Singing the Greek blues

I love music. And I love other countries. So when I travel, getting my ear on the local music is always a priority.

Not long ago, I learned about a style of Greek music called rebetiko. Rebetiko (a.k.a. rebetika or rembetika) has been compared to the American blues, not in its musical style, but in its origins, meaning, and the source of its inspiration. It deals with the not so sun-shiney side of life, with lyrics about poverty, alienation, drinking, drugging—all of life’s trials and tribulations. Lots of emotion.

Rebetiko has roots back in the 19th century, but it didn’t become distinctively what it is today until the 1920s. It emerged from the tavernas and ouzeries of Greece’s bigger cities, from the minds and instruments of disillusioned refugees from Asia Minor. Musically, rebetiko has been described as a kind of Greek urban folk music, combining influences of European and Middle Eastern musical styles. The main instruments in rebetiko are guitar and bouzouki, a traditional Greek stringed instrument.

For anyone taking a trip to Greece, I recommend seeking out some rebetiko. I’ve never been to Greece, and I’ve never seen rebetiko performed in person, but I have a feeling it’s a good thing to see live. In the meantime, here’s a BBC documentary about rebetiko that I found.

Photo: fiddlejean via Flickr

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