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Historical, sociological approach

In the broader area of the Greek dominion, than that of 18321, where Greeks are gathered in great numbers, a new kind of folk song emerges in the middle of the previous century; urban song. Its most important expression in the years to follow became what we know today as “rebetiko”2.
In the creative and functional period of rebetiko, from 1850 almost until present day, large numbers of the country’s rural population were relocated-usually by force. This process led the population in some cases to the large urban areas of the time and in other to countries able to adsorb a large work-force3.

However, increase in population and thickening of work-force in the cities was partly due to refugees’ arrivals from various territories outside liberated4.
Apart from any definition we could give to rebetiko, it is strongly connected to these movements of the population which led to changes in place of residence and work and economic conditions. These changes contributed to fundamental alterations in every day life and social behavior, which in turn led to the formation of a different frame of mind in those social groups.
The depopulation of the Greek countryside and the creation of large rural areas5 were induced by the deterioration process of an existing social and economic model, which even if historically had no reason to exist, however it should have been done in a more subtle way.
Instead, this truculent dissolution of traditional structures was accompanied by yet another brutality concerning the synthesis of the new establishments and functions of this “transported” social group.
Cities are created or expanded at the expense of the natural environment6, while their structure is suffocating. Migration, persecution, poverty, unemployment, misfortune, social injustice, prostitution and drug abuse are some of the characteristics of a long period in the lives of this social group; Problems which along with love, maternity and passion become the themes of rebetiko songs7.
In this period of turmoil connected to the reconstruction and formation of the New Greek Republic, large groups of people coming from the worn down rural population, internal immigrants, refugees, emigrants in other countries and especially the U.S.A., become the creators and carriers of the rebetiko. These songs, based on earlier cultural products of the Greek people,

1. Contemporary Greek geographic area resulted from a series of alterations to its original boarders established in 1832. In 1864 the Ionian Islands were transferred to . In 1881 Thessaly and a part of were liberated from Ottoman rule. In 1912-13 the rest of , Epirus, Macedonia, Crete and the Islands of the Eastern Aegean were also liberated. The Treaty of Sèvres, in 1920, established Greek administration of Eastern Thrace and part of mainland Smyrna (Izmir) until its destruction in 1922. Finally, the Dodecanese came under Greek rule in 1948.
2. The most likely origin of the word “rebetiko” (re'betiko) is the Greek verb “rebomai” (Greek: ) which means to wonder about aimlessly (look also in Byzantium, 1852 dictionary by Scarlatos, p.1235).
3.Large movement of population outside Greece include: a) The massive USA migration (1893-1924) of 500.000 Greeks to a population of 2.500.000 citizens, b) The migration to Germany (250.000) and Australia, Canada etc. (500.000) in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
4.The Great Fire of Smyrna (now Izmir) in 1922 was one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the Greek nation. 1.500.000 of its citizens fled from Greek territories in Asia Minor.
5.Until 1912, Smyrna, Constantinople, Alexandria; within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire and Thessaloniki are considered as urban areas inhabited by Greeks.
Urban areas in liberated were Ermoupoli in the island of Syros, Athens, Piraeus, Patra and other big harbors.
6. Greece holds a “world record” in the geographical distribution of its population; 40% of the country’s population resides in the area of Athens, the capital city.
7. A very interesting song, recorded in 1936 says:
« , ,

' ,
“Exile, orphan hood, sorrow
and distress
God has given me all of them, there’s none I don’t possess.”

*Ksenitia means to be far from home for political or economic reasons, here translated as exile.

are considered direct descendants of the folk songs (dimotika)8 and ecclesiastic music9. Linguistics and musicology characteristics (scales10, meters- rhythms, melodies, idioms, expressions etc.) connected to the memories of earlier times were salvaged through rebetiko. Until 193411 , the most commonly used musical instruments originate from the dimotiko traditional songs (violin, Pontiac Greek lyra, outi, canonaki, santouri, clarion, etc.) and later on the company of bouzouki, baglamas and guitar prevail, which contribute to the import of European spacing in the main line of melody, theoretically non existent in eastern monophonic scales and maintained, though incorrect, to this day.

Oddly enough, one of the most interesting observations in the history of rebetiko has to do with the “social carriers” of this new tradition. The study of evidence and data on the greater part of this period proves that the carriers of this new urban music tradition are and remain as such until the social groups who refuse to be integrated to the “prevailing system” are absorbed by it.

Their detachment from the functions of the socio-economic system allows them to preserve important elements of their cultural legacy relatively pure. Those elements are reconstructed and channeled through new forms and manners of expression which correlate to their new frame of mind. It appears that in crucial times in history these carriers of tradition become “socially excluded”12 groups which generate the rebetiko music. As time went by, and to the extend that these social groups were absorbed to the prevailing system, elements of tradition were gradually assimilated and replaced by foreign cultural elements projected by the mass media, thus transformed to mass means of forming (or deforming) social conscience. Besides, the media have always been controlled by the ruling classes. Since the middle of the last century, in the “machalades” (neighborhoods) of Smyrna, the alleys of Constantinople, the streets of Syros, the shabby streets of Athens, Piraeus, Thessaloniki, the big cities in America, all over the world where the persecuted Greeks settle, they will create their new folk songs and of course rebetiko songs, which will spread rapidly from the Greeks of Minor Asia to the immigrants of America and much more so to the cities of liberated Greece after 1922.

Wall-painting from Varlaam Monastery in Meteora depicting a lute and lyra (16th century).

8. The term “Dimotika” refers to songs created in a long time period (from 1000 AD to the early 20th century) at which time the economy was mostly agicultural.
9. The music of the Church, as it was at times coded, is based on the ancient Greek music system and during Turkish occupation (1453- 1821) it constituted an important connection of the Greek population –together with language. It is also considered to be the basis of the Turkish music system.
10. The concept of “scale” in the monophonic music of the East is more complex than the one in Western music.
. The emergence of the Piraeus company (Peiraiotiki kompania) with bouzouki and baglama in 1934 replaced the common at the time orchestras of Smyrna, whose main organ was the violin.
12. For many years the intellectual world held the impression that the rebetiko music was a creation of subculture or of people outside the “social” margin. This impression was vitiated by the study of historical sources, as well as the spread of the songs in greater social groups. In addition, the large amount of recorded songs (almost 12.000) and their circulation contradict that belief, as well as the various social origins of its creators.

During the interwar period, this music kind13, although more recent, will flourish and prevail in entertainment as well as in 78 rpm record discography14 which is quickly expanded from 192415 , against the will of its opponents.
For, we must clarify that the rebetiko, one of the most popular “cultural products” of the Greek people in their recent music history, was confronted by not only its “natural enemies” determined by their origin but by their seemingly social class opponent of the so called “dominant ideology” as well. It is probably the only cultural product in history16simultaneously assaulted by two ideological opponents.
Perhaps the reason behind this was the fact that in critical situations in recent history the rebetiko unified social groups of various origin and political belief, a union which the groups in charge tried to disrupt in order to serve their interests. These confrontations, however, concerned “sparring matches” in the top income brackets and that’s because during that period the oppressed and poor Greek population would unite under any circumstances, everywhere in the world, in the enchanting sound of the organs in rebetiko folk groups.

13. Hundreds of composers, song writers, singers and organ players contributed to the creation and spread of these songs, not only in but wherever Greeks existed throughout the world.
14. The study of relevant discography proves that in the time period between 1900- 1960 a total of 35.000 songs were recorded, of which 12.000 rebetiko songs or of rebetiko style.
15. Until 1924 recordings were sporadically made by small record companies (of European or Turkish origin). From 1924 till 1931, companies like Odeon, HMV, Columbia, Pathe, Polydor and Homocord Electro record in Athens using portable equipment. In 1931, when Columbia’s factory is established, the whole network begins to operate in Greece.
16. In , the rebetiko was persecuted by dominant ideology (e.g. censorship in lyrics and music by the Metaxas administration since 1937) as well as by leaders of leftist political parties. The frequent reference of the drug problem in rebetiko lyrics, which during the interwar period had become a significant issue, was the pretext for its persecution.
Harem suite in Asia

In spite of preventive censorship to lyrics and music since 1937, the rebetiko thanks to a number of brilliant creators and performers, prevails in music life even after World War II until the middle 1950’s.
The incidents of the war in 1940 and the following Italian-German Occupation, the Civil War (1944- ’49) and foreign intervention, disrupt the country’s social structure and result to an excessive expansion of urban areas and especially the Attica Prefecture area and the broader area of Thessaloniki. The emerging social, political and economical problems gradually disrupt the temperament of the population and since 1955 the negative intervention of mass media, which played an eminent role in the formation of a new social conscience, pushed the rebetiko out of the limelight.
This is an “artificial seclusion”, for in spite of the prevalence of various kinds of music- of external origin- the rebetiko never seizes to touch the soul of simple men and will survive for as long as they exist. It survived through the “Cyanean Rocks of contempt” by the representatives of confronting ideologies, the distortion attempts by later anthologists, through incomplete or incorrect records, or “distant” theorists, sociologists etc. It fended off the intentions and interests of "carriers of profit" who, at times, sought to establish a "trend",  recently identified with the interests of occasional "performers" of rebetiko.
In the last twenty years, most of its notable creators died; that is the ones considered to be the continuance of a great line17of composers who came from Minor Asia after the destruction of Smyrna in 1922.
Today, new generations of musicians and performers study and present these songs in special places for a large group of young people who react against the offered “entertainment model” by dominant ideology.
The continuing presence of rebetiko songs is proof of the “biological need” for the existence of a kind of folk music, registered as an element of modern social conscience for large groups of the Greek people.

Useful links


Generally (history)

A web site by Stelios Lambropoulos. Most probably the best site on Re(m)betiko: song database for more than 2500 songs, lyrics for at least 500 of them, forum, chat, record and book reviews, history of the rembetiko, bibliography, links to other sites. Also, some photos, word look-up on the lyrics, musicians' profiles (at the moment only for Manolis Chiotis).

The Rebetika
A website with articles on rembetiko, a "rembetical time-line" with the most important points in rembetiko's istory, forum, links to other sites on rembetiko and to databases of midi and audio files, small record companies and greek singer's websites. "The Rebetiko Essay" is exclusively in english.

The Rebetisses
A website on women rembetisses. Profiles of singers, 13 songs in Real Audio, a comprehensive bibliography, and a full discography of Sotiria Bellou.

Profiles of about 30 composers, singers and players, lyrics, photos, history, articles, nicknames, scanned scores in jpg format, 6 mp3 files from rembetika recorded in the USA, and about 40 midi files.

The history of rembetiko
A student's webpage, citing extracts from Elias Petropoulos' essay, , , 1991. (Rembetika Songs, Kedros pub., 1991)

Urban song and rembetiko
In Pan-hellenic School Network's website, on the section concerning Asia Minor and refugees, there is some information on Rembetiko: its history and its connection to the urban song of Smirni and Constantinople (Istanbul).

Urban folk song
History of urban folk song from the years of the Turkish domination to our days. It is a brief one, but quite inspired review of greek music. Also, links to various artists' homepages, music clubs and other stuff.

Rembetes and tough-guys of the 19th century
In DioDinos website, a bouzouki-maker in Astoria, ew ork, there is an extract from the book Rebetika songs from the old Greek underground edited by Katharine Butterworth and Sara Schneider, Athens: Komboloi, 1975, on the early years of rembetiko and its connection to the rembetes and tough-guys of the nineteenth century.

Introduction to Rembetiko
Website with a few things on rembetiko, its scales/modes and rhythms.

A paragraph on rembetiko in MusicWeb Encyclopaedia of Popular Music with some essential elementary information on its history, performers, instruments and recordings.


Articles on special topics

Catalogue of articles on rembetiko
In the website of, you can find this page with many articles on rembetiko. Many of them are of great interest and/or have been published in old newspapers and magazines.

Articles by the Institute of Rebetology
Articles of presentations / announcements made at the "Hydra Rebetiko Conference", or provided by their authors for use. Articles by M. Dragoumis, N. Georgiadis, D. Ifantis, E. Emery, H. Bradley, G. Holst-Warhaft et al.

Articles on rembetiko
Articles on E. Papayiannopoulou, Y. Katsaros, "hashish-related" songs, tough-guys, etc.

"The tird come-back of the rembetika"
Article in Makedonia / Thessaloniki newspaper on the revival of interest on rembetiko as manifested mainly during the 90's, in tavernas and other places who provided music of this style, in the re-publication and re-release of original material (records), and also on new bibliography and arthography.

"An Akritas [frontiers-man] that became Rembetis"
Book-review, published in " " newspaper, of Nearchos Georgiadis's, a Cypriot writer and critic, work entitled " ".

"Rembetiko was not born in society's margins"
Review, published in " " newspaper on 20-05-2000, of Panayiotis L. Kounadis' book " ", (, 2000), [In memoriam of attractive moments, pub. Katarti, 2000], according to which the rembetiko was not marginal, nor hashish-related, but a folk song of high artistic and cultural value, that started from Middle-Ages song and developed especially in Greek centres of Asia Minor (Smirni - Constantinople) from the early nineteenth century to the Greco-turkish war's destructive end in 1922.

Articles on Vassilis Tsitsanis
as well as other newspaper articles on rembetiko and other interests of the page's owner Andreas Hatziprokopis: Tsitsanis8.html

Rembetes and Rembetiko song
Article by Vassilis Avgerinos, in the website of the Municipal Radio of Xanthi, with some remarkable observations.

Thessaloniki in songs
Artcile by Pinelopi Stoforopoulou, Margarita Chasapi and Liana Fotiadou on the city of Thessaloniki as it has been sung in various songs, mostly rembetika. It also includes entire lyrics of some songs, as well as some photographs.

Old and new, myth and reality in Vassilis Tsitsanis' work
By Ilias voliotis-Kapetanakis, published in the cultural magazine " " [Nea Epohi / New Epoch], Issue 3 (250), 1998, pp. 28-31

Social, Political and Artistic biomes of Vassilis Tsitsanis' child- and teenage-hood
A text by Nearhos Georgiadis in the cultural magazine " " [Nea Epohi / New Epoch], Issue (250), 1998, pp. 11-15. There is an extract from Georgiadis study on Tsitsanis who was to be published soon.

The early years of gramophone companies in Greece
Text by Paul Vernon who traces the roots of greek record industry, through the history of companies like Gramophone Company, Odeon and Columbia, focusing on rembetiko song.



Greek emigration to the United States (1900-1925)
A text by Vassiliki Boravou, Sofia Tavellari and Evaggelia Trontsiou in "Virtual School, The sciences of Education Online", Vol. 1, isuue 3, December 1998, with very valuable information and photographs on the immigration of Greeks to the USA, in the early twentieth century. The last paragraph deals with rembetiko song in USA.


Institutions / Associations / Institutes of Studies

Institute of Rebetology
based in London, has organised three conferences so far, and provides articles and essays on rembetiko, as well as links to other, relevant to the rembetiko, sites.

Rembetiko for schools
In the website of the project [ULYSSES] of the Greek Paedagogical Institute, a zip file with four proposed seminars (one on rembetiko) for the music lessons in schools.


Sound files

The Soura and...other related stuff page
16 rembetika songs in Real Audio.

The webpage of 'Salonikios'
Rembetika songs in sound files of low sample rate in Real Audio and mp3. However, the compilation is very good and it laso includes songs from early recordings. There are also songs from Smirni (Asia Minor) and traditional folk, and profiles of about 30 composers and players.

Among other stuff, 6 mp3 sound files of rembetika of the USA, and about 40 midi files.


Performers / Composers

Vassilis Tsitsanis
Website with his biography, many photographs in jpg, bibliography, discography with search engine, a videotaped concert etc.

A study by Konstantinos Vardakidis and Andreas Mourkoyiannis: historical outlines of rembetiko, unfortunately without references to other texts, and biographies of Vamvakaris, Papaioannou and Tsitsanis.

Sotiria Bellou
Webpage with biography and discography of the renowned folk singer, late Sotiria Bellou.

Yiannis Eiziridis (Yovan Tsaoush)
Webpage on Yovan Tsaoush (1896-1942), immigrant from Asia Minor to Piraeus, who was a well-respected composer and player at the third decade of the twentieth century, his most famous song being, probably, " " [Five tough-guys in Piraeus].

Articles on rembetiko
On E. Papayiannopoulou, Y. Katsaros, K. Skarvelis, D. Semsis, V. Tsitsanis, Y. Papaioannou.


Music record sales

Panorama of rembetiko
An FM Records release, supervised by the composer Petros Tampouris, and consisting of a series of 12 boxes (each containing three cassetes) with the original recordings of many songs.
Commercial website for ordering CDs online.
Commercial website for ordering CDs online.

Blow up - The music stores
Electronic catalogue with music record sales. There are a lot of rembetika titles.

Saxon Music Store
This record label has many CD releases of rembetika, which you can find under the following sub-sections: , , , , and [Classic, from Smirni, Prohibited, Contemporary Performers, and Compilations].

"Rembetiko" - Music for the theatrical performance
Review of the 2-CD compilation, with Thesia Panayiotou's music / Kostas Ferris' lyrics for the musico-theatrical version of the film "Rembetiko". This was initially released by Nitro Music and is now exclusively produced by Victory Music.


Bibliography - book reviews - book sales

On Vassilis Tsitsanis
Books on Tsitsanis and rembetiko, in the website for the renowned composer.

Rembetes and rembetiko song
Book-review of P by «» [Plethron pub.], edited by the associate professor Nikos Kotaridis. The eight texts included in the book have been written by MA graduate students.

On a bibliography of rembetiko (1873-2001)
review of this book by Kostas Vlissidis (E E [Ekdosis tou Ikostou Protou], 2002, pp. 302). There are 2.396 bibliographical entries which have been enhanced by the writer's additional information, comments and apt remarks.

Thessaloniki and Rembetiko
a brief mention to this book by D. Christianopoulos, which deals with the relationship of the city of Thessaloniki with Rembetiko song and its performers, as well as with the impact of this song to people's habbits and customs.

In memoriam of attractive moments vol. A - texts on rembetiko
Book review of ( [Katarti pub.]) by Panayiotis Kounadis, which includes texts of his published in numerous newspapers, magazines or record booklets, between 1974 and 1991.

Institute of Rebetology
Webpage with bibliography, by the Institute of Rebetology, London.

Bibliography on rembetiko
by a website dedicated to women rebetisses.



Film-review of the homonyme film by Kostas Ferris, and photographs in jpg.

The Famous Old Greek Songs database
Database with more than 6000 old greek song with information on composer, lyricist, performers. There are lyrics also for some, very few, of them, and around 100 midi files of greek songs.

Rembetiko and Asia Minor population
This is a review of a course by Maria Papapavlou, offered at the Department of History, Archaeology and Social Anthropology, entitled "Dance, identity and ethnic groups: Aesthetics as a code of discussing cultural diversity". Amongst other cases, she examines rembetiko as a coalescence of the expression of the cultural diversity of Asia Minor immigrants.

The roots of Rembetiko - Speech 06-02-02
some comments on a Apostolis A. Papaioannou's speech concerning the roots of rembetiko in the consciousness of greek people and of rembetiko's long journey in greek history .