Rebetiko Ensemble: Songs of the Greek Underworld (MPF4359.01)

Joseph Alpar

Rebetiko was an urban underground music genre that flourished in Greece in the early 20th century. A kind of outlaw blues, rebetiko emerged from the poorest quarters of Athens in the 19th century, its songs typically dealing with themes of exile, wandering the streets after dark, taking drugs and drinking to excess, loving the wrong person, imprisonment, death, and the harsh lives of people displaced by war. The word “rebetiko” derives from the Turkish word “rebet,” meaning rebellious or disobedient and the songs revolve around the lifestyles of the “manghes,” people living by their wits, wheeling and dealing—classic antiestablishment gadabouts. Held in deep suspicion by the police, manghes, their songs and musical instruments were often banned for their blatant antiauthoritarianism. The genre evolved again after the 1923 Population Exchange Between Greece and Turkey, when a million and a half Greek refugees from Asia Minor poured into the urban centers of Greece, particularly Athens, finding themselves on the fringes of society. These newly arrived musicians—Jews, Armenians, Roma, and others— brought the rhythms, singing styles, and melodic modes of Turkey with them and developed a new genre of rebetiko called smyrneiko. Ultimately, rebetiko, its composers and performers became wildly popular through recordings and live performance, making an indelible mark on the evolution of Greek music. In this ensemble, we’ll learn the instrumental and vocal hits and hidden gems of rebetiko, focusing on iconic composers like Vassilis Tsitsanis, Markos Vamvakaris, and Apostolos Kaldaras, and magnetic performers like Roza Eskenazi, Rita Abadzi, Giorgos Mouflouzelis, Sotiria Bellou, and many more. We will develop an understanding of rebetiko performance practice—the singing and playing style, the feel of the rhythms, and the character of the songs. Along the way, students will learn about the colorful lives of rebetiko masters and the turbulent history of Greece in the first half of the 20th century.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of the semester, you will:
• be able to identify and perform in several styles of Greek rebetiko music.
• recognize the differences between musics of different composers based on cultural context, instrumentation, dance styles, language, and other criteria.
• learn a variety of rhythms and meters and their associated functions in rebetiko music.
• play an assortment of percussion instruments, understanding their function in an ensemble.
• be able to play in an ensemble context, learning to listen to one another.
• be able to participate in class discussions about the music we learn and how it relates to the everyday lives of the people in the region.
• sing in a variety of languages—Greek, Turkish, and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish)
• perform in a concert centered on rebetiko music

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: An audition is required for this ensemble. All instruments and voice types are welcome. Please contact to set up an audition.
Corequisites: Occasional participation in Music Workshop on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 PM Attendance at relevant music events Performance in one or two concerts at the end of the term.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 2
Tu 4:10PM - 6:00PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 14
Course Frequency: Every 2-3 years

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Fully In-Person , Performance , Two Credit
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