My cousin G, whom Joe and I saw last Saturday for a gig out his way, showed me this photograph during our visit. It was taken in the 1920s or 30s. Pictured are G’s paternal grandfather (far left) and his great uncle (far right) with their band (συγκρότημα). Both men came from Lesbos around the time of the First World War. They were from a family known throughout the island for their musical talent, both then as well as now.
My cousin’s grandfather played in a couple of different ensembles. He played violin as well as trumpet. My cousin L now plays his violin, and it’s a real beauty. My maternal grandparents (also G’s maternal grandparents) were very close with my G’s paternal grandparents even before they became in-laws when G’s father N married my mother’s sister D. They knew each other from the Sappho Society, which was the local organization of Greeks from Lesbos. In addition, G’s grandfather’s ensemble often played at the house parties thrown by my maternal grandparents.
My cousin and his mother weren’t sure who the violinist was. They thought it might be the father of a close family friend, but they weren’t sure. As for the sandouri player (second from the right), they didn’t recognize him at all. Both my aunt and my mother recall that their parents (my grandparents) referred to the sandouri player who played for their parties simply as “σαντουριέρης,” or “sandouri player.” I don’t know whether or not the man in the picture was their σαντουριέρης.
On the back of the photograph shown above were written two names; one name was G’s grandfather, who was considered the band leader. The only other name was: Δημ. Τεστσιδέλης (Dimitris Testsidelis). My aunt didn’t recognize the name, and it could be either the violinist or the sandouri player. I have another cousin who might know.
I like this photograph for its Old World charm. It captures the formality and dignity of Ottoman Greece, of that generation of Greek Americans who came over around the turn-of-the-century, and of the era in general. More to the point, I can imagine that the ensemble pictured here made some great music.
They’re not a typical Greek ensemble even for the period in which the picture was taken. Their sound would have been regarded as somewhat foreign by other Greeks, especially from the mainland. However, they don’t represent an unusual combination for Lesbos, where mixing brass and strings was not uncommon. The music of Lesbos was heavily influenced by the musical tradition coming from Smyrna (Σμύρνη/Izmir), which often featured the pairing of sandouri and violin. The addition of brass into the mix to create what was referred to as a φυσερά, or “wind ensemble,” does seem to constitute something of a distinctly Lesbian music idiom.
I imagine that they would have sounded something like this.
The melody is the Αδραμυτιανός Ζεϊμπέκικος (Adramytianos Zeïmbekikos). Αδραμύτι—or present-day Edremit, which is located along Turkey’s Aegean coast—was where G’s paternal grandmother was born. Her family fled to Lesbos during the First World War. There she met and married G’s grandfather, and they later emigrated to America. Their son, G’s father and my uncle N, taught me the Αδραμυτιανός Ζεϊμπέκικος several years before he died. The version here, recorded on Lesbos in 1994, is very much how it would have sounded when G’s grandfather’s ensemble played it.
This melody is also called Τσεσμές (tses-MES), which refers to the town of Çesme located near Smyrna/Izmir. This is curious to me, because Çesme and Edremit aren’t exactly next door to each other, though it is very common for the same melody to go by multiple names.