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.

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