Monday, January 16

Rembetika of the Month

As promised, this is the first of what will be a monthly series. Each Rembetiko of the Month/Ρεμπέτικο του Μηνός will highlight a different tune and will feature both a brief synopsis of the song along with a link to an MP3 graciously hosted by Putfile. All of the songs featured are digitized versions of original 78rpm recordings.

Click here to listen.

Είμαι Πρεζάκιας

Από το βράδ’ώς το πρωί μέ πρέζα στέκω στή ζωή
Κι’όλο τόν κόσμο καταχτώ τήν άσπρη σκόνη σά’ρουφώ.

Όλος ο κόσμος είναι κτήμα μου σάν έχω πρέζα καί ρουφάω,
Κ’οί πολιτσμάνοι όταν θά μέ δούν μελάνι αμολάω.

Σάν μαστουρωθείς, γίνεσαι ευθύς
Βασιλιάς, διχτάτορας, θεός καί κοσμοκράτορας.

Πρέζα όταν πιείς, ρέ, θά ευφρανθείς
Κι’όλα πιά στόν κόσμο ρόδινά θέ νά τά δείς.

Δική μού είναι ή Ελλάς μέ τήν κατάντια της γελάς
Τής λείπει τό’να της ποδάρι, ρέ, καί τό παίξανε στό ζάρι.

Εγώ θά είμαι, ρέ, διχτάτορας, κι’ο κόσμος στάχτη άν θά γίνει
Ο ένας θά μ’ανάβει τό λουλά, κι’ο άλλος θά τό σβήνει.

I’m a Junkie

From dusk to dawn, my whole life is coke.
I can conquer the world when I snort that white powder.

The whole world is mine when I have coke to snort;
But when the police see me, I disappear fast.

When you get high, you become a king,
a dictator, a god, and ruler of the world.
When you snort coke, you experience euphoria,
because everything in the world suddenly seems rosy.

Greece is mine; you can laugh at her plight.
She’s missing one of her legs; man, they played dice for it.

Man, if I were a dictator, the world could turn to ashes for all I care;
as long as I’ve got someone to light my hookah
and someone else to put it out.

This song was recorded under the HMV label in Athens in 1934 by Roza Eskenazi, considered by many to be the greatest of the female singers of Rembetika, with Dimitris Semsis (aka Salonikios) on violin, and Agapios Tomboulis on oud. The above photo shows this popular and prolific trio in 1932.

I have always found the second verse especially poignant. It alludes to the loss of Western Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, which constituted the major territorial demands made by the Greek delegation at the Paris Peace Conference following the First World War. Both areas had been ceded to Greece under the terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which was later repudiated in favor of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne following the defeat of the Greek army in Asia Minor by Atatürk.

Under the terms of the new treaty, virtually the entire Greek population of Asia Minor was expelled from the newly formed Turkish Republic in exchange for Greece’s Turkish population. Exempted from the compulsory population exchange were the Greek communities of Istanbul and the islands flanking the Dardanelles and the Turkish population of Western Thrace in Greece. It should also be noted that the Turks of the Dodecanese Islands were not affected, since at the time the Dodecanese were in the possession of Italy and therefore not part of the treaty.

The arrival in Greece of more than a million impoverished and traumatized Anatolian refugees produced an urban underclass that proved a challenge for Greece to absorb. Although the refugees were ethnically, culturally, and linguistically Greek, their oriental ways were regarded with suspicion and, at times, hostility. In reality, although Greece as a nation had gone to war in Asia Minor ostensibly in order to protect the Greek minorities there who were living under Ottoman rule, when that same population arrived in Greece, they were not universally welcomed by all segments of Greek society.

Life in the refugee shanty towns was difficult. Crime and drug addiction were widespread. This song combines the underworld of the Anatolian refugees with a reference to the geopolitical conflict that had given rise to their plight in the first place.

Recommended Listening:
Rembetica: Historic Urban Folk Songs from Greece
Greek-Oriental Rembetica

6 Comments:

Blogger Will said...

As you have "Middlesex" on your good reading list, you're obviously aware of Eugenides's gripping description of the disaster at Smyrna for the Greeks and Armenians. It's one of the most compelling pieces of writing I've come across recently.

When I was finished with the book, I immediately gave it to Fritz who had the same reaction--even to calling me when he was in the middle of the passage to tell me how moved and impressed he was.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

It's a great read, Will. One of the many things that I loved about Middlesex is that for the first time since the fall of 1922, people—and not just Greeks—are talking about the tragedy that took place at Smyrna.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous outiboy said...

you must post your smyrna movie short soon, with the accompanying soundtrack!

3:20 PM  
Blogger jjd said...

I love your historical commentary. Awesome stuff, and I admit my absolute ignorance about it; which just makes me all the more interested. Maybe next time you could put some maps in this post for those of us geographically naive of the populations and areas you are referring to? Or not. I guess my lazy ass could look them up huh?

Interesting post. Truly.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

James,
I should have included a link to the Wikipedia entry for the Treaty of Sèvres, but Wikipedia has been getting some press these days, so I was a bit hesitant. Hope the link helps.

And many thanks for your comments and kind words :)

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for starting this blog. I look forward to the monthly tune and background. It is also great to have a recording and lyrics in Greek all in the same place. Thanks.
Antonio.

2:07 AM  

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