Old 09-28-2014, 08:47 AM   #1
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Rebetiko Music And Poetry

"Rebetiko" is the urban music and poetry of a whole social class, or (it may be argued) a whole nation, for about 100 years. It flourished in the urban centers of Greece and Asia Minor between 1850-1950 and it was the music of the urban marginalized working class and underworld. Its subject matter is vast and panhuman like that of Fado, Flamenco, tango or blues. The music is very rich and complicated at times and it is based on the ancient modal system which is common property to all Eastern Mediterranean nations.

I started this thread to give translations in English (to the best of my ability) of the lyrics of rebetiko songs and provide links to the music (first recording whenever that is available on youtube).
The lyrics are full of Greek colloquialisms and heavy slang sometimes and this is making the translation of the exact meaning impossible, especially as a concept may not exist in other cultures. But, I'll have a go, any way, just for the hell of it.
Comments and criticism on either the music or my translations is welcome.
The sign (//: -----://) is denoting repetition of the lyrics.

The following song is perhaps the most well known in the rebetiko repertory. It talks about a grim subject but looking at it with some courage and, as quite often is the case with rebetiko composers, it is written in a major key! The lyrics are in classic iambic 15syllable verse which is the most common in rebetiko and all other Greek traditional poetry.

Music by: Vassilis Tsitsanis (1917-1984)
Verse by: Alekos Gouveris (?-?)
First recording (1946) sang by Prodromos Tsaousakis & Sotiria Bellou


Cloudy Sunday, you resemble my heart,
//: that is always cloudy, my Christ and Holy Mary ://

You are a day like that one when I've lost my joy,
//: Cloudy Sunday, you make my heart bleed ://

When I see you been rainy I donít find a moment's peace,
//: You make my life black and I sigh heavily ://

Music mode: Major (ancient Lydian or Church Medieval: Ionian)
Rhythm/Dance: Zeibekikos dance in even (old) 9/4

this is another version of it from the 1970ies sang by Sotiria Bellou again in her mature years.

The recording may be clearer but the distancing from pure rebetiko style is already been noticeable.

Last edited by pelegrino : 10-29-2014 at 06:18 AM.
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Old 09-29-2014, 10:17 AM   #2
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Who ever becomes prime minister, they all shall die,
the people are hunting them for the "good deeds" they do. (Reverse repeat RR)

I put forward my candidateship to become a prime minister,
so I can seat lazily to eat and to drink. (RR)

Thus I will be going to the parliament to give them my orders,
to press the habble-bubble for them to make them stone. (RR)

Our Kondylis has died, so has Venizelos,
Demerzis also departed, him who would bring the "end". (RR)

Kondylis, Venizelos, Demertzis: Greek prime ministers who all died in 1936.

Verse by: Markos Vamvakaris (1905-1972)
Music by: Markos Vamvakaris
First recording (1936 ?) sang by the composer who is also playing the bouzouki.

Verse in traditional iambic 15syllable
(4th stanza not included in this recording. This has happened in many rebetiko recordings because the songs were longer than the actual recording time allowed by an old wax technology. Later on rebetiko composers responded to this problem by cutting shorter the instrumental sections so as to leave enough time for the vocal stanzas to be recorded).
Rhythm/Dance: Zeibekikos dance in even (old) 9/4
Music Mode: Natural Minor scale which becomes harmonic minor in the end of vocal phrases and also modulates to relative major in the instrumental introductions.
Orchestra: Bouzouki, Guitar, Baglamas (small 8ve bouzouki)

Last edited by pelegrino : 10-29-2014 at 06:31 AM.
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Old 10-24-2014, 12:45 PM   #3
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Youth is only once,
look out to live it,
when it goes it never comes back,
however much you ask for it.

Have a good time and keep on laughing,
throw yourself into mad frolics,
life is only a dream,
if you loose it
and you forget about it,
you will regret it some fine morning.

We donít live twice
and if you donít enjoy your youth,
sometime for this reason
you will knock your head (on the wall).

Have a good time and keep on laughing,
throw yourself into mad frolics,
because youth is blooming like the flowers,
so donít you waste it
and donít forget it,
in the winter of old age they will perish.

Take care in this fake world,
to satisfy your fancies,
the years are flying by like birds
that you can never catch again.

Have a good time and keep on laughing,
throw yourself into mad frolics,
because the beautiful years donít last,
from hour to hour
a storm is coming,
the first wind is taking them and they fly away.

Verse by: ?

Music by: Ioanna Georgakopoulou
(As far as it is known this gifted singer was not a composer and the style of music has a definite "Tsitsanis colour" to it. The modulation present in the instrumental introduction would be beyond the means of even slightly lesser than Tsitsanis professional rebetiko composers, let alone mere performers. Therefore I assume that this song was written by Tsitsanis and given as a gift to Ioanna for the purpose of collecting some extra royalties from the record sales. It is not the first time that this has happened in rebetiko recordings).

First recording (1948) sang by Ioanna Georgakopoulou & Stelakis Perpiniadis.

Verse: in traditional two line iambic 15syllables.
Chorus: in six line verse arranged in the scheme, 5-5-12-5-5-12.
Rhythm/Dance: Hassapikos (Butcher's) dance in 2/4
Music Mode: Hijaz (arabic modal family) or ancient chromatic Dorian mode in the tonal centre of G. But this mode is preceded in the instrumental introduction by a short melodic fragment in the mode Suznak (mixed major-minor) in the tonal centre of G which modulates very artistically in its second phrase to Hijaz in D. The next two phrases establish hijaz in D but the next phrase modulates again to G changing the original mode (Suznak) to hijaz again for the singer to enter.
The actual verse procedes in G hijaz but in the chorus we have another modulation from G hijaz to C major in which the last phrase comes back again to G hijaz and gets the song ready for the G suznak instrumental introduction to re-enter, thus making this composition quite extraordinary as far as songs go and far beyond the scope of traditional rebetiko composers. Only a few Like Tsitsanis or Tountas could have written something like this.
Orchestra: Bouzouki, Guitar, accordion.

Last edited by pelegrino : 10-29-2014 at 06:01 AM.
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Old 10-28-2014, 02:33 PM   #4
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In the mountains of Penteli, I roam about in the pines,
//: I search to find Charon but I don't recognize him. ://

And in one sweet dawn I meet with Charon,
//: in the mountains of Penteli and I speak to him in pain ://

"Charon", I say to him, "let me live some more,
:// I have a wife and kids, tell me where shall I leave them?" ://

He sees me and he smiles while I start already perishing,
:// he says to me in a loud voice, "I take you, I donít leave you". ://


The subject of death, Hades and Charon the boatman who leads the souls to the underworld is very ancient in traditional Greek poetry and very much so in rebetico music and verse.
Penteli is a high mountain north east of Athens famous for its marble quarries, but also for its rich flora of pines and dry healthy climate.
This song with its metaphysical imagery is one of many referring to Charon and its lyrics owe their creation to the epidemic of tuberculosis deaths between 1920-1950. Many tubercular people sought refuse and healing there in those years and the mountain was full of sanatoriums.

Lyrics: by Charalampos Vassiliades (Tsantas).
The line "I have a wife and kids, tell me where shall I leave them?" is met in an earlier traditional song from the island of Tinos.

Music: Three composers are mentioned as having composed this song, Stratos Payioumtzis (the original singer), Anestos Delias, and Yiannis Papaioannou. Payioumtzis, although the best male rebetiko voice ever (in my opinion) has not been noted for his composing ability and Delias was already too far gone into heavy drugs by the time the song was firstly recorded in 1940, therefore Papaioannou seems the most likely probability as the subject matter of Charon was also one of his favorites. Even so, This melody is very similar to an earlier song "Drapetsona" by Yiovan Tsaous and probably Papaioannou "borrowed" freely from it.

Verse in traditional iambic 15 syllable couplets with every 2nd couplet repeated in the first recording.
Rhythm/Dance: Zeibekikos dance in even (old) 9/4

Music mode: Kurdi or ancient diatonic Dorian throughout.

First recording: 1940 sang by Stratos Payioumtzis.
Although Delias is mentioned as playing the Bouzouki in this 1st recording, the style is clear as been that of Spyros Peristeris.

Another recording from 1940
The voice seems to be that of Delias, or maybe Stratos in a bad day. The quality of the recording is quite hazy.

Another version sang by Stratos in his mature years

Last edited by pelegrino : 10-29-2014 at 06:16 AM.
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Old 11-10-2014, 10:54 PM   #5
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We separated on a sunset with tears in our eyes,
||: Fate had decreed, our love should be split in two parts. :||

I feel pain when I ruminate over the beautiful evenings
||: when you were giving me sweetly, so sweetly, oaths, kisses and caresses. :||

I'm waiting with yearning and pain in my heart,
||: maybe you'll return soon again into my bosom. :||


Just an ordinary love song, in my opinion on of the most beautiful by Tsitsanis.
Verse by: Vassilis Tsitsanis (?)
Music by: Vassilis Tsitsanis (1917-1984)

First Recording 1947 sang by Prodromos Tsaoussakis & Ioanna Georgakopoulou
Orchestra: Bouzouki, Guitar, Baglama (The composer on the bouzouki)

Verse in traditional iambic 15syllable couplets with the 2nd couplet repeated.
Rhythm/Dance: Old style zeibekiko dance in 9/4
Musical mode: Interchange of natural and harmonic minor throughout.



Χωρίσαμε ένα δειλινό με δάκρυα στα μάτια
η αγάπη μας ήταν γραφτό να γίνει δυό κομμάτια.

Πονώ σαν συλλογίζομαι τα όμορφα τα βράδια
που μού 'δινες γλυκά-γλυκά όρκους, φιλιά και χάδια.

Με μιά λαχτάρα καρτερώ και πόνο στην καρδιά μου,
ίσως γυρίσεις γρήγορα ξανά στην αγκαλιά μου.
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Old 11-18-2014, 08:49 PM   #6
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All the rebetes of the world love me,
should they see me they would sacrifice themselves.

Any of them who donít know me now they shall know me,
I take my promenade even if they make fun out of me.

I was born a poor guy, I have been around in the world,
from the depths of my heart I also have been a martyr.

All the tough guys that live in this world
also carry in their hearts a big grief.


Music: Markos Vamvakaris (1905-1972)
Lyrics: Markos Vamvakaris
1st recording: 1937 sang by Markos who is also playing the bouzouki on this recording.
Orchestra: Classic rebetiko trio of bouzouki, baglama and guitar.
Verse: Traditional iambic 15 syllable throughout
Dance/Rhythm: Old Hassapikos (butcher's) dance in 2/4
Mode: Harmonic minor interchanging with its variant mode "Nichavent" throughout.
It is interesting that the song has two instrumental introductions, One in major (Huzam) mode and one in minor (in the same tonic), but the major mode is used only in the beginning and the end of the song.

It is not by chance that Markos have been called the "patriarch" of rebetiko.
Indeed he was that.
Although an almost illiterate (butcher by profession) rebetis, his musicality and melodic talent were overwhelming.
His style is absolutely economic in means, terse and what we would term as "Dorian", and his musical grammar and construction absolutely faultless.
This song is saying a big "hello" to the underground world of the rebetes and it is still considered their "anthem".
I made an effort to translate as best as I could, but some of the concepts are completely colloquial in character and not just ordinary Greek but in a Greek slang dialect spoken only by this underclass, which also contains a few Turkish words and concepts.

Last edited by pelegrino : 11-19-2014 at 10:16 AM.
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