Tuesday, April 18

Rembetiko of the Month

I was going to post a great tune by Rita Abadzi, actually the song that was my first real introduction to Rembetika as an adult—as opposed to the Greek music I was exposed to as a child, which might have included Rembetika, but I don’t really remember because I didn’t think too much about it at the time. It’s a good one, and was going to be my first Rembetiko of the Month featuring the Piraeus School, to which I’ve alluded.

Instead, this month’s Rembetiko of the Month is Ή Ελένη ή Ζωντοχήρα (Helen, the Divorcée), also in the tradition of the Piraeus School. It was recorded by Andonis Kalivopoulos (pictured right) with Yiovan Tsaous on what some have deemed a saz, others a tanbur. What Outiboy and I think is being played here is a bouzouki with movable frets, which was not uncommon in Rembetika from the Interwar period.

The principal reason why we think it’s a bouzouki with movable frets is the F half-sharp. Imagine the note between F and F#. This is one of the quartertones I was talking about in this post. A bouzouki with fixed frets (which is the kind played by Greeks today) wouldn’t be able to produce an F half-sharp. While the saz and the tanbur have movable frets that would have allowed them to produce a half-sharp, the instrument in this particular recording has a distinctly bouzouki-like sound.

The makam is Oussak, which is like a (Western) natural minor except for the half-sharp, a note that I am unable to produce on the sandouri. As a result, I play Oussak the way most Greeks do, as a natural minor with a flatted second thrown in on ocassion as an approximation of the half-sharp (the symbol for which is to the left).

Tsaous plays the F half-sharp, and it’s wonderful. The tension it adds to the melody is, well, it’s sexy. It’s really perfect for this song, which is all about sexual tension. Eventually, as Rembetika became more Westernized, notes like F half-sharp became less and less common, until they disappeared altogether.

As this song amply demonstrates, the Piraeus School produced a harsher and grittier sound than the Smyrnaïc School. While both Schools were associated with the Anatolian Greek refugees that flooded Greece after the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922, it was the music of the Piraeus School that eventually came to define the Rembetic tradition, though this was perhaps more true in Greece than it was for the Greeks of the Diaspora, especially in the United States, but that’s a topic for a future post.

I chose this song because of the last line (about the roasted lamb), seeing that Sunday is Greek Orthodox Easter.

Click here to listen.


Η Ελένη ή ζωντοχήρα ντέρτι έχει ή κακομοίρα—
Ένα γέρο άντρα έχει ή καημένη δεν αντέχει.

Κάθε μέρα ‘ναστενάζει απ’τό στόμα φλόγες βγάζει:
Νέα είμαι δεν ταιριάζει γέρος νά με αγκαλιάζει.

Τον ξεπόρτησε καί λέγει τι νά κάνω κι’όλο κλαίει—
ο μπακάλης τήν λυπάται κάθε βράδυ τήν θυμάται.

Κι’ο μανάβης σάν περνάει στέκει τήν παρηγοράει:
Έτσι τό’θελε η μοίρα, Λένη νά’σαι ζωντοχήρα.

Σάν τ’ακούει μπαρμπεράκι νά καί τρέχει μέ μεράκι:
Έλα’δώ, βρέ Ελενάκι, νά σου σβήσω το μεράκι.

Τό’μαθε το χασαπάκι τήνε στέλνει έν’αρνάκι:
Ψήσετό μέ το σπανάκι γιατί θά’ρθω το βραδάκι.


Poor Helen the divorcée is heartbroken.
She had an old man for a husband and she just couldn’t take it.

Every day she signed; “I’m a young woman,
and I don’t want some old man embracing me.”

The grocer passes by her door; “What can I do?
All she does is cry?” He longs for her and thinks about her every night.

The greengrocer passes by and tries to console her:
“This is your fate, Helen, to be a divorcée.”

The barber runs to her with passion:
“Come her, Helen, I’ll ease your pain.”

The butcher heard about her pain and sends her a lamb;
“Roast it with spinach, because I’m coming over tonight.”

Γειά σας, παιδιά, καί Καλή Ανάσταση.

Recommended Listening:
Rembetica: Historic Urban Folk Songs from Greece

8 Comments:

Blogger The Persian said...

Once again this will not play here at work, I can't wait to get home and listen.

You know something, everytime I hear the/see the word bouzouki I am instantly reminded of The Cheese Shop skit by Monty Python. You might enjoy it if you enjoy MP.

:)

8:55 AM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

hi jim-
i've had a heck of a time with music hosting. putfile didn't work for a lot of folks period, and filelodge has temporarily limited its uploads to 2mb! i used file cabin for this song and i really, really hope you can listen to it. the f half-sharp is going to strike you as really edgy at first, though if you've ever listened to any classical persian music, you'll have heard some of the semitones i'm referring to.

when i clicked on the song link, it did take forever to load, but it did play eventually, so be patient. happy listening, and let me know what you think :)

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Alan Williams said...

Tried the link to the MP3 for the song, but got transferred to a page saying I have to download windows media player. Is there any way I can get hold of an MP3?

11:11 AM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

alan,
windows media player should be downloadable for free. it's a pretty innocuous process. i suspect that even if i emailed the mp3, you'd still need windows media to play it. do you have real player? it's also a free download. what do you normally use to play music files on your computer?

11:40 AM  
Blogger tambouras said...

First a word of appreciation for the warmly sympathetic qualities of your presentations of 'rebetika'. Secondly - I think you might like to know about Iovan Tsaous's instruments. I had the opportunity of holding the two surviving ones in my hands in 1976, in the home of his wife's nephew. They are what Tsaous himself called 'sazi' and 'baglamas', and were unique instruments, custom made for him in Piraeus. They don't have moveable frets, but fixed metal frets, including 3 or 4 extra frets for the untempered intervals. I can furnish you with some pictures if you're interested.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

tamboura-
thank you for your wonderful comment! yes, please send pics!

many thanks :)

8:46 PM  
Blogger tambouras said...

How do I send you pics?

12:05 PM  
Blogger Sandouri Dean Bey said...

you can send them to:

aman.yala AT gmail DOT com

thanks!

11:30 PM  

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