Laika songs, which stand for “popular music” in Greece is a popular genre of Greek music; laika are the simplified evolution of rebetika songs in Greece, aiming at becoming easier to the ear and appropriate for mass production.
Laika songs are probably, along with the rebetika, the most characteristic and recognizable genre even from foreigners, due to their distinctive sound. Despite the influences from other music genres and music cultures, laika are inextricably associated with the Greek culture and spirit.
Greeks adore their laika songs, which they dance on any occasion, both in live stages or even at home, during celebrations and feasts. Laika express the soul of the Greeks, reflecting their pains, sorrows, loves, disappointments and break ups. Needless to say, the vast majority of laika songs refer to love and loss and occasionally to the difficulties of life.
Greek laika songs during the 60s and 70s
Greek laika songs often borrow Turkish or Middle Eastern melodies, denoting the exchange of cultural elements and influences between Greece and the Middle East for centuries.
During the 60s and 70s, there was a huge emigration wave, leading millions of Greeks away from their country and families; it was then that laika songs were associated with the plight of the unemployed and new immigrants in Europe and Australia.
The immense popularity of laika has to be seen and analyzed in conjunction with two main factors. First, of all the important role of the recording companies and industry after the war, which made it possible for laika and all other music genres to spread widely with the assistance of AM and FM –later – radio. Second, and more important is that laika songs eliminated the barriers of the working class music because it became fashionable.
Many nightclubs and tavernas or live stages started offering laika songs sung by already known or new singers who became the symbol of this new fashionable nightlife in Greece. All this was patronized by the wealthy working class and the middle classes – that rejected the rebetika songs due to their connection with the Middle East. Light laika – elafrolaika in Greek – were proper for the wealthier classes and complied with the demands of the markets, which asked for refined music and little more innocuous lyrics.
Singers and composers of laika songs
Some of the most renowned singers of the time were Kaiti Grey, Poly Panou, Manolis Aggelopoulos, Stelios Kazantzidis, Marinella, Vicky Moscholiou, Giota Lydia, Stratos Dionysiou and more; they are embraced by amazing lyric writers and composers, such as Tsitsanis, Giorgos Zambetas, Prodromos Tsaousakis and Giorgos Mitsakis.
Laika songs made a blast and became the symbol of an era and of a country, making the main laika instrument, the bouzouki, the most characteristic Greek instrument – worldwide known and associated with Greece.
At about the same time many renowned composers used folk music and rebetika as a base and new strand of popular music and laika songs. Theodorakis and Hadjidakis became the leading composers of the art popular movement, which aimed at enhancing the popular music, and bringing quality to the Greek music, using lyrics of prominent Greek poets, such as Seferis and Elytis.
New laika songs in Greece
New laika songs is the follow up to laika music; this version of laika songs became popular during the 80s and the 90s. New laika songs incorporated more obvious middle Eastern elements in their melodic form, and addressed the worries and concerns of everyday people.
New laika created an entire new breed of popular singers, creating some “stars”, who started singing in live music stages and nightclubs, gathering thousands of people every night. Modern laika songs are also associated with throwing flowers and breaking plates, a common practice in the Greek nightclubs known as “bouzoukia“.
Greeks indulge in flower throwing while having fun, to the extent they can afford, because it is considered a part of “kefi”, the Greek word for amusement, joy and fun. If you visit Greece, you should not miss this phenomenon, and although it might cost you a little, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once!