Greek rebetiko or rebetika songs are the Greek urban laika songs that made their first appearance towards the end of the 19th century and developed to their mostly known form till the third decade of the 20th century.
The Rebetiko genre of Greek music was born at the harbors, where the Greek labour class used to live – Piraeus, Thessaloniki and Volos – and then moved to other urban centres.
The name rebetiko (rempetiko, ρεμπέτικο in Greek) comes from the word “rebet” of South Serbian – Kossovar origin, and refers to the indocile and undisciplined person. In Greek the same word is called rebelos.
History of Rebetiko
Rebetiko is the type of Greek songs and music that combines the Greek music tradition of folk songs and kleftika songs sang by residents of large Greek cities.
The first rebetika songs were born in Piraeus, Athens, in 1834 and they were called “mourmourika”, standing for the murmured songs in English. Due to the politic conditions of that time and the Bavarian Reign in Greece, the bourgeois class was introduced to Polka and other foreign dances and rhythms, while the labour class was singing the mourmourika, expressing its sevdah and its fears and political theories. At the beginning of 1900’s rebetika became the songs of the poor and the folk song of the poorest districts in all major cities.
After 1922 and the income of numerous refugees from Asia Minor, rebetika songs merged with the songs of Vosporos and Asia Minor and became even more popular and more diverse. They incorporated the famous ‘amanes’ a long and passive sound coming from the shores of Asia minor.
At the 1930s, rebetiko becomes a little more sophisticated music genre, as cafés and taverns dedicated to this genre appear, such as Café Aman. Rebetiko passes from the times of anonymous creation to the Era of famous composers and singers creating rebetika songs.
In music, it passes from the basic instruments (bouzouki) to a larger orchestra, although still, the predominant sound belongs to bouzouki.
Ban of Rebetika Songs in Greece
However, while rebetiko is expanding and developing, the Greek society obviously influenced by the political conditions and events of the time starts considering rebetiko “of Turkish influence and origin” and rebetika are officially prohibited in 1936. For the history, in 1935, amane songs and rebetika were banned in Turkey, considered of “Greek Origin”.
Despite the ban, rebetika are still sang among friends and small groups in Greek cafés, called kafeneia and small live stages called koutoukia. Major composers keep recording rebetika songs, although they are not allowed to play them publicly and officially. Recordings of rebetiko stopped completely during the German Occupation in Greece and the civil war right after.
During the 1960s Rebetiko is resurrected, mostly due to some bright minds of the Greek music who try to bring this beloved genre back to life.
Authors such as Ilias Petropoulos and Dinos Christianopoulos write books and biographies of great rebetiko composers, while Manos Hadjidakis presents his own works, giving his support to this type of Greek music.
Bouzouki, which was a bit disfavored in previous years as it was associated with rebetika, becomes popular again, as both Hadjidakis and Theodorakis, and other composers use it widely in their work. Today rebetiko is fully recognized and accepted in Greece, and it’s a genre of the Greek music studied abroad as well.
Topics of Rebetika
Rebetika songs were referring to the life of the popular masses, with poverty, love, social injustice, the fights of labour class and the freedom of Greeks from fascists of all kinds. During 20s they were associated with hashish and other substances; therefore there is a particular type of rebetika songs, called hashiklidika.
Studying its contribution to Greek Music, we can definitely place rebetiko among the most important genres of artistic creation in Greece, unique in this part of the world.
Some of the most known Greek composers of rebetiko music are Vassilis Tsitsanis, Markos Vamvakaris, Bayanderas, Perpiniadis,Tsaousakis, Giorgos Ksintaris, Yiannis Papaioannou, Manolis Chiotis and more.
Some of the most known singers of rebetika songs are Roza Eskenazi, Rita Abatzi and Sotiria Bellou. Rebetiko is one of those genres though, widely depending on the creations of the “anonymous” composers and writers, who contributed the most to its birth, creation and expansion.