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26 May 2007



I like this documentary, the music is great – I’m a big fan of the 1970s/1980s rembetika revivalists – but the commentary is controversial. It’s very much the Gail Holst/Elias Petropoulos view of rembetika, i.e. rembetika as a phenomenon of Ottoman Asia Minor, brought to Greece by the 1922 refugees, that in Greece rembetika was a forbidden music, and that – and this is particularly Petropoulos’ theme – rembetika proves Greece and Turkey share a common culture.
A critic of Holst/Petropoulos might point to the fact that the music and style of the ‘father’ of rembetika, Markos Vamvagaris – a Roman Catholic from Syros – was a conscious rejection of the ‘Smyrna style’, which Vamvagaris intensely disliked, regarding it as too cloying and Oriental, and that while Petropoulos/Holst point to ‘rembet’ being a Turkish word, meaning ‘out of the gutter’, they don’t say that ‘mangas’ derives from the ancient Greek/Byzantine word ‘manganevo’ meaning to play tricks or deceive, indicating that rembetika draws on a nonconformist tradition going back centuries in Greek culture and which has nothing to do with the Ottoman experience.

As for Anthony Quinn, I think you mean he’s an honourary ‘Grik’. Over at, I recently saw Never on a Sunday, that other ‘uptight-foreigner-discovers-the-Greek-spirit’ 1960s film, and it was simply dreadful, almost unwatchable. Generally, I can’t stand Melina Mecouri – the world’s greatest exponent of loud-mouth ‘happy whore syndrome’ (Ted’s phrase, I think) – and I have no idea why she’s such an icon in Greece.



You are giving me a whole new perspective here that I haven't heard before. I confess to being clueless. Can you recommend any books?

As for Quinn, I have to disagree with you on this one. I am fond of his portrayals of Greeks especially the one based on Aristotle O'Nassis called "The Greek Tycoon" (1978).

Melina's iconic status revolves around her left-wing politics perhaps more than her acting career. Unfortunately, Never on Sunday, for a long time, was how xeni viewed us through the prism of the cinema.


I was trying to figure out all weekend where I’d come across those theories of Rembetika contrary to the Holst/Petropoulos line, but couldn’t remember. It’s probably bits and pieces I’ve picked up off the Internet, Greek TV and CD notes, maybe even Vamvagaris’ autobiography, which I read (in Greek) a while ago. Anyway, the sociology of rembetika is quite a burgeoning industry in Greece (and Europe – in London we have the Institute of Rebetology, run by Ed Emery, another Holst/Petropoulos acolyte), but the only books in English I know of are Gail Holst’s Road to Rembetika and Elias Petropoulos’ Songs of the Greek Underworld, which are both available on Amazon. Petropoulos is, however, very idiosyncratic – other books he has written include The Illustrated History of the Condom and The History of the Cloth Cap in Greece – and like I said before he is determined to prove that Greece and Turkey share a common culture.

What’s the deal with the O’Nassis? Are you related?
Congratulations too for getting your marvellous article on your father into the National Herald. That’s really something. I wish the National Herald wasn’t subscription based so I could read it regularly. I refuse to pay.


demo, your theories are not unfounded. The history of Rebetika is tied up with the history of the instruments and there are antedecants of the bouzouki in ancient Greek and Byzantine art. Does the instruments originate in Greece? Who knows! But an instrument resembling the bouzouki has been in use in the Eastern Medditereanean for the very long time and before any Mongol Hordes rudely interupted our Paradise. As for the music, unfortunately most ancient Greek and Byzantine music is based on elitist or religious foundations. Very rarely do we get a glimpse into the music and folk poetry of the lower classes i.e. Hesiod in ancient Greece or Ptochodromos in Byzantium, so we do not really know what they listened to apart from histiographical evidence. As you allude to, much Rebetika scholarship has been too politicised particularly by the Leftist Turko-Philia lobby in Greece and abroad. Their research methods are usually flawed by assuming that because some of the music came from Asia Minor it came from the dominant political group i.e. Ottomans and Turks. However, is it possible Rebetika came from The Greeks and was then passed onto the wider population? Or would that suggest the great bogeyman of our age, chauvinistic nationalism. Essentially, Petropoulos/Holst betray sound research methods.

Anyway, roots music label Rounder Records released a good compilation of very very early Pireotika Rebetika showing the style was more gruff, more primitive with less instrumentation than the Asia Minor Style.



The Illustrated History of the Condom? I am sure that some BMW driving Marxist power couple who reside in a tasteful flat in Kolonaki must have that prominently and proudly displayed on their marble coffee table. How avant garde.

I only wish I had some connection with O'Nassis. We do share a large but chiseled nose as our primary feature. In the event that I am discovered as Ari's long lost heir apparent by the O'Nassis Foundation (may its trustees live long and prosper), I will send my private jet to whisk all my friends at MGO to Skorpios where we can continue our exchanges in more agreeable surroundings.

As for the National Herald, I am sure they are suffering the same fate as most print media, slow extinction. I have a subscription and can assure you that most of their articles are quite good. If they were smart they would start posting some of their stuff on MGO (as well as other sites). By increasing their exposure they can increase their online subscriptions in the long run. My Uncle Ilias, the consummate grocer, would always give his customers a sample of the Kefalotiri or the Kalamata olives. Once they tasted his wares, he always made a sale.

Chris Blackmore

I think that the Pireas style is the real Rebetiko, as played by Markos, Batis, Bayanderas and others. Of the people who came in from elsewhere, Tsaous seems more a part of the genre than all those squeaky girlies.

I heard Gail Holst say, a couple of years ago, that she would write her book differently now.

Cat, meet pigeons...



Rembetiko I think evolved in Greece when it became the expression of a whole new set of catastrophes during the German Occupation and the subsequent Civil War. As such it encompassed a much wider audience because it appealed to the tragic sensibilities of all the people that lived through the era, cutting across class lines. It was no longer just an expression of the pain and suffering of the refugees that flooded Greece after 1922.

I am nevertheless a purist, ever seeking the roots of things, and rebetiko's roots are oriental, and the feminine voices are an important part of its character as evidenced in the Amanades.

As my son often says, "It's all good."


Hey everyone I am hoping someone can help...

I am using this documentary for an essay on Rembetika and I cannot find who created it. My lecturer said it isn't a BBC doco so I'm confused. Any ideas how I would reference this?

Many thanks.



The documentary was produced and directed by Phillipe de Montignie. Hope this helps.


Hello all,
About the origin of Rembetiko I remember reading that it emerged almost at the same time in Asia Minor and liberated Greece of the time. Except for ideological reasons opinions on the origin of the genre differ also because evidence is scarce and can be used to argue both in favour as well as against the Oriental root.
For me it the question East or West is not important but misleading.Folk music doesn't follow strict patterns and rejects stereotypes. It is legitimate to assume that immigrants from Asia Minor influenced the crystalisation of Rembetiko style as well as the composers themselves. When "mangas" of Pireus interplayed with "oriental" "amane" and "sevda" the result could be as beautiful as Pireotikos amanes is!
The singer is from Samos island.Btw Asia Minor immigrant Stratos Pagioumtzis was a foundind member of Markos Vamvakaris' "Tetras tou Pireos"

One other think I want to mention is that it was not only Pireus but also other ports of Greece that played important role. Volos,Thessaloniki,Kriti,Siros,Not to mention the recordsings in US by Greek immigrants.Ports in general and prisons provided the circumstances and the environment for the players to live and interact
in the beginning.
Just a few pointers.Keep on enjoying the music


Thanks for taking the time to comment. You obviously love this type of music. I quite agree that it was subject to many varied influences.

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