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Brief History Of Rembetika

Rembetika music originated in "Tekes" (a Greek word for hashish dens) and jails scattered around the main Greek cities in the early part of this century. Themusic was based primarily on an oral tradition where the art of improvisation was of the utmost importance.

The lyrics of Rembetika songs dealt with the life of a Greek urban sub-culture whose normsand values were outside the mainstream of Society. The Rembetes had an inherent distrust of any authority, and the music was their way of expressing their creativity and independence.

Like theblues of Harlem and New Orleans in the 30's, Rembetika songs have a sense of spontaneity. They have the power to move, excite, inspire and involve the listener.

Many of the songs were banned in Greece,chiefly because of their anti-authoritarian, non-conformist stance. Police chief Baraktaris, and his Police squads, raided hash dens, smashed instruments, arrested and assaulted the Rembetes. Theauthorities feared the Rembetes because they refused to conform, and were proud of themselves and their way of life.

The people who formed this sub-culture were in the main, what Greeks call"manghes", which can be loosely translated as "wide-boys". They used an elaborate form of slang (koutsavakika) and dressed in a distinctive way; much the same as the Black sub-culture in Harlem in the 20's and30's. Although the Rembetes suffered Police harrassment and repression, they weren't submissive, and did not lose their identity or sense of humour.


Rembetika didn't only originatein hash-dens and jails, although this is where the main inspiration came from. Around the beginning of the Century, "Cafe-Amans" sprang up in Athens, Piraeus, and other ports in Western Asia Minor. Inthese cafes, a singer would sing an improvised verse using the words "aman aman" while they thought of new words to improvise. Recordings from the 20's and 30's typically feature a four line verse,...