Amanes are a musical form which has both Turkish and Greek origins. They were brought to Greece after the Turkish-Greek War of 1920-1922 by the flood of refugees that streamed out of Asia Minor. The sheer numbers of refugees created an audience for the music and there were many musicians among them. More importantly, their associations with the laments of Greek folk tradition, made them an ideal way to express the grief and nostalgia felt by the refugees. They were a cry of bitterness from the dispossessed, many of whom were mourning for the loss of loved ones and their worldly fortunes.
For the newly arrived refugees, the cafes of Athens were places to gather and collectively mourn the loss of their homelands while at the same time enjoying the talented artists who had emigrated from Constantinople or Smyrna. These artists soon made a large impact on the local Greek musical scene. One of the best practitioners of this particular art form was a Rembetissa name Rita Abdazi. Not much is known about her life. She was born in Smyrna in 1903 and fled Greece as a refugee with her mother and sister in 1922. Her father was among the thousands of missing men who had been routinely separated from their families before their expulsion from Asia Minor. He was either killed or sent to work in a labor battalion somewhere in the Anatolian interior never to be heard from again.
The tragedy of her life and the lives of so many other Greeks is reflected in her powerful music. Indeed, they can be heard and felt in her voice, particularly in the many haunting amanades for which she became famous. Abadzi’s voice has been described as earthy and soulful. Her amanes are uniquely adapted to the plight of the refugees and close in spirit and sentiment to the many Greek folk songs about ksenitia (foreign lands). These songs are often about the loss of sons, husbands or other male kin who have gone abroad. Gazeli Neva Sabah is an example of one of Abadzi’s more chilling amanades. These vocal improvisations built around the word “aman,” which is used in both Greece and throughout the Middle East are an expression of despair and frustration. Gazeli Neva Sabah was recorded in Athens in 1934. Abadzi is accompanied by Lambros Savaïdis on kanun (a stringed instrument with a narrow trapezoidal soundboard) and Dimitris Semsis (Salonikios) on violin. Its lyrics are both sobering and heartfelt:
A person must give some thought to the hour of his death;
when he will go down into the black earth
and his name will be erased.
The concept of the black earth, is an ancient one for the Greeks, stretching back millennia. Homer uses it, albeit in its archaic form no fewer than five times in the Iliad. In Book II, he describes the death of a captain called Protesilaus by writing:
‘ere now the black earth held him fast.
In modern Greek literature and music, the black earth represents not only death, but also foreign exile such as the kind experienced by Abadzi and her family. It also alludes to the death of Greek culture in Asia Minor following the catastrophe of 1922 and the expulsion of the Greek population. Three-thousand years of Hellenism was snuffed out virtually overnight and, as the song says, "its name erased."