Tag Archives: Neo-Greek

Photo: Athens, c. 1865, colorized, and a Beirut addendum

14 Sep

From: George Kessarios@GKesarios Check out GK for fuller-size image, since WordPress doesn’t let readers do that anymore.

These photos are beautiful, but always also depressing, given what we’ve done to Athens, which was once one of the most beautiful cities in Europe/Mediterranean.* If you’ve been to Hermoupole/Syra on the island of Syros or to Nauplio in the northeast Peloponnese — think one of those two on a much grander, Bavarian Neo-Classical, large Haussmanian boulevards and public square scale, and that was Athens until the 1960s. No other city in Europe or the Med — that wasn’t bombed in the war or which wasn’t subjected to the psycho-whims of a Stalin-type dictator — was so wholly destroyed by its own inhabitants; 80% of Athens’ pre-WWII building stock is gone.

Athens from top of Lycabettus in 1929


* An exception in the Mediterranean might be Beirut. And by that I don’t mean the whole-scale destruction the city endured through the war/s of the 70s and 80s, but that even before that the city’s pre-concrete architecture had suffered large-scale destruction to be replaced by the Mediterranean beton apartment house whose only saving grace is their large balconies. I don’t have this on any source other than old photos I’ve seen and from the great Samir Kassir‘s magisterial Beirut. That said, in watching news and footage of last month’s beyond-belief destructive explosion, one of the things that surprised me was how much nineteenth and early twentieth-century architecture had survived…survived only to be trashed in 2020.

If you’re interested in a deep immersion in traditional Beiruti architecture, try and find (won’t be easy) Jennifer Fox 1987 documentary: Beirut: The Last Home Movie, about the Greek Orthodox Bustros family in what I think is Achrafieh. It’s almost entirely shot in their family home and it’s a stunning look at the time-warp, physical, cultural and psychological ecosystem of the Levantine bourgeoisie. Yes, many of you will think it’s just a romanticizing of “elite minority supremacism” as my buddy X likes to say (IMBd says: “The movie shows how spoiled the Bustros family members really were, even during the horrors of the war.”) So I dunno — hold your nose, then, and watch it.


P.S. Back to Athens and lead photograph — is there anyone else out there who thinks our much-mocked Parliament (at the time of photo above it was still the Wittelsbach Royal Palace) is actually a handsomely austere and Doric and impressive building? People seem to think it’s blocky and dreary and the quintessence of Neo-Greek, neo-classical, Hellenic-wannabe pretensions. But similar architecture in Munich isn’t as disliked; it may be thought creepily Teutonic, but nobody makes fun of it. And I think it’s gorgeous.

Below, von Klenze‘s (responsible for much of the construction, street plan and general idea behind modern Athens) Propylaea in Munich’s Königsplatz.

The whole panorama of the Königsplatz below.

And the reason it might make some people nervous:


Alevis and Alawites addendum: a “p.s.” from Teomete

14 Sep
“My rejection to the article of just was bcoz of their evil mind on manipulation by distorting the fact about Alevis +

It’s natural 2 call & ask editorial 2 make correction when they lied or manipulated the facts. U and yr country shld do diz too


Yeah.  Well.  I don’t have a country, abi.  I’m the citizen of a couple.  And I’m kind of an honorary-guest-citizen of — I think, at last call — about twenty-seven others.  But they’re not mine.  And they don’t belong to me any more than I belong to them.  And I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead running around hiding the truth about any of them and calling it “lying” and “defaming” if others state that truth clearly.  And that’s one thing I honor American society and Protestant conscience and self-examination for having taught me.*  Greeks call what you do “hiding behind your finger.”  In Spanish they have the more poetic phrase: “The sun can’t be blocked with one finger.”

In this blog post of mine:Magnificent Turks’ and the origins of this blog I talk about several Greek brothers who actually think just like you, a Turk.  Imagine.  They think that if you don’t speak the historical truth that it’ll go away somehow.  They think that if you speak that truth it’s because your intent is “evil” — just like you do.  They tell you to “go fuck yourself” when you speak the truth — which you don’t do because you’re Turkish and polite, which I appreciate, and not a foul-mouthed Neo-Greek who thinks he’s oh-so-clever-and-articulate because he’s always got three or four nasty epithets ready on the tip of his tongue to hurl at you.  And they call you κομπλεξικό — that you’ve got ‘neurotic hang-ups’ to translate roughly — because you say and write things that “aid and abet the enemies of our fatherland.”  Who’s got the hang-ups there: me or someone who walks around in 2014 AD using the term “enemies of our fatherland” is up to you to decide.  But I can put you in touch with them if you like, because you all think exactly the same.

Here’s my one country:roosevelt-avenue-jackson-heights-little-india-micro-neighborhoods-nyc-untapped-cities-brennan-ortiz

Photo via Netizen. (click)

…and as you can see most people here have better things to do than be thinking about your kind of närrischkeit.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


* As an ESL teacher in New York City’s CUNY system for over ten years I frequently had the experience of my foreign students simply left perplexed that Americans were constantly rehashing and criticizing their history.  I’d read the devastating attack on American self-righteousness and paranoia that is Arthur Miller’s Crucible with my students; then we’d read his thorough moral trashing of American capitalism in Death of a Salesman.  Then show them Apocalypse Now and parts of the Burns’ documentaries, Eyes on the Prize or New York: A Documentary Film or even South Park’s Team America: World Police or the brilliant documentary about Iraq by Charles Ferguson, No End in Sight; if I were still there I would be taking them to see Twelve Years a Slave.  Till finally a Brazilian girl said to me: “I dunno, teacher…if you came to my country to study Portuguese, no one would ever tell you that anything bad ever happened in Brazilian history…” both amused and baffled at her own observation.

Checking out this post on the nationalism of little countries might add another dimension to this.

Turkey gets a pass?

11 Jul

I was thinking it must be a relief for the Neo-Greek mind (because as for heart and soul, there’s not much to be said these days) to have someone other than Turkey to blame for their Statelet’s social chaos, political ridiculousness, economic void, failed cultural delusions and its people’s spiritual ugliness and childishness.

“They said, ‘You’re the cause of Greece’s problems. You have seven days to close or we’ll burn your shop — and we’ll burn you,’” said Mohammed Irfan, right, a legal Pakistani immigrant who owns a hair salon and two other stores. When Mr. Irfan called the police for help, he said, the officer who answered laughed and said they did not have time to come to the aid of immigrants like him.

(Eirini Vourloumis for the International Herald Tribune)

You can read the whole Times here.  Oh, but no…maybe it’s the Times — that New York Jewish rag, that has always tried to make the Statelet look bad.

“You’re the cause of Greece’s problems…,malaka…  Can they get any more delusional?


Where’s Charlemagne When We Need Him?

1 Jul


Not the most brilliant thing I’ve read lately but one important, though really flawed, point:

“BY 1900, only two genuine multinational empires remained. One was the Ottoman, which was by then in the process of abandoning its traditional religious toleration for Turkish nationalism and even racism. [A completely, unfair, simplistic and un-historical assessment]  The other was Austria-Hungary, home to 11 major national groups: a paradise in comparison with what it was to become. Its army had 11 official languages, and officers were obliged to address the men in up to four of them.

It wasn’t terribly efficient, but it secured an astonishing degree of loyalty. It also brought rapid economic and cultural progress to an area extending from the Swiss border to what is today western Ukraine. During World War I, Austria-Hungary fielded eight million soldiers commanded by, among others, some 25,000 Jewish reserve officers. Thirty years later, the nation-states that succeeded the empire sent most of the surviving Jewish officers to the gas chambers.”

Unfortunately, the poison of the ethnic-based nation-state ideal had gotten too far by then.  Even the portrait of Austria-Hungary he gives us is completely idealized and existed in the form he describes for less than a century.

(Click above)

How sweet though, to have lived in a world that interesting instead of the stupefying monotony of the modern nation-state.  But that idea is so powerful — no, not because it’s natural and inborn, but because the modern, bureaucratic state was the first with the technical apparatus to impose it on its population(s) — that it deletes all historical files dealing with plurality.  Not a single European tourist who comes to New York fails to make the same comment: “Amazing…all these peoples living together…” and I want to explain that that’s how humanity lived for most of its civilized existence — or just pull my hair out — but I usually don’t bother.

But that reminds me: I do live in a world that “sweet” and “interesting:”

Mr. Deak (Hungarian?) is also wrong on an even more crucial point.  The Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires were not the world’s last multi-ethnic states.  There’s still China.  Most of southeast Asia.  And Russia.  And most ex-Soviet republics.  And certain Latin American countries.  And almost all of Africa.  And Syria and Lebanon and Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and Pakistan and the world’s great wonder, India.  Even Turkey.  (And wherever ethnic nationalism is a problem in those countries it’s based on the Western intellectual model.)  In fact, most of the world still lives in “plural” situations.  Only Europe (and even in Europe there’s Spain and the U.K.), has an issue with this concept, but it seems to be fading even there.  Its last bastion will probably be the growing number of viciously homogenized, ugly little states of Eastern Europe and the Balkans.  Which brings us back to Michael Ignatieff:

“The misery of the Balkans stems in part from a pathetic longing to be good Europeans — that is, to import the West’s murderous ideological fashions.  These fashions proved fatal in the Balkans because national unification could be realized only by ripping apart the plural fabric of Balkan village life in the name of the violent dream of ethnic purity.”

From Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Michael Ignatieff


The Cradle of Democracy

28 Jun

The new Greek Parliament was sworn in today, including the eighteen MP’s of the Nazi “Golden Dawn” party (down from the twenty-one seats they had won in the May elections).  Here they’re shown refusing to stand as the three Turkish MP’s from the the country’s Thracian Turkish minority are sworn in.  Actually, it’s illegal to call them “Turkish;” that’s why all media channels in the world fall in line with the the Greek government and you’ll only hear them referred to as the “Muslim” MP’s.

The official state line is that since some 30 to 40 percent of the minority consists of Bulgarian (Pomak)-speaking Muslims, it’s wrong to call them all Turkish, the Greek state being long known for its concern for minority identities and endangered languages.  As far as I know, it’s still illegal to call them Turks — just the ridiculous term “Greek Muslims,” which is something I don’t know how an EU member-state gets away with.  Till the early 2000’s it was illegal to refer to the Slavic language spoken in the country’s northwest as either Macedonian or Bulgarians as well; you had to refer to it as “ntopia” — “localish.”  Calling it either Macedonian or Bulgarian, if you happened to be a speaker of it, could land you in jail, and people there are still jittery about using it in public, will switch to Greek when a stranger comes around or wanders into one of their villages with its fake, new Greek name and don’t like to answer any questions concerning the issue.  This was probably once the numerically predominant language in Ottoman Macedonia, but most of its speakers were expelled from its central and eastern regions during the Balkan Wars and only a tiny island is left in the western Greek provinces of Emathia (Karaferia), Pella (Vodena), Kastoria (Kostur) and Florina (Lerin).  Again, it’s hard to know numbers with any accuracy, due to assimilation, shame or remnant fear.

And this proud Hellenic pallikari, Ilias Kasidiaris (below), Golden Dawn’s spokesman, is now sitting free as an MP in the Greek Parliament despite the double assault immortalized by the video below (see also my previous post: Dateline Athens: From Bad to Worse)

An arrest warrant in Greece only lasts forty-eight hours, but Greek police knew where he was the whole time — even Greek police are not that incompetent — the whole country knew.  Apparently the statute of limitations on assault and battery is pretty short as well.  In any event, he now has parliamentary immunity, I think.  But he has other standing felony charges against him too; I don’t know the details.

And here’s some  pre-election cheer I had missed:

“A Far Right party has threatened to remove immigrants and their children from hospitals and nurseries in Greece if it gains power following Sunday’s general election.

Golden Dawn issued the warning at an election campaign rally in Athens, drawing loud applause from an audience.

According to the Guardian, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros said: ‘If Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn] gets into parliament, it will carry out raids on hospitals and kindergartens and it will throw immigrants and their children out on the street so that Greeks can take their place.'” [my emphases]

Panagiotaros is this stud here, who declared Kasidiaris’ assault on Dourou and Kanelle “an act of manliness.”


According to Amnesty International’s 2007 report on Greece, there are problems in the following areas:

The US Department of State’s 2007 report on human rights in Greece identified the following issues:

  • Cases of abuse by security forces, particularly of illegal immigrants and Roma.
  • Overcrowding and harsh conditions in some prisons.
  • Detention of undocumented migrants in squalid conditions.
  • Restrictions and administrative obstacles faced by members of non‑Orthodox religions.
  • Detention and deportation of unaccompanied or separated immigrant minors, including asylum seekers.
  • Limits on the ability of ethnic minority groups to self-identify, [my emphasis] and discrimination against and social exclusion of ethnic minorities, particularly Roma.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Em….fate ta.

24 Jun

Greek Voting Past, Europe Returns to Fiscal Rescue,NY Times:

(Yuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

“But even though Brussels had been hoping for the victory by Antonis Samaras and his center-right New Democracy Party, the yearned-for result, paradoxically, may weaken Europe’s determination to take more radical steps to avert a meltdown.

German hard-liners were emboldened by the victory, viewing it as an endorsement of the drive for structural adjustment in Greece and elsewhere in Southern Europe through further austerity. As a result, the vote may delay concerted pro-growth steps by central banks and governments around the world, as well as the hard choices within Europe over deeper integration that are likely to prove necessary in the long run.”

And, forgive the black humour, but this is what you get for voting for the same old farts that caused the problem to begin with: Greece’s New Leaders to Miss Crucial Meeting:”

Both Antonis Samaras, left, the newly installed prime minister, and Vassilis Rapanos, his finance minister, have been hospitalized since Friday.  The two men attended a cabinet meeting on Thursday. (Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters)


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

P.P.S. from “The Daily Beast”

18 Jun

Zachary Karabell wonders whether the Eurozone can survive:

Greece was not the final straw, or at least not today. All may go to hell quite soon, but given that the amen chorus is singing notes of doom, a contrarian would be advised to consider the risks that everything doesn’t fall apart, that world leaders continue to show a remarkable ability to muddle through at the last moment, and that while the tail risks are shudderingly fearsome, the stability of the system as a whole is far greater than most imagine. Now, markets will turn to Spain, Italy, debt—who knows—and affix the same anxieties that have been so indelibly attached to Greece.

Brad Plumer fears that Greece’s economy won’t recover:

It remains to be seen whether Europe will offer Greece a deal that allows the country to shore up its economy and get back on the path to recovery. Famed gloomy economist Nouriel Roubini is skeptical this will ever happen, predicting that “in 6-12 months [the New Democracy-led government] will fall as economy will fall into a depression. Then new elections will lead Syriza to win [and] a Grexit will occur.”

Yglesias notes that the markets are down:

One reason the markets aren’t reassured is that there’s nothing reassuring about an ideologically divided and inherently unstable coalition presiding over deeply unpopular austerity measures. Another reason markets aren’t reassured is that to the extent the “deeper issue” in Greece is endemic corruption and malgovernance driven by decades of New Democracy and Pasok running the state as a patronage mill for party supporters, forming a New Democracy / Pasok grand coalition is not a promising foundation for change. The insiders are circling the wagons and saying nice things to German officials in the hopes of keeping some money flowing in, but there’s absolutely no real solution here.

Ezra Klein looks ahead:

In the coming days, euro zone leaders are set to release a number of plans to deal with some of the more systemic elements of the crisis. There’s going to be a proposal for the European Central Bank to regulate and insure financial institutions across the euro zone. The French are pushing for a (much-too-small) stimulus. The Greek elections have bought them the time to release these proposals. But it’s the proposals themselves, and not the elections in Greece, that will decide whether the euro zone is sustainable going forward.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com



Krugman P.S.

18 Jun
June 17, 2012, 2:41 pm

And Then What?

So it appears that the governing coalition in Greece has pulled out a narrow victory — winning only a minority of votes, but getting a narrow majority in the parliament thanks to the 50-seat bonus New Democracy gets for coming in first.

So they will now have the ability to continue pursuing an unworkable policy. Yay!

Joe Wiesenthal tells us that there’s a meme in Greece to the effect that Syriza didn’t really want to win, because it would rather see the current government flail some more. Conversely, establishment types should actually be dismayed by this outcome: if current policies fail completely, which seems almost a given, and Greece exits the euro anyway, which seems highly likely, the entire Greek center will end up discredited; better, in a way, to be able to blame the radicals.

And I gather I’m not the only one thinking along these lines; Business Insider also reports hints that Pasok, which has suffered terribly from its identification with failing policies, might not continue in the coalition unless Syriza is also brought on board — which then raises the question, why would Syriza do that?

The debacle rolls on.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Greece as Victim

18 Jun
June 17, 2012
By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times

Ever since Greece hit the skids, we’ve heard a lot about what’s wrong with everything Greek. Some of the accusations are true, some are false — but all of them are beside the point. Yes, there are big failings in Greece’s economy, its politics and no doubt its society. But those failings aren’t what caused the crisis that is tearing Greece apart, and threatens to spread across Europe.

No, the origins of this disaster lie farther north, in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, where officials created a deeply — perhaps fatally — flawed monetary system, then compounded the problems of that system by substituting moralizing for analysis. And the solution to the crisis, if there is one, will have to come from the same places.

So, about those Greek failings: Greece does indeed have a lot of corruption and a lot of tax evasion, and the Greek government has had a habit of living beyond its means. Beyond that, Greek labor productivity is low by European standards — about 25 percent below the European Union average. It’s worth noting, however, that labor productivity in, say, Mississippi is similarly low by American standards — and by about the same margin.

On the other hand, many things you hear about Greece just aren’t true. The Greeks aren’t lazy — on the contrary, they work longer hours than almost anyone else in Europe, and much longer hours than the Germans in particular. Nor does Greece have a runaway welfare state, as conservatives like to claim; social expenditure as a percentage of G.D.P., the standard measure of the size of the welfare state, is substantially lower in Greece than in, say, Sweden or Germany, countries that have so far weathered the European crisis pretty well.

So how did Greece get into so much trouble? Blame the euro.

Fifteen years ago Greece was no paradise, but it wasn’t in crisis either. Unemployment was high but not catastrophic, and the nation more or less paid its way on world markets, earning enough from exports, tourism, shipping and other sources to more or less pay for its imports.

Then Greece joined the euro, and a terrible thing happened: people started believing that it was a safe place to invest. Foreign money poured into Greece, some but not all of it financing government deficits; the economy boomed; inflation rose; and Greece became increasingly uncompetitive. To be sure, the Greeks squandered much if not most of the money that came flooding in, but then so did everyone else who got caught up in the euro bubble.

And then the bubble burst, at which point the fundamental flaws in the whole euro system became all too apparent.

Ask yourself, why does the dollar area — also known as the United States of America — more or less work, without the kind of severe regional crises now afflicting Europe? The answer is that we have a strong central government, and the activities of this government in effect provide automatic bailouts to states that get in trouble.

Consider, for example, what would be happening to Florida right now, in the aftermath of its huge housing bubble, if the state had to come up with the money for Social Security and Medicare out of its own suddenly reduced revenues. Luckily for Florida, Washington rather than Tallahassee is picking up the tab, which means that Florida is in effect receiving a bailout on a scale no European nation could dream of.

Or consider an older example, the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, which was largely a Texas affair. Taxpayers ended up paying a huge sum to clean up the mess — but the vast majority of those taxpayers were in states other than Texas. Again, the state received an automatic bailout on a scale inconceivable in modern Europe.

So Greece, although not without sin, is mainly in trouble thanks to the arrogance of European officials, mostly from richer countries, who convinced themselves that they could make a single currency work without a single government. And these same officials have made the situation even worse by insisting, in the teeth of the evidence, that all the currency’s troubles were caused by irresponsible behavior on the part of those Southern Europeans, and that everything would work out if only people were willing to suffer some more.

Which brings us to Sunday’s Greek election, which ended up settling nothing. The governing coalition may have managed to stay in power, although even that’s not clear (the junior partner in the coalition is threatening to defect). But the Greeks can’t solve this crisis anyway.

The only way the euro might — might — be saved is if the Germans and the European Central Bank realize that they’re the ones who need to change their behavior, spending more and, yes, accepting higher inflation. If not — well, Greece will basically go down in history as the victim of other people’s hubris.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


Something beautiful from Greece: “Minore tes Auges” — rebetiko

17 Jun

This goes out to my best friend in the world.  We’re different — maybe it’s the complementarity that has sustained the friendship since I was eighteen — and we like to rag on each other a lot.  I call him a technocrat who can’t understand anything unless it can be put on a spreadsheet; he calls me a poetry-addled flake from another planet; both contain a large dose of truth.  At the same time he has the largest heart and the most profoundly musical soul of any person I have ever met.  He remembers how when he first heard this song at eight years old, he fell into a crying fit that kept him awake all night; it wasn’t the lyrics, it was the melody that “turned him into rags” as we say in Greek, “my mother at my bedside asking me ‘what’s wrong, my son?,’ me sobbing uncontrollably…”

I can’t post the original 1947 video he sent me because some copyright b.s. makes it unviewable in the U.S., so I found a beautiful rendition (along with odd but interesting video) by the great Swteria Mpellou, one of the great cultural icons of modern Greece; read about her fascinating, heroic life; like with many flamenco or blues singers, it wasn’t the classical beauty or timbre of her voice that made her great; it was her voice’s indefinable character, its soul.

The lyrics:

Ξύπνα, μικρό μου, κι άκουσε
κάποιο μινόρε της αυγής,
για σένανε είναι γραμμένο
από το κλάμα κάποιας ψυχής.

Το παραθύρι σου άνοιξε
ρίξε μου μια γλυκιά ματιά
Κι ας σβήσω πια τότε, μικρό μου,
μπροστά στο σπίτι σου σε μια γωνιά.

Wake up my little one,

and hear a dawn minore,

written for you by the weeping

of some soul.

Open your window

and throw me just one sweet glance,

and then let me be extinguished, my little one

in some corner, outside your house.

Swteria Mpellou

“A Dawn Minore” is a rebetiko — though a late-style, more commercial example of that genre — music which has its origins among the Greek proletariat of Anatolian cities — more so Smyrna than Constantinople (I imagine that in C-town the classical tradition was too strong and the other alternatives were more a la Franca, though whatever more popular genres contemporary “arabesque” comes from must have been present).  It took its definitive form, however, among the largely refugee proletariat of Athens, Piraeus, and Salonica, after the Population Exchange of the 1920’s.  Because of its association with Turkey, the poor, crime, drugs, the underworld, but mostly because its “orientalness” didn’t sit well with the Westernizing agenda of the Neo-Greek bourgeoisie, it was subject to much discrimination, marginalization and even official bans of varying efficacy.  Eventually, however, and with the recognition of geniuses like Hatzidakis, it became the basis of modern Greek music, especially that of its Golden Age between the fifties and the seventies, when Greece produced popular music that, for the quality of its compositions and high poetic standard of its lyrics, may be unmatched in any modern commercial genre, and which, along with Cavafy, I consider the great cultural achievement of twentieth-century Greek culture.  Under unknown circumstances, this musical florescence suddenly expired in the early eighties at some point (Pasok and its lethal, lefty didacticism?).  A craze for old rebetika (pl.) which suddenly exploded in Greece at the same time, probably represented a need to fill the gap: nostalgia is usually a symptom of creative sterility.

Irony: Tsitsanes, lionized as the greatest rebetiko composer and bouzouki player, but who I never thought was all that, published a series of virulent, racist rants against the Hindi-film influenced genre of popular music that developed in Greece in the fifties, decrying its “corrupt, oriental cheapness,” that could have been written, with the same vocabulary, by a Greek bourgeois ranting against rebetiko itself two decades earlier.

Irony: Many of the young Neo-Greeks that have fetishized rebetiko since the eighties (the little Athenian snots who will only listen to authentic rebetiko first renditons off of 78’s — that, or Miles) till the point where the aural environment of Greece became so saturated with it that it could drive you nuts, will also still express the same Orientalist, petit bourgeois anti-“easterness” towards other music that previous generations did toward rebetiko.  “I can’t tolerate any form of Eastern music” a thirty-something Athenian recently told me (with the crucial condescending stress difference between “anato-li-tike” and “anatoli-ke) which for the sociological type in question almost always means any microtonal, highly chromatic music, which, freed from polyphony — except for the simple drones of Hindustani classical music or of certain Balkan folk music — and the structural complexities of Western harmonies, can throw all its craft into the highly embroidered monophonic melodic line — which essentially means all music from Greece eastwards.  This was announced to me with great disgust while I was listening to a sublime Shajarian rendition of a Fereydoon Moshiri poem, disparaged as “amanedes”* (if she only knew the caliber of artists she was talking about…)  “Eastern music?”  I replied.  “So, you mean our entire musical tradition before “Barba Yianne me tis Stamnes?”**  She didn’t have an answer to that.

Heresy: Most rebetika contain neither the intriguing depth of Western harmony nor the possessing melodic intricacy of Arab or Persian classical music, or even Greek ecclesiastic music, which is why I often find them a bit tedious and am not part of the general fan club, and I consider its popular offspring of later decades (the Golden Age, a masterful combination of rebetiko, various folk genres, western forms and the best poetry of the period — prepare for a “Golden Age” series of posts) to be the by far superior music on every level.

Positive: Rebetiko, in a strangely poetic voyage back across the Aegean, became wildly popular in Turkey in the nineties, with Turks forming their own groups and everything (I’ll find an example) and has since become a happy space where much musical collaboration and explicit mutual affection is expressed.

Final YouTube comment from a Greek on another video: “Πέθανε αυτή η Ελλάδα. Ας το καταλάβουμε μπας και γλυτώσουμε από τα ΑΚΟΜΑ χειρότερα…”  “That Greece is dead.  If we get it through our heads maybe we’ll be spared EVEN worse.”

*”Amanedes” are a light classical Turco-Greek genre that flourished in early twentieth-century Smyrna.  I don’t think it ever called itself that; the mostly negative term comes from the frequent repetition of “aman,” mercy in Turkish, in its lyrics.  It’s mostly disparaging, like when used by the person above, to deprecate some kind of music as “Turkish” “Eastern” “oriental wailing” etc…

**”Barba Yianne me tis Stamnes” is an exemplary piece of an extremely silly barber-shop quartet genre that became popular in early twentieth-century Greece, based on the Italianate “cantada” tradition of the Ionian islands, which is like bad Neapolitan music without the passion, wit, complexity or subversiveness.  I can’t find a recording of it.  The thought that if it hadn’t been for the refugee influx of the twenties, that could have become the future of Greek music sends chills down my spine.  (Here you go– from a Turkish website — go figure.)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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