HISTORY OF REBETIKO
have been around in some form since the turn of the century. In 1923
Greece was faced with the resettlement of over 1.5 million Greeks
refugees from Asia Minor. As a result of this, shanty towns grew up
around Athens, Piraeus and other cities. These refugees brought their
music with them and this had the most pronounced effect on the urban
music of Greece. Since the emergence of the modern Greek state, the
upper and middle classes leaned towards the classical style of European
music while at the other end of the social spectrum Greek and Byzantine
traditions prevailed. This poor class of workers had a constant contact
with the refugees and their culture. The musicians of these two
cultures were constantly exchanging musical ideas.
have always been the music of the poor and the dispossessed, combined
different styles of the region and with lyrics describing the joy, the
sorrow, the difficulties of everyday life. The best definition of
Rebetika is given by Gail Holst in her book The Road to Rebetika:
"What was special about the Rebetika song was the combination between
traditional musical forms of the Eastern Mediterranean and the words of
the songs, which dealt with the life of the urban underworld and the
less reputable elements of the society."
Rebetiko has its
origins in an oral tradition where improvisation played an important
role in both the music and lyrics. Songs always started with an
instrumental prelude, the taximi where a musician showed his ability.
These Taximi would set the mood for the songs to come and they would
last up to twenty minutes. After this the song would start, often with
the singer improvising lyrics, sometimes to a familiar tune, mentioning
people in the audience and referring on recent events of local
In the 1920's and the 1930's Rebetika could be heard in several Tekedes of Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki.
These were hash dens where the workers, the unemployed and the Manges
would meet to drink coffee and enjoy Argiles (water pipes) of the best
hashish. Sometimes a lone man would get up and dance a Zebekiko dance.