instrument with only three courses of strings (double strings tuned together or in octaves for the bass string) How was it possible to get so much out of a three string instrument? Hiotis also could get everything out of the instrument, this very limited instrument which was given a very derogatory name by some – ‘zitianoxilo’ literally ‘begging stick’!

Whilst Hiotis flourished Mbebis fell by the way side, alcohol having taken its toll and Hiotis the ‘show man’ went from strength to strength. Manolis Hiotis was always pushing the boundaries, exploring new avenues, introducing new styles of playing and eventually realising an old dream of his in developing the bouzouki into a more versatile instrument by adding a fourth course of strings and tuning it D,A,F,C. exactly one tone lower than the first four strings of the guitar. Remember Hiotis was also a guitarist and was  greatly influenced by non other than the great Django Reinhart. At a later stage in his career Manolis Hiotis was to come face to face with another great guitarist and each one would end up showering the other with the greatest of compliments. I am referring of course to the greatest rock guitarist of all time – Jimi Hendrix.

The rest is history, Hiotis went on to literally change the face of Greek ‘laika’, the majority of bouzouki players took to playing the new 8 stringed instrument and the six stringed bouzouki all but disappeared. Both Hiotis and Hendrix ironically died in 1970 and Greece was in the grip of one of the worst dictatorships of modern times.

There was soon to be a revival, however, and once the junta fell the authentic instrument was to find it’s voice once again. This came in the form of the young generation rediscovering rebetika, re connecting with their musical roots, re learning the roads and modes and learning to play the six string bouzouki! and all because rebetika was seen to be ‘cool’ and ‘risque’ with it’s connections to the underworld, drugs & sex. In fact you could say that it was our answer to ‘drugs sex and rock ‘n’ roll’

I personally did not discover it until very recently, yes I knew of it, but I didn’t go out of my way to buy one and play it until I discovered Vangelis Trigas on youtube. When i heard him play it woke something inside of me. I heard what I could only describe as ‘Classical Laiko’ sound. It wasn’t played in a ‘yiftiko’ or anatolian style. It was clean notes played sweetly and with expression such that I hadn’t heard in many years and this reminded me of someone else I’d forgotten………Costas Papadopoulos and of course Lakis karnezis. So I started on my own personal journey of re-discovery and on the way I met up with other great exponents of the six string bouzouki, Lolios, Korakakis, Tsomidis, Tatasopoulos etc etc and found out that a great number of young bouzouki players are now taking up learning to play this instrument and even the great Karandinis occassionally plays one!

A few years ago I had one made and started to transfer my playing back from eight stringer to six stringer. It was good for me as I started using my brain more and examining what I was playing and how I was playing it. I now play both and I try to in equal measure. I use the six stringer for concerts based on music from the era of the six stringer and I use my eight stringer for more general gigging. I love them both. I love the six stringer for its honesty, the strings ‘sing’ with each other and it has that original authentic sound which characterised so many wonderful pieces from the earliest rebetika to the classiest Laika. The eight stringer on the other hand allows you to explore more varied avenues of playing and fuller chords plus you can play interesting stuff using open C’s F’s A’s & D’s as well as playing whole pieces using just the ‘bulgathes’ the C & F strings.

As far as I’m concerned there is really only one instrument. It’s called the “Bouzouki” whatever form it comes in and when it is played as it should be then there should be absolutely no “split loyalty”

This is what the one and only George Mitsakis has to say on the subject:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-prD3xFPakA

Identity Crisis

So we play this instrument that’s got a pear shaped sound box with a round back and a long neck and it comes beautifully decorated with mother of pearl in lays and it has a very distinctive sound.

In it’s original form it had three courses of double strings tuned D-A-D. It was later ‘developed’ to four courses of double strings tuned D-A-F-C. Right now I don’t want to discuss this in any detail as I don’t want to distract away from where I’m going with this.

It’s simply a matter of relatives. This instrument has close relatives either side of it. In the west it has a relative that looks very similar, also has a pear shaped sound box with a round back and is beautifully decorated with mother of pearl, but it has a short neck and is tuned like a violin, it is called a Mandolin. In the east it has another relative with a thinner pear shaped sound box, roundish back and a very long neck called a Saz.

Not so strangely this instrument has characteristics in common with both it’s relatives, it can sound Eastern and it can equally sound Western but it has a quality all of its own, somewhere slap bang in between, belonging neither to the east nor to the west. Some one once said that the “bouzouki is a western instrument trying to play oriental music” In other words because the instrument has no ‘quarter tones’ that it cannot possibly play oriental music, or at least that some of the ‘modes’ such as ousak do not sound correct because of this.

Having listened to some of the best players of the “anatolian” style I can hear Indian, Persian, Arabian, Turkish sounds without the quarter tones………does it really need quarter tones to play oriental style music? and in any case does it need to only play oriental music, or to put it another way can the Saz and the Oud play western style music with harmonies as well as the bouzouki can? ‘Horses for courses’………………… and the more versatile your horse, the more courses it can run!

The instrument has a very interesting ancestry. It belongs to the family of long necked lutes and its closest relatives are the ‘tamboura’, the ‘saz’, the Persian ‘setar’, the ‘cittern’ and the arabic ‘buzuk’. Strangely there is a statue in the Athens museum of a lady known as a ‘muse’ playing an instrument with three strings (trichordo) called a “Pandouras”. This statue dates from around 300 B.C. This instrument looks very much like the instrument we now call a ‘tamboura’! Could this be a coincidence or is their a direct relationship between these two instruments? Is it possible that the ‘pandouras’ or ‘trichordo’ ended up being played in asia minor and persia, arabia and north africa, in asia and india? In central asia an instrument developed which looks almost a cross between the saz and the tamboura. In asia minor an instrument developed that looked like a cross between the saz and the bouzouki……………..

On the other hand perhaps this did not happen and the refugees from asia minor brought with them a derivative of the saz and because they had no better word for it called it a bouzouki. Just a minute! I seem to recall that in the 1800’s a famous Greek fighter for independence had an instrument that looks like a cross between a saz and a bouzouki which was called a ‘tambouras’………….. Below is a list of it’s many relatives and two pictures:-

Classification Plucked
Related instruments

Our Association

Guys, this is YOUR association, not mine…….it belongs to ALL of us and should be used by all of us. It’s here for all the reasons an association should be here for; as a point of contact, to chat with one another, to promote events, to organise events, to chat about stuff that concerns Greek musicians, to post photos or video clips etc, etc.

The idea came about when Angelos Hadjipavli e-mailed me from Cyprus to inform me that we recently lost two well known artistes from the 80’s era, Lakis Alexandrou and Nicos Papazoglu. It occurred to me then that this would be a recurring theme, that we would be hearing more unfortunate news of other great Greek musicians and singers, composers and lyricists. I then heard that my own friend and mentor Theodosis kkoshi of “The Marcians” fame is now very ill with dementure and cancer. When I look back to those old recordings by the Marcians I think how lucky I was to have been around when these guys were playing the Greek circuit and touring the UK playing Mikis Theodorakis and other music, and how lucky I was to have become a personal friend and later form a trio with Theo and Peter Georgiou, make a CD together and gig together for the best part of ten years.

So guys what I would dearly love to happen is, before we lose them, that we should get as much reminiscing about them and from them as possible so that we may have a permanent record of their lives and experiences playing the Greek circuit. A history of the clubs, concert halls and restaurants, the characters that were around, the musicians they worked with, how they learnt their trade, how they got started, etc, etc.

Ideally the Association would like to hear from/about Theodosis, Lucas Florides, Giorgos Aristeros, Lambris, Takis Kannellopoulos, Triantafillos, Mimis, Shatis, Andreas Pitsillis (Markides band), Angelos & Pannicos Hadjipavli, Mike Mina, Nick Gregoriou, Christos and Yiannis Constantinou, Andy “Kitshios” Mihalaki Yiannakis “Armenis”………….. the list is endless and includes all of us! SO……let’s get the word out, if you know them, tell them, if you know someone that knows someone that knows them, tell them.

I thought we could start with a list of the clubs and restaurants with Greek music from the 60’s – 90’s. As I remember it the main ones in the late 60’s were: ‘La Roca’ Soho, ‘Chanticler’ Victoria, ‘Rendezvous’ Bayswater, ‘Lord Byron’ Gt Marlborough St, ‘Cleopatra’ Notting Hill, ‘Angelos club’ Notting Hill, ‘The Elyse’ Percy St, ‘The Grecian’ Percy St, ‘Bachus’ Archway, ‘Plaka’ Holloway Rd, ‘Zeus’ West End , ‘Rhoda’ Holloway Rd, ‘Romios’ Holloway Rd, ‘Night Star’ Seven Sisters Rd. By the 1970’s these were added to by a plethora of other establishments along Seven Sisters Rd, Camden Town, Green Lanes Haringey, Wood Green, Palmers Green, Finchley…………..in fact by the 1980’s it seemed that there was a “Bouzouksitiko” on just about every corner of every neighbourhood in London! I exaggerate of course, but there were so many just about every where that the public was spoilt for choice……………and now? Now there are a handful left, so how did we let this happen?

If you guys remember the names and locations of all those places all over London the association would dearly love to have that information.

To all our Global friends we urge you to also do the same, recall clubs, restaurants, musicians that changed the music and night life of your areas.You can write about them, post photos videos etc. We look forwards to hearing from you.

Who killed it?

It was “it”. It started off by being smashed and  banned. It started out in the brothels and hash dens of Pireaus. It was the ultimate rebellion machine, loved by the poor, hated by the rich………but effecting the hearts and souls of all those it touched, eventually becoming accepted and loved by everyone even at the highest echelons of society, even going us high as the very “White House” itself. No wonder then that sooner or later they would seek it’s destruction. It wasn’t a quick death by any means, oh no, it actually took decades to accomplish. It was more like a slow asphixiation, a strangulation that took a lot of planning. It was cleverly executed, firstly it’s territory was invaded by other elements that didn’t quite fit in, then it was a case of having smaller and smaller parts to play, then it became a bit part player until eventually it took no part at all, only occasionally being called upon to participate in what was clearly not it’s scene.

A shame really, a real big shame. But who did it? And why was it done? It’s difficult to point the finger and say it was definitely him or they. In fact I rather suspect that there were many involved in this murder and unwittingly we are all to blame, but why?

We’re not quite sure of its history, some say it’s as old as the Parthenon itself, others that it was a recent inclusion into our culture. It doesn’t really matter either way. What does matter is that it became a fundamentally Greek instrument and it expressed every Greek emotion beautifully. When you here it you feel alive, you feel the sun on your skin, you know where it comes from, it’s as distinctive as the balalaika is to Russian music or the sitar is to Indian music or the oud to Arabic music.

Such an instrument, such  innovation, such emotion, melody, harmony, such beauty and yet today it may as well not exist. Today the so-called Greek composers have no room for it in their works. No room for its many roads and modes, no room for its miriad textures and styles of expression, no room for its inter ethnic, inter cultural fusions. No! today we only have room for one miserable minor scale and levels that are pushed right to the very limit of human endurance played on instruments that belong on another world!!

Many say to me this is a natural progression, Greek music has moved on. I say that the opposite has happened, that Greek music has re-gressed, that it has diminished that it is everything but GREEK! In fact I say it of all modern ethnic musics, that they have lost their roots and have now become one globalised mish-mash of sounds that …………….sound the same!

It wasn’t just that they managed to kill it, albeit over many years and with much suffering, it’s that they took other victims as well. As things stand there’s very little left that you could call “authentic”……………

Authenticity was its beauty. In fact it was so beautiful that it conquered the world. At one time it graced our television screens in the hands of the most unexpected people. They showed it off and tried to explain it’s workings and every one wanted a piece of it and the action!

At the “Cannes Film festival” in 1960 it started the invasion. This was soon followed in 1965 with Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates and a very famous dance that took the world by storm. No wonder then that they planned its final demise……………..and here we are picking at the bones and wondering how we let it happen and why we couldn’t see it coming!

10th anniversary of Stelios kazantzides Death

This coming September will be the tenth anniversary of the passing of the “Voice of Greece” Stelios Kazantzides.
He died shortly after 9/11 and consequently his passing was never properly celebrated.
In my opinion the 10th anniversary of his death should be an excellent opportunity for us all to celebrate fully his life, his work and his legacy. In the same way that he ,through his songs, championed the Greek working classes and highlighted the deficiencies in the political system, we can now- re discover these wonderful songs and find out the reasons why they became part of the fabric of Greek life.
“Kinonia Enohi…..Palio Kinonia”………. “Na Sou Thoso Mia na Spasis, ah Vre Kosme apone”………….”Stis Fambrikes Tis Germanias”………….. Why? Well look at what’s happening in Greece now and ask yourself this…….’Where are you now Stelio, now that we need you more than ever?

Since i first wrote this I have been putting all my Stelios kazantzides songs together under one Genre on my i tunes and I started listening to his more recent songs. I was shocked at how prophetic these turned out to be and although he did not personally write them (Takis Sukas +) his interpretation leaves me in no doubt that he means what he sings: “Zilevo Ta Boulia”, “Animporos”, “Elatha Stous Omous”, “Egho Ime Enas Apokliros” etc.

These songs reflected the situation that was perceived to be effecting Greek life back then in the mid – late 1980’s, a time of relative prosperity! How perverse that they are more relevant now than they were then, and how strange that his earlier songs those of the 50’s-60’s spoke of exactly the same woes, unemployment, emigration, etc, etc.

Let’s find these songs once more and keep them close to our hearts because if anything they are a guiding light, a moral compass, a beacon in a world that seems to be getting darker by the day.