SOAS Ad Hoc Rebetiko Band

A music of the underworld. The urban blues of the old port areas of Greece. pic

Songs of prison, hashish and love; howls of pain, pride and passion.

Rebetiko is the rebel music of Greece. And more than a hint of Sufi in its modes and music. It is a Byzantine blend of the Turkish rhythms brought with them by the immigrant Greeks uprooted from their homes in Asia Minor with the contemporary Greek music of the twenties and thirties.

Soul stuff in 9/8 rhythms. This is the music played by the SOAS Ad Hoc Rebetiko Band, a 15 strong band featuring powerful bouzouki playing, artful percussion and sublimely soulful singing.

"It’s 1935, in a working-class bar on the Athenian waterfront. From the outside, the bar two rebetes of the pastlooks like a ramshackle hut, but inside, the atmosphere is furious. In air thick with the smoke of narcotics and incense, a small band sits on a stage.

The lead bouzouki-player – eyes half shut – plays a lingering solo (taxim) to shouts of ‘aman... ’. Suddenly, the other players thump their feet and begin playing a harsh, incessant rhythm, with the singer’s voice rasping.

The crowd, made up of poor people, mostly men, roars its approval. One of them, hat cocked to one side and jacket hanging from one arm, rises to the floor. koemtsis

Eyes shut and body swaying, he dances, bringing his hand now to his forehead, now to the ground, all the time beating the rhythm of the music with the soles of his shoes. This is the dance of the mangas [spiv], a dance known as the zeibekiko. The music he is dancing to is rebetika – a Greek blues... "

(Lysandros Pitharas, leaflet for 'Music of the Outsiders', his 1988 documentary on Rebetiko for UK TV's Channel 4 )