Friday, March 3

Rembetiko of the Month

Not much is known about Rita Abadzi. Originally named Iríni, she was born in Smyrna in 1903 and entered Greece as a refugee with her mother and sister after the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922. Her father was among the thousands of missing men who had been routinely separated from the women and children before their expulsion from Asia Minor. He was either killed or sent to work in a labor battalion somewhere in the Anatolian interior, and there is no evidence that he was later reunited with his family.

When Abadzi began recording Rembetika in the 1930s, the tragedies she had experienced as a young girl and her experience as a refugee no doubt remained with her. Indeed, they can be heard and felt in her voice, particularly in the many haunting αμανέδες for which she became famous. Abadzi’s voice has been described as earthy. Indeed it is richly textured with an abundance of soul. Her voice is also considerably bluesier than the more dulcet voice of her chief rival, Roza Eskenazi.

Gazeli Neva Sabah is an example of one of Abadzi’s more chilling αμανέδες. An αμανές (pronounced “a-man-ESS”) is a vocal improvisation built around the word “aman,” which is used in both Greece and throughout the Middle East as an expression of despair and frustration and is roughly the equivalent of “alas,” though when paired with “yala” (i.e. “aman yala”), it is meant to convey a feeling of passionate exuberance.

Click here to listen.

The αμανές is typically set within a particular makam (or mode), and in this case the makam, as the name of the song suggests, is “Neva Sabah,” with Neva erroneously denoting the key of D (in which the song is set), because in reality Neva is the name for A, and, moreover, the song actually seems to be in D#.

Sabah is a strange mode. Because it has a lowered 4th, both the major 3rd and the minor 3rd are present. The resulting step-and-a-half interval between the 4th and the 5th combined with the chromatic run between the 2nd and the 4th are what gives Sabah its distinctive melancholy sound. Moreover, the lowered 8th creates an interesting tension, as though the makam is straining for a height that it can never quite reach.

Gazeli Neva Sabah was recorded in Athens in 1934. Abadzi is accompanied by Lambros Savaïdis on kanun and Dimitris Semsis (Salonikios) on violin. Its lyrics are among the most sobering of any αμανές ever recorded:

Αμάν
Πρέπει νά σκέφτεται κανείς την ώρα του θανάτου
ότι θα μπεί στη μαύρη γής καί σβήνει τ’όνομά του.

Aman
A person must give some thought to the hour of his death;
when he will go down into the black earth
and his name will be erased.

The concept of the μαύρη γής (MA-vri yis), or black earth, is an ancient one for the Greeks, stretching back millennia. Homer uses it, albeit in its archaic form of γαΐα μέλαινα (along with its Ionic variant, κελαινή χθών), no fewer than five times in the Iliad. In Book II, he describes the death of a captain called Protesilaus by writing:

τότε δ’ ήδη έχεν κάτα γαΐα μέλαινα.

‘ere now the black earth held him fast.

In modern Greek literature and music, μαύρη γής represents not only death, but also exile in a foreign land, such as the kind experienced by Abadzi and her family. In the case of Gazeli Neva Sabah, μαύρη γής alludes literally to physical death itself and also figuratively to the death of Greek culture in Asia Minor following the catastrophe of 1922 and the expulsion of the Greek population. Three-thousand years of Hellenism was snuffed out virtually overnight and, as the song says, σβήνει το όνομά του—its name erased.

6 Comments:

Blogger castor said...

This "Asia Minor Catastrophe" must have been a terrible disaster ... haunting for the Greeks till our days.

I know this story a little bit because in the duration of my studies I lived for 2 years with 3 Greek students in a shared flat ... it was a great time for me. Christos, one of them, a cute blond Greek from Saloniki who was a little bit older than me, translated for me some poems of Kavafis and he also inaugurated me into the practice of "Male Love" ... but he was my Sirtaki-Teacher too :-)(It was the time of "Alexis Sorbas" and "Phaedra" with Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins ... it was my youth.
And it was Christos who called also my attention to the "Rembetiko-Music" and so it makes me very happy that you share sometimes these lyrics with your readers!
Efcharisto,
Castor

3:19 AM  
Blogger The Persian said...

for some reason every time you link these clips I cannot play them. I would love to hear her so I am dissapointed! Any suggestions?

Thanks :)

11:02 AM  
Blogger castor said...

to Persian Guy:
---------------
When you click on: "Click here to listen" you come to the site: >
"Putfile.com" >
here you see the sign for AUDIO > and now you have only to wait a little bit, it's loading itself, that's all ... you don't need to do anything ... only waiting a bit and you will listen
the lyrics ... :-)

1:02 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

i also can't i tried 2 do what castor said but couldn't get it 2 work.

3:52 PM  
Blogger The Persian said...

I was finally able to hear this, absolutely riveting. I loved it. Very Bluesy as you said.

:)

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm listening to Aikhinikos Horos by Rita Abadzi. Any idea where I can find the lyrics? In English or Greek. I would like to sing along. If only I could.
funda

10:47 AM  

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