Rempetika, The Blues Of Greece

Rempetika (pronounced [reˈbetika]) is the plural of Rempetiko. Rempetiko is beyond a genre of music; rather it is a state of mind. Culture, tradition and expression of social concerns are combined to form the lines and ideas behind the Rempetiko song. We take a deeper look at the history of this special form of music and how it encapsulates the soul of Greece.

Rembetiko | © glasseyes view
How it started, Rempetiko’s journey to Greece

Rempetiko is a kind of Greek folk music which started in Asia Minor, more specifically, in Smirni and Konstantinoupoli. The refugees who sought shelter in Central Greece along with their few suitcases and memoriesafter 1922 also brought with them their culture and music. This is the reason why Rempetiko started expanding through Greece’s main ports, such as Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Volos and Syros, and around 1930 began the dawn of Rempetiko. People would gather together in small taverns with a few musical instruments, and along with a glass of wine would openly express their pain, fears and nostalgia for the past. Although these individuals were homesick, a sense of hopefulness still resonated within their songs. The following Rempetiko song speaks about friendship, immigration, and fate:
Etymology, still a mystery
The etymology of Rempetiko is not clear, but it is speculated it may come from the Greek verb relating to wonder (rembazo). The famous Greek linguist Georgios Babiniotis also posited that it may derive from a name used for military camps in Asia Minor.

Rempetis or Mangas: a very particular soul

Rempetis refers to a person who embraces the whole lifestyle of Rempetiko, also known as a Mangas (pronounced [ˈma(ŋ)ɡas]). Regarding the Rempetis lifestyle, it included a very particular style: wearing hats and growing mustaches, speaking in a peculiar way such as cursing, using short phrases and slang words; and overall having different morals and ethics from the rest of society. Rempetes, (plural of Rempetis) were generally lower working class people with often destructive habits such as drinking and smoking; even using drugs from time to time. The following song represents the Mangas lifestyle. Its use of language is difficult to understand, even today.
Another song called ‘To Pitsirikaki,’ is about a young Mangas child.
‘A poor young child is lying on the grass, he is sad.
He is dying for a smoke, but has no penny to give.
He has this idea, to sit and wait ‘til someone comes along,
Whoever it might be, then ask them for a smoke.
But, this unlucky child, at the very next corner he runs
Into the policeman, waiting there.
Feigning innocence, he looks at him and says hello.
The kid keeps his cool, asks for a cigarette. ‘
The themes behind Rempetiko’s music
Using several musical instruments that are easy to find and to carry, such as mpaglamas, mpouzouki, guitar, tambourine, violin, santur; the Rempetes could create nice rhythms and melodies. The theme of the songs varied but often spoke about poverty, class struggles, life, love and immigration. War, exile violence, work and death were also sources for inspiration. Although diverse, these themes represented universal subjects that embodied human nature, hope and pain. The following song talks about poor labor neighborhoods, social injustice and pain:
Rempetiko’s odyssey from prohibition to acceptance
Rempetiko is often referred to as notorious and scandalous, and around 1936 it began to represent a subculture of criminality, drugs, diverse political thoughts and lack of morals. At a later stage, it was censored due to the bad language used. Like the blues, it represented an urban culture that was marginalized. Around 1960, after softening the edges, Rempetiko transitioned from a coarse subculture to embrace a more liberal political and cultural background that formed the genre’s Renaissance. Eventually, Rempetiko earned its acceptance into society, deemed as a form of tradition and philosophy. In the United States, the Greek immigrant societies continue to sing, compose and record Rempetiko songs.

Rempetiko Today

Presently, Rempetiko continues to be a fundamental part of Greek culture. In many places throughout Greece, including taverns, restaurants and/or stages, the tradition of Rempetiko continues and serves as an event where people can enjoy music, dance and eat at the same time. Many of the songs are recorded in different versions by contemporary artists. Discs are best-selling and Rempetiko is still alive today, embraced by many individuals, no matter their age or occupation.

By Maria Kostala

One thought on “Rempetika

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s