Mar 28, 2011

Rembetika, the Greek Blues

The 1983 film "Rembetiko" by Costas Ferris recounts the life of old "rembetes" (musicians and songwriters of the urban outcast sub-cultures, originally in the Greek-Anatolian coast and then refugees in port-towns of Greece where they fled in 1922); especially of Marika Ninou, but also based on other artists' lives. They wrote rembetika songs, what are affectionately termed "Greek Blues" due to their mood. But watching the film we not only get a glimpse of the culture of the rembetes, but also a glimpse through Greek history from 1917 to 1957; from the aftermath of WWI, the Asia Minor Catastrophe, WWII and the Nazi occupation, the Civil War, the political upheaval and the return to a legally represented government.

The harrowing, foreboding music is written by Stavros Xarhakos, the lyrics by Nikos Gatsos. Sung by Sotiria Leonardou.

The first song (Kaigomai Kaigomai i.e. I'm burning, I'm burning) follows the Anatolian mode of "amané" (from the poignant cry "aman" throughout), a heavy, deeply sorrowful tune, here reminiscing of the plight of the refugees who had to flee Asia Minor and especially Smyrna/Izmir in 1922.

When man is born,
a sorrow is born.

And when the war erupts,
the blood cannot be count.

I'm burning, I'm burning,
throw more oil in the fire.
I'm drowning, I'm drowning,
throw me into a bottomless sea.

I swore upon your eyes, which I considered Gospel,
the slash you gave me to turn into a smile.

But you, deep in Hell, break the chain,
and if you drag me there beside you, blessed may you be.

The second song (The Net) is as Greek as it gets: concept, melody, style, lyrics and mood. A life lesson, distilled times seven...

Every time you open a road in life,
don't wait till midnight catches up with you.
Keep your eyes wide open, day and night,
because right in front of you, there's always a net spread.

If ever you get caught in its mesh,
no one will be able to get you out.
Alone you'll have to find the end of the thread
and, if you're lucky, to start over.

This net bears heavy names,
written in a seven-times-sealed scroll.
Some call it underworld's treachery,
and others yet call it first springtime's love...

Translation author's own.

Mar 25, 2011

If only '21 would come back...

1821 that is...

"One by one the glorious years come back to me,
if only '21 would come back for a moment.

To cross the wide plain, my horse astride,
and alongside Kolokotronis to drink wine.

To fight on the castles during the day,
my sword sprinkling sparks.
And to hold a beauty under the stars
during the night".

What made the Greek National Revolution of 1821 the seal of valour that it truly is to this day is, in my opinion, that it was bitterly opposed by every single one of the European countries and administrations when it erupted as the just complaint of a people rising up again an opressor. The French Revolution and the surge of Napoleon throughout Europe, you see, had convinced the chancellors of Europe that the status quo should not be distrurbed ever again.
The revolutioners fought against every adversary as if they were protecting what was eternally theirs: their right to rule their own lives, the soil of their fathers and their classical culture as the identity by which they wish to be identified. The chancellors of Europe only changed their stance when they saw that, after years of successful fighting, the outcome would not be in their favour if they did not implicate themselves into the procedure.

Faces and incidents change, but history remains the same.

Painting by Theodore Vryzakis (1865), The Oath at Aghia Lavra
Lyrics by Sotia Tsotou from the song "If only '21 would come back" by Stavros Kougioumtzis, sung by Grigoris Bithikotsis.

Mar 14, 2011

Democracy is self-desctructing

"Our Democrazy is self-destructing because it abused the right of freedom and equality, because it taught citizens to consider insolence their right, to consider law-breaking freedom, to view impertinence of speech as egality and anarchy as bliss."

No, it's not a quote from some modern politician or statesman. It's a quote by Isocrates, ancient Greek orator (436-388BC).

Greek Goddesses: 2.Elli Lambeti

Probably the most sensuous and sensitive actress of the Greek cinema & stage: Her gaze was a sigh.

Clip from the film The Counterfeit Coin, 1955, by Yorgos Javellas. Elli Lambeti says "I love you" to Dimitris Horn.

Clip from the film Woman in Black, 1956, by Michalis Kakoyiannis.

Mar 1, 2011

Nostalgic old Athens

The tragedy of Athens and its urban landscape is that it was meant to contain only a 10th of the population it holds today. The nostalgic tour within its wide spaces and neoclassical buildings confirms that only careful planning can effectuate beautiful cities.

Music on the clip by Manos Hadjidakis