I’ve been listening to and playing music more than I’ve been writing about it these past few months. Caring for a child, I’ve found it challenging to get in practice time, let along blogging time, in spite of the fact that the ensemble in which I play has gigs coming up. The weekly rehearsal isn’t the problem. It’s practice time on my own that has proven difficult to squeeze in. I did, however, steal about a half hour to jam a bit on my own and then with Joe last night, which was lovely.
Still, a Rembetiko of the Month is long overdue. Since we’re in the dead of winter, I chose Κουβέντα με το Χάρο (Conversation with Charon), which was written by Panagiotis Toundas and recorded in 1935 by Kostas Roukounas (shown above) and features a bunch of dead guys down in Hades.
There is an entire genre of Rembetika tunes portraying a dialogue between a group of rembetes and Charon
, a shadowy figure who is the personification of death. One such tune is Atraïdis’ Manes Neva Tsifte Telli
, which I wrote about last June. In ancient Greek mythology, Charon ferried souls across the Acheron (a tributary of the River Styx) to Hades, who was the god of the Underworld. In later Greek folk cosmology, Charon replaced Hades as the ruler of the dead, while Hades became the designation for the Underworld itself. Click here
to listen (When the download window opens, click on “Save”).
Το Χάρο τον αντέμωσαν πέντ’ έξι χασικλήδες
να τον ρωτήσουν πώς περνούν στον Άδη οι μερακλήδες.
Πες μας, βρε Χάρε, να χαρείς, στο μαύρο σου σκοτάδι:
Έχουν χασίσι, έχουν λουλά οι βλάμηδες στον Άδη;
Πες μας αν έχουν μπαγλαμά, μπουζούκια και γλεντανε.
Έχουν τεκέδες, έχουν τσαρδί που παν και την τραβάνε;
Πες μας αν έχουν γκόμενες, μανίτσες και γουστάρουν,
τον αργιλέ να κάνουνε ντουζένι να φουμάρουν.
Πες μας, βρε Χάρε, να χαρείς: Τι κάνουνε τ’ αλάνια;
Βρίσκουν νταμίρα, έχουν λουλά, ή κάθουνται χαρμάνια;
Πάρε δυο δράμια προυσαλιό και πέντε μυρωδάτο
και δώσε να φουμάρουνε τ’ αδέρφια μας ‘κει κάτω.
Κι όσοι μαχαιρωθήκανε και πήγανε στον Άδη,
για πες μας, γιατρευτήκανε ή λιώσαν στο σκοτάδι;
Κι’ όσοι από καρασεβντά τρελλάθηκαν και πάνε,
πες μας, τους πέρασε ο νταλγκάς ή ακόμα αγαπάνε;
Πες μας, τι κάνουν οι φτωχοί, πρεζάκηδες, και κείνοι;
Πάρε να δώσεις και σ’ αυτούς λιγάκι κοκαΐνη!
Fifty-six hash addicts went down to Hades
to ask Charon how their buddies were doing.
Tell us, Charon, do those bums have hashish
and a hash pipe down there in the black darkness?
Tell us if they have the baglama and the bouzouki.
Do they have hash dens down there where they’ve gone?
Do they have pretty girls and nancy boys
to keep them company? Do they have the narghile to smoke?
Tell us, Charon, how are those bums doing?
Have they found good stuff to smoke
or are they stuck down there unable to get high?
Take two drams of Bursa hash and then another five
and give it to our brothers down there.
And all those who were stabbed and went down to Hades,
tell us, did they heal or are they suffering in the darkness?
And all those who died of a broken heart,
tell us, did the heartache pass or are they still lovesick?
Tell us, how are the impoverished, the cokeheads,
and all the rest? Take a little cocaine and give it to them all.
The fictionalized Underworld of Hades serves as a powerful metaphor for the real-life underworld in which the early rembetes lived. The rebetes and the community of refugees from which many of them came lived a kind of social death on the margins. While I have written about this before, I recently finished Mark Mazower’s Salonica: City of Ghosts
, which gave me an even greater appreciation of the dark and squalid conditions experienced by the destitute refugees who arrived in Greece during and after the First World War.
Not all of the refugees from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace went to Athens and Piraeus. Many of them landed at Thessaloniki (Salonica), which was still recovering from a massive fire that destroyed about three-quarters of the old town in 1917. Mazower describes the appalling conditions characterizing the Tin Neighborhood (Τενεκέ Μαχαλά) in which some of the refugees lived:
“Between the shacks snaked constricted alleys carrying smells, vermin and sewage; paper-thin walls made sleep and privacy rare commodities. The Tin Neighborhood was among the poorest and most wretched quarters of all, a zone of disease, overcrowding and poverty, which the state appeared to have forgotten” (p. 342).
In addition to offering us a metaphor for the poverty, lawlessness, violence, and marginalization that characterized life in the refugee shantytowns well into the 1930s, Κουβέντα με το Χάρο also highlights those things—sex, drugs, and music—that formed an essential part of the refugee experience, brought them joy, and helped make their miserable existence more tolerable. In asking whether those things exist in the Underworld, the songs helps us understand their importance to the underworld.
Recommended Listening:Rough Guide to Rebetika