Greece: The Crossroads of East and West

Nestled between countries in Europe, Asia and Africa, Greece is positioned at the crossroads of East and West. Greek folk music has developed in perpetual flux as it variably adopted extraneous cultural flows and contested them with its own rooted traditions at different times in its history and in different contexts throughout the country. While Greek music is often framed by romantic stereotypes of impulsive spontaneity and ‘natural’ flair, immortalised in the image of Anthony Quinn dancing barefoot on the beach in Zorba the Greek (1964), the reality is that a great variety of traditional music can be found across the regions of Greece with highly diverse aesthetics, practices and roles in society. In the World Music industry, Greek folk musics and rebetika are often presented in seemingly contradictory terms as typically European and exotically Oriental, but, in many respects, this reflects Greece’s equivocal positionality at the heart of the cultural flows of the Mediterranean and the mixed, and often ambiguous, inspirations and identities imbued in its traditional customs.

Country Profile

Greece, or Ελλας [Hellas], is located on the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It has a population of just over 10 million living in a country made up of nine geographic regions: Epirus, Central Greece, Macedonia, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Thrace on the mainland and more than 200 inhabited islands constitute the remaining regions of the Aegean Islands, Ionian Islands and Crete. Its official language is Greek and its constitutionally recognised religion is Greek Orthodox. It is a predominantly urban society, with an urban population of more than 75%, though, with a low rate of urbanisation (less than 1%), its rural populations remain relatively stable.

Cultural History

Following the collapse of Mycenaean Greece (c.1100BCE), Ancient Greece (c.12thC-2ndC BCE) developed as a series of poleis, urban ‘city states’ like Athens, Sparta and Syracuse which each governed their surrounding chora, ‘territory’. Imperial expansion propagated Hellenistic culture across Europe and Central Asia, most notably through the conquests of Alexander the Great (336-323 BCE). The Romans, after defeating the strong Macedonian Empire and their Carthaginians allies, established a protectorate over the poleis, unifying them into a territory under the Roman Empire (146 BCE). Despite initial resistance and rebellions, a Pax Romana (‘Roman Peace’) materialised (1stC BCE-2ndC CE) and the Romans largely assimilated into Hellenic culture, even making Greek an official language of the Empire. Under Emperor Constantine I (4thC CE), Christianity became a recognised and prominent religion and, as the Empire started to face assaults on all fronts and its power waned, it was split into the Roman Empire in the west (with its capital in Rome) and the Byzantine Empire in the east (with its capital in Byzantine/Constantinople). The Roman Empire declined sharply at the hands of invaders from the north while the Byzantine Empire (4thC-15thC), with the Greek kingdoms at its heart, thrived as a centre of trade, and its official religion, (Orthodox) Christianity, drove the development of new forms of arts and culture. Expanding into North Africa and the Levant (6thC), and later the Middle East (9thC), it established itself as a strong military, economic and mercantile power, and imported spices, resources and cultural influences from Anatolia. However, as the empire started to decline (after 11thC), Slavic invaders occupied areas of the north and Venetian forces took over certain islands. However, the overwhelming threat to the empire was the rise of the Oghuz Turks, led by Osman, who took control of northwestern Anatolia and established the Islamic Ottoman beylik (kingdom). The Ottomans galvanised into a powerful force and took vast swathes of North Africa and the Levant at which point they crossed over into the Balkans. They conquered the southern territories and the islands and, as Constantinople fell (renamed Istanbul), they took over the entire Byzantine Empire (1453-1832).

The Ottoman occupation is somewhat contentiously represented as an ‘era of darkness’ in populist Greek history. Like most colonial rule, the Ottoman system was undeniably hierarchical, discriminatory and suppressive, but it is worth recognising that, in contrast to Reformation Europe at the time, it did embrace a high degree of religious tolerance and cultural autonomy; indeed, vast numbers of Jewish refugees, expelled from Spain (1492), were accepted into the Ottoman Empire and settled in the city of Saloniki (modern-day Thessaloniki). The milyet system, though of course requiring obedience of all to the divine Sultan, protected the rights of non-Muslim communities to practice their religion and to maintain their cultural traditions and language, which for example kept Orthodox religious customs alive, allowed the Jewish community to transform Saloniki into a global centre of Sephardic culture and promoted acculturation between Byzantine and Ottoman/Arabic cultures in the Greek territories. However, with an increase in discriminatory tax systems and spurred on by the ideology of revolution after the French Revolution (1789), the Filiki Eteria was founded as a secret independence movement that exploded into an all-out revolution in the Peloponnese, sparking the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829).

Within a year, the rebels had liberated the Peloponnese from Ottoman control and declared the creation of the modern Greek state with its own National Assembly of the Greeks (1822). Global geo-political forces were dragged into the conflict as the Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) ordered the Ottomans to recognise the free Greek territory; when the Sultan refused, they sent forces to aid the Greeks. After years of bloody conflict, the Greco-Turkish Pact (1829) established the independent state of Greece (then only the Cyclades, the Peloponnese and a handful of other territories) under Ioannis Kapodistrias. The country was stricken by poverty and tensions between landowners and peasants, and eventually Kapodistrias was assassinated (1831). Greece became a monarchy again, ruled by the Bavarian Prince Otto (1831-1862) and then, with British intervention, the Danish King George I (1862-1912). As part of his enthronement, Britain returned the Ionian Islands to Greece, which they had taken at the end of the Napoleonic Wars from France (1815). Through a series of conflicts with the Ottomans, including a failed all-out war (1897), rebel struggles in Macedonia (1904-1908) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Thessaly, Macedonia, Epirus and Crete were brought into the rapidly industrialising Greek state, unifying the whole of modern-day Greece.

During World War I (1914-1918), Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos forged an alliance with the Entente Cordiale(Britain, France and Russia) and the Ententepromised to award Asia Minor to Greece in the war effort, which would realise Venizelos’s mission of Magna Grecia (the reunification of the Ancient Greek territories). The Greek army stormed the majority-Greek Ottoman city of Smyrna (1919), launching the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). The element of surprise enabled the Greek forces to take over most of their desired territories but, as the Ottomans rallied and domestic political turmoil weakened the Greek resolve, they suffered severe defeats and the Ottomans pushed them back out of Asia Minor. The result, referred to as ‘the catastrophe’, was a population exchange (1923) of 400,000 Muslim Turks from Greece into the Ottoman territories and more than 1 million Orthodox Greeks from Asia Minor into the Greek state, many of whom were fully immersed in Anatolian culture and were unfamiliar with Greek language or society, initiating new mass subcultures within the Greek cities.

After a succession of monarchies, military rebellions and short-lived democracies, General Ioannis Metaxas established a far-right authoritarian regime (1936-1941), imposing brutal measures of social suppression and cultural censorship. Despite this, Metaxas opposed alliance with the rising fascist powers in Europe (Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy), and so ended up in open war against them (1940). However, Greece soon fell to the rapacious Nazi advance (1941) and, despite the efforts of both royalist and leftist resistance forces, atrocious violence was imposed on the Greek people under occupation, especially in the extermination of almost the entire Jewish population of the country (1941-1944).

Once Greece was freed from Nazi occupation, a bloody Civil War between the royalist and leftist movements ensued (1944-1949) and, supported by the USA as part of anti-communist policy, the royalists prevailed. A military coup took power (1967-1974) and established another brutally repressive regime. Successive rebellions ensued, especially from university students, and the junta finally fell after it provoked a Turkish invasion following attempts to start a coup in Cyprus (1974). After a referendum defeated the reinstatement of the monarchy, the Hellenic Republic was instituted (1975) and, since then, Greece has enjoyed a period of peace, democracy, relative domestic stability and cultural plurality, the creation of a booming tourist industry and signs of globalisation in its urban centres.

Music Culture

In Search of Ελλας

Generations of scholarly, journalistic and everyday discourse have contested the qualities and inspirations of Greek folk music. In these discussions, traditional music has acted as a battleground not simply for disputing the nature of Greek music itself but also for negotiating ελληνικότητα(Greekness). Indeed, the mixed, often equivocal, roots and creative impulses in Greek music traditions reflect the longstanding ambiguity of Greek cultural identity, which critics have described as ‘double-descended’ in its position at the crossroads between the Orient and the Occident, between Asia Minor and Europe, and in its lineage as Eastern/Western and religious/secular. Indeed, the Eurocentric myth of Greece as the cradle of ‘civilization’ implicitly ignores the complex cultural flows that circulated the Mediterranean and the cultural pluralism that it nurtured in Greece. Moreover, during the 20thC, traditional musical practices in Greece were swept up as an ideological battleground for the future of the country along these lineage faultlines in the struggle to legitimise authoritarian and leftist nationalisms. This cultural civil war has made it all the more difficult to locate the true origins and purposes of the abundant variety of Greek traditional musics and thus, as we attempt to delve into them here, it is vital that we keep in mind this complex, and heated, discursive context.


In the traditional musical aesthetics of dhimotika (pastoral folk music), the use of term mousiki (music) itself is rare; it is more commonly discussed in terms of tragoudi (song) and choros (dance). Although geographical barriers of mountains and bodies of water in Greece promoted regional diversity and the development of style evidencing specific local histories and migrations, the confluence of peoples and cultures at regional country fairs and periods of union under choras (territories) and empires helped to foster commonalities. Mikis Theodorakis, perhaps Greece’s most celebrated composer, used the metaphor of a tree to describe the country’s traditional music: a robust trunk based on common roots off which there are many divergent branches. As such, for discussing dhimotika, we can identify certain inter-regional cultural histories (the roots) and principles (the trunk) and three main stylistic groupings for traditions (branches): the mainland, the islands and urban musics.

Starting with the trunk, inter-regional cultural principles relate to both the musical content and the cultural purpose of dhimotika. The diversity of dhimotikaacross Greece makes it difficult to devise watertight general musical principles, but we can identify some common tendencies. Traditionally, the vast majority of dhimotika has been organised around melodic monophony and/or modality, rather than by harmony or tonality. Moreover, the skopos (‘tune’) is usually heterogeneous: either the skoposis used as a skeletos (melodic outline) but expansively embellished (e.g. ‘melodic folding’, where phrases within the melodic outline are substituted with idiomatic figures, and ‘rhythmic switching’, where the skeletos is transposed into characteristic rhythmic patterns through augmentation or diminution) and ornamented (e.g. melismatic flourishes, trills, slides, etc); or the skopos is played within the framework of a makami (mode), which each have their own melodic motifs, rhythmic patterns and metric conventions, and so the skopos is used as a springboard for spontaneous performance using extensive improvisation. As such, traditional music performance demands a deep understanding of these stylistic frameworks and ensemble performance warrants remarkable communication skills, requiring the musicians to coordinate a coherent ‘working out’ of the skopos so that their playing is simfono (‘in agreement’). Two different performances of a skopos by the same musicians can sound significantly distinct and the performance of the same skopos within traditions from two different regions, especially if they favour different approaches, can sound absolutely worlds apart.

The textual content for tragoudi(song) is usually either precomposed poetic verse (usually lines of 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 or 12 syllables) or spontaneously devised stanzas using local proverbs, folkloric stories, stock religious images and so on. There is rarely a set alignment of musical meter with syllables and, as a result, syllables are instinctively spread over the melodic line, with extra textual devices (e.g. non-lexical exclamations, like aman (‘mercy’), and repetitions of words or syllables) if necessary. Historically, ‘rhyme’ was not part of Greek poetic tradition and so is generally uncommon in traditional tragoudi texts in most of Greece. However, it was introduced to some islands by Central European crusaders (14thC), and so is found in certain island traditions: for example, semi-improvised (rhyming) couplets are prevalent in some song traditions on Crete.

Rhythms for choros (dance) are highly diverse across the regions of Greece. However, in almost all dance traditions, choreography is symbiotic with rhythm, so gestures and movements accentuate the measures of the metre, though a few traditions in Macedonia actively dance against their metre. While there are an overwhelming number of local traditional dances across Greece, there are a certain dance forms that transcend such contexts and are found in many different rural and urban milieus across the country. These include straight metre dances, like the syrtos, the pidikhtos, and the hasapiko, as well as dances that use asymmetrical metres, like the kalamatiano, the zeibekikoand the tsifteteli.

The 4/4 (2-1-1) syrtos (fromsyro, ‘drag’) is a smooth group line dance, certainly present in the Byzantine period and thought to be derived further back from Ancient Greece, where a leader pulls a string of dancers holding hands performing a repeating ‘dragging’ basic step (essentially twelve dragging steps, with leg crossings, ‘forwards’ (anticlockwise)(1-2) and a pause (3) and two dragging steps ‘backwards’ (clockwise)(4)). The leader traditionally holds a handkerchief and improvises embellishments (e.g. turns, spins, leaps) while pulling the line, and elects a new leader by passing them the handkerchief. The pidikhtos and kalamatiano are syrtos variations: the pidikhtossimply uses a ‘leaping’, rather than a ‘dragging’, basic step and the kalamatiano uses an asymmetrical 7/8 (3-2-2) metre and a ‘limping’ basic step.

The 2/4 or 4/4 hasapiko (‘butcher’s dance’; from Turkish kasap, ‘butcher’), a Byzantine dance that came out of Greek butchers in Constantinople imitating martial dances, is a lively line dance where dancers are usually linked by arms-over-shoulders (‘T’ position) and, looking down at their feet, move with a triangular basic step (gradually anti-clockwise with intricate crossings), though it usually includes a great deal of variation, embellishment and flair from all dancers, outlined by the line leader. The dance has a slow ‘heavy’ version in 2/4 and a lively ‘light’ version in 4/4. It is worth noting that the syrtaki(the iconic dance choreographed by Giorgos Provias for Zorba the Greek (1964)) is not a traditional dance in itself but a mixture of the syrtos, the pidikhtos, the slow ‘heavy’ hasapikoand the fast ‘light’ hasapiko. The 9/8 or 9/4 zeibekiko, an Anatolian dance from the martial arts of the legendary Zeibek warriors, is a free dance often performed either by a solo man as a ‘macho’ dance or by a couple as a dance of seduction. Its distinctive asymmetrical metre sets out rhythms in either 9/8 (X.X.X.X..) or in 9/4 (XX.XX.X.XX.XX.X.X. or X.XXX.X.X.XXX.X.X.). It has no set choreography, so the dancer(s) have free reign for self-expression of these syncopated rhythms; the solo men’s version does however have certain motifs, including sharp movements, powerful gestures, haunting whirls and displays of machismo (e.g. picking up a chair with their teeth).

Finally, the 2/4 (3-3-2) tsifteteli(from the Turkish, çiftetelli, ‘double strings’, referring to the melodic strings’ playing style for the music) is an indigenised Greek ‘belly dance’ derived from Near Eastern traditions brought to Greece during Ottoman rule. To the pulse of its idiomatic rhythm (XX.XX.X.), its free sensual choreography, though based on the Arab dances, is notably more subtle and reserved (e.g. it mostly uses hip circles and rotations and shoulder shimmies and sways instead of hip gyrations, belly rolls and whirls and it features grasping fingers on outstretched hands to the sides and behind the head rather than perpetually revolving hands on wildly gliding arms).

Historically, dhimotika played a central role in everyday social and cultural life in rural communities across Greece. Many traditional songs had a direct sociocultural function: nanourismata (‘cradle songs’; lullabies) for mothers to soothe their babies; work songs sung by farmers and shepherds in the fields; toasting songs sung tis tavlas (‘at the table’ of a taverna or coffeehouse); tis kunias (swing songs) for young boys to banter one another; and traditional song and dances for young men to court women on auspicious occasions. Thus, the names of songs and dances tended to indicate social function (e.g. tou gamou,‘wedding song’) or the place of origin (e.g. pogonisios, ‘dance from Poyoni’), rather than referring to the musical form or textual content. Many of these songs and dances were confined to use for their specific sociocultural function; for instance a ‘wedding song’ would have been sung only in the context of a wedding. Furthermore, moiroloyia(laments), sung by the bereft and often also a ‘professional mourner’ at funerals and commemorations were not even conceptualised as music. They were sung only on these occasions as outpourings of grief, mourning the deceased, and to voice social comment on the community; in certain times, places and contexts, this commentary was known to call on the surviving male kin to seek bloody revenge for the departed in line with ‘honour-shame’ customs.

Contrary to the romantic distortions of modern cinema, most traditional dances in ruralsettings were likewise exclusively confined to collective dedications and festive occasions, including dances specifically for weddings, christenings, carnival, Easter, Christmas, paniyiria (‘festival’; the village or town’s patron saints’ days) and glendia (‘party’; a community celebration bringing together different pareas (circles of good friends)). In these contexts, dances often symbolised specific social function (e.g. wedding dances that enacted rites of passages; devotional christening chants that sought blessings for the child; ecstatic music performed as spiritual ‘healing’ at penitent paniyiria). In a general sense, musical participation, along with activities like feasting and drinking, was at the heart of the festive atmosphere at such gatherings in its capacity to arouse κέφι [kéfi] (a complex Arabic-derived aesthetic concept from Turkish kéyif; roughly ‘elation’/‘high spirits’; for music, specifically, this relates to the convivial euphoria in being all together in the spontaneity of musical participation). Moreover, musical presentation, sometimes referred to as sovares ekdhilosis (‘serious exhibition’), is also often considered as a performative act of kéfi for immersing the audience in a μεράκι[meráki] state-of-being (another complex Arabic-derived aesthetic concept, from Turkish merak; roughly, ‘intoxicating passion’/‘yearning for beauty’/‘curiosity or love for something’/‘care or taste’; for music, specifically, this relates to a performer’s fiery outpouring of the soul, their high performativity (especially in the brilliance of improvisational flair) and the aesthetic refinement that symbolises beauty through a lifelong dedication to and care for music, and thus their ability to incite deep feelings of aesthetic pleasure, wonder and quasi-spiritual longing, catharsis and transcendence amongst audiences). Some traditional song and dance forms were more informal, facilitating musical participation, while others were more serious, emphasising the presentation of music, but most involve at least elements of both and, beyond the above implied functions of individual prestige, aesthetic pleasure and community sociality, most songs and dances also enforced gender norms and were held to be symbols of community, and even regional, solidarity.

Today, the transformation of Greece into a predominantly urban society has had a profound effect on dhimotika: many villages have virtually emptied through migration into the cities and so the communities and social systems that historically underpinned the oral traditions and their cultural functions have been altered or, in some cases, have totally faded away; in some villages, women have been known to sing moiroloyia (laments) not to a departed person but to the death of past traditions. However, gloomy prognostications of the death of dhimotika appear unfounded: there are still mainland and island villages and towns that resolutely uphold their music-cultures and, though young middle-class urbanites are generally known for their assimilation into modern, ‘Western’ culture (with preferences for Anglo-American popular music and dance), some urbanites, especially those who have strong regional affiliations or still consider a particular village their ‘cultural’ home, maintain their traditional songs and dances and sometimes even their functional roles on festive occasions (e.g. weddings, baptisms, Carnival). Moreover, folk music is often maintained in the cities in the form of commodified music recordings for listening (including dhimotika and neodhimotika, which mixes traditional instruments and forms with modern ones) or as artistic live performance in music clubs for aesthetic pleasure. Indeed, recordings have encouraged new creativities in the genre, such as Yannis Markopoulos’s records of traditionally unaccompanied Cretan rizitika (rebel songs), which aimed to create a ‘pan-Greek’ folk album by incorporating harmonies, rhythms and instruments from all over the country. While recordings have to some extent schizophonically stripped the music they claim to represent of its social role and cultural meaning, it has given traditional songs and dances new ways of surviving in the modern world and, after all, oral folk music has always been an adaptable, creative, fluid and evolving tradition, open to new inspirations, new contexts and new meanings.

We can, to some extent, trace some common roots for these inter-regional cultural principles, although it is worth pointing out that the specific inspirations, lineages and influences can be somewhat ambiguous and are often fervently disputed. The core cultural ancestries of dhimotika are Byzantine, European (Balkan) and Ottoman (Arabic and Turkic). Historical fragments of Ancient Greek notation and aesthetics (e.g. unity of music-poetry-dance in the art of the Muses) imply that the music may have been monophonic and may have used asymmetrical rhythms, which could suggest that Ancient Greek musical systems passed on these elements to later Greek dhimotika, but the evidence remains somewhat insubstantial.

During the Byzantine era, the ascent of Eastern Orthodox Christianity inspired new religious musical practices, most notably a tradition of ecclesiastical chant. This comprised sung recitation and liturgical hymnoi (hymns), which were modal (based around oktōēchos (‘eight modes’)) and used Biblical text for its verse. The hymnoi were initially passed down via oral tradition but, later, neumes (a form of ‘graphic’ notation) were introduced. These only indicated pitch, melodic motion, interval size and martyria(modal signature), so cantors still required knowledge of the oral traditions in order to ‘centonize’ (from cento, a patchwork of chant procedures e.g. particular melismatic groupings for particular modes) the melodic outlines of the neumesinto full chants. Recitation was a primary vehicle for religious worship and education and, as the Orthodox Church was far more lenient on the use of musicthan others,a vast repertoire of hymnoi developed that was employed as a form of devotional performance in religious services; this vocal tradition is still abundant today, with specific institutions (e.g. Society for the Dissemination of National Music) dedicated to maintaining these oral liturgical traditions.

However, the influence of Byzantine chant on dhimotikais a controversial topic. The Church’s disdain for folk music, for its associations with paganism and its use of instruments (banned in liturgical contexts) meant that Byzantine writers make virtually no allusions to it and thus historical sources reveal very little about it. This historical lacunae is problematic because it means there is no strong evidence with which to support or refute any one of the three discourses on the interaction between Byzantine chant and dhimotika: 1) that Byzantine chant maintained and developed Ancient Greek monophony and modality, adding its own stock religious imagery and vocality, and transmitted this into folk traditions; 2) that it transmitted these elements into traditional music but that the chant was at least influenced by traditions of the Near East; or 3) that Byzantine chant had little or no interaction with secular music during this period, and so folk tradition was more akin to subsequent Balkan music (e.g. Albanian) and that monophony and modality were (re)introduced to Greece by the Ottomans. The second discourse has some corroborative evidence in the form of affinities with contemporaneous Arab and Jewish musical systems and instruments (e.g. pictographic sources depict lay musicians playing long-necked plucked lutes and pear-shaped bowed lutes assumed to be an archetypes of the laoúto and the lyra, which is established as having evolved from the Arab rabab). Yet, as there is no conclusive evidence to favour any one of the three, all we can really contend is that, while Byzantine chant is certainly one of the roots of the dhimotika tree, its structural importance to the tree remains unclear.

The influence of Ottoman Arabic and Turkic music traditions on Greekdhimotika is transparent. Of course, the precise impact is difficult to discern because the conundrum above makes it difficult to work out which ‘Oriental’ elements were maintained through the Byzantine period, when there was not such a clear distinction between East/West, and which elements had never arrived or had faded out and were thus introduced or reintroduced by the Ottomans. Regardless, it is clear that, under Ottoman rule, monophony and modality were fully invigorated, and imported into folk song along with dance-based asymmetrical rhythms (e.g. the ‘limping’ 9/8 rhythms X.X.X.X..) and Arabic-derived Ottoman musical instruments. (These included pipiza/karamoutsa (shwarm), zournas (long shwarm), daouli (large double-headed drums struck with mallets), doumbek/toubeleki (single-headed goblet drum played with intricate strokes), défi(frame drum), Pontic lyra/kementzes (long, narrow lyra, totally distinct to the Cretan lyra), santouri/tsimbalo (trapeziform dulcimer struck with mallets) and, later on, the Near Eastern țanbūr and the subsequent Turkish saz or bağlama, from which the bouzouki (large long-necked plucked bowl-lute), tzouras (medium long-necked plucked bowl-lute) and baglamas (very small long-necked plucked bowl-lute) were derived).

Moreover, the Ottomans introduced the maqam (Arabic modes) system, which as explained above comprises one of the two key approaches to skopos (The origin of the other, the skeletosapproach, preceded Ottoman rule but, again with the Byzantine conundrum, its origins could be Ancient Greek, Byzantine, Near Eastern, Balkan or some other unknown source). Ottoman religious and cultural tolerance, by allowing community self-government through the milyet system and weakening the cultural dominance of the Orthodox Church, enabled Greek folk music traditions to thrive in the public sphere.

Music of the Mainland

The songs and dances of the mainland were the most directly impacted by Ottoman influence, with an abundance of complex rhythms, asymmetrical metres, Arab-derived instruments and leaping dances. This is perhaps most evident in the Makedoníaregion. The most celebrated traditional choroshere is the oro, but the region has also retained a huge variety of localised dance traditions. The oro (dance/circle) is a circle dance in which men and women close the circle by holding hands to the sound of songs of joy and sorrow, which use long and complex syllabic verses (up to 15 syllables or even irregular metric patterns), or to melismatic heterogeneous and/or responsorial playing between the gaida (bagpipes) and kaval (shepherd’s pipe). The anti-clockwise rotating circle is broken at times into lines which overlap with each other to form concentric circles before they unwrap themselves to return to the circle setup. It has affinities with both the Romanian and Jewish hora dances and has a number of variants, including a ‘heavy’ version, which tends to be danced slowly, gravely and only by men to winding melismatic melodies as it embodies the darkness of war, and a ‘drunken’ version, which uses lively skips to choreograph its characteristic ‘limping’ 5/8 rhythm. The orois danced mainly on festive occasions (e.g. weddings, name-days, birthdays, religious holidays).

As elsewhere, Byzantine chant is preserved in the Orthodox Church, but Makedoníaalso features a concentration of the mystical Anastenariafire-dancers sect, who include the singing of Akritika (Byzantine ballads which narrate folkloric tales) and the playing of the Thracianlyra (distinct again from both the Cretan and Pontic instruments) and daouli (drum) in festive religious worship at the holy alter, especially for ‘healing’ ceremonies on the patronal saints’ day of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen during summer. Here, musical performance and accompanying circle dances are regarded not only as an act of symbolic devotion but also as a conduit for communicating with the divine to induce spirit-possession. As the saintly spirit ‘seizes’ the host, theyleap around on hot coals (hence, ‘fire-dancers’), performing a trance dance as the puppet of the saint, believed to bring blessings and spiritual healing to the village. The origins of the ritual are thought to derive from ancient cult practices associated with Dionysus (Ancient Greek God of fertility, wine and pleasure, and also patron of the arts and ritual festivity) and it is still practiced in a number of villages in the vicinity around Serres. Professional Roma (‘Gypsy’) koumpaneia(music ensembles) became prominent in Makedoníaunder Ottoman rule, especially the daouli-zournadhes(drum-shawm ensembles), who were mainly hired to play Balkan folk musics, of imitative polyphonic melodies over drones, at weddings and other social events. The psili foni (high-pitched voice) ensemble (clarinet, violin, outi(oud), sandouri(zither)and toubeleki (drum)) played Thracian makamas a direct variant of Ottoman classical music itself in Eastern Makedonía, performing for the sultans based in the Drama region and, subsequently, maintaining the ensemble to accompany amanes(improvisational singing based on makam modality) leaping dances.

In Epirus, traditional songs and dances are likewise influenced by trends from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, though Central European influences also feature prominently. Here, the syrtos is prominent, as are Balkan dances like the 3/4 tsamikos, but the Roma koumpaneiawere also popular, using clarinet/violin and laoúto (long-necked plucked lute) to play melismatic melodies and ostinato double-stops in free metre over a continuous or ostinato drone before launching into traditional songs infused with ‘Eastern’ melodic ornamentations and asymmetrical rhythms, struck out on the défi(a large frame drum with metal bangles). Weddings are famously extravagant in some of the villages in Epirus, and song and dance, as always, play a key role in the festivities. Beyond other common traditions (e.g. songs sung at dawn on the day of the wedding and songs to call the guests to the wedding), the patinada is a traditional wedding processional form in the region, a dignified 4/4 or 6/8 march performed specifically for the journey to the bride’s house, to the church and to the wedding celebrations; the family and close friends lead the procession, performing local songs and dances that fit to the march, while the couple walk behind graciously behind them.

A tradition of polyphonic song, not found anywhere else in Greece, was also developed in Epirus that combines Byzantine chant vocality and religious verse and Albanian polyphonic textures (multiple melodic lines over a static or ostinato drone) as a vocal imitation of church bells, used as a form of devotional worship. The klaríno style, with improvisatory melodies on the klaríno (older Albert-style clarinet model with sharper sound brought to Greece either by Romani or by members of King Otto’s entourage), accompanied by kithára (guitar variant), laoúto, violin, toubeleki and défi, has become the region’s trademark traditional musical style. It started out as the entertainment music of grand feasts for officials and merchants, but was later combined with local dances, as well as song of exile and despair, and embedded in festive traditions (e.g. weddings and rites of passage) across the region. The amanes tradition of intricate melismatic vocal improvisation was common in towns in the region during the Ottoman period, though, after the Greek War of Independence, this practice gave way to the klaríno style and, by the 1930s, it had almost completely left the region. The kléftika were the ballads of the Klephts (the mountain ‘brigands’ who rejected Ottoman rule and regularly launched insurrections against them), which used a poetic form known as ‘political verse’ (fifteen-syllable iambic metre of two hemistichs (half lines) of eight and seven syllables derived from Ancient Greek epic poetry) for melismatic songs of stark critique and rebellion metaphors sung in free rhythms. The songs narrated folkloric tales of heroism and rebellion that indirectly honoured the Klepht fighters and legitimised the Klephtic struggle; they were also used as a direct tool of conflict, sung by the brigand fighters to reinforce solidarity and to charge up morale prior to battle.

Music of the Islands

The songs and dances of the islands were similarly impacted by Ottoman rule but the influence of the Ottomans was generally less pervasive on them and, as such, Byzantine, Oriental (i.e. pre-Ottoman Near Eastern) and European influences are far more evident. The islands are today often assumed to be relatively homogenous, due to the marketing of simple, sentimental nisiotika(‘island songs’) as a form ofelafra (light popular music) by the record industry, but, in reality, their musical traditions and lineages are complex and diverse.

In the Ionian Islands, Venetian rule has left a clear imprint on dance and song. It introduced Italianate vocality, inspiring a syncretic tradition of kantadhes (serenades) on islands like Corfu that, accompanied by guitars and/or mandolins, combines triadic harmonies, Catholic tropes (both virtually absent in other traditional music) and rhyming couplets (rarely found in other traditional music) with the skopossystem of melodic spontaneity and Byzantine religious imagery and folkloric legend for its poetic content. Italian rule also introduced couple, as opposed to group, dancing. By contrast, in the Aegean and Dodecanese Islands, Byzantine- and Oriental-derived traditions predominate. Islands just off the coast of Asia Minor, including Lesvosand Samos, feature ensembles of violin, laoúto, sandouriand toubeleki accompanying Anatolian dances with asymmetrical metres like the karsilama (9/8) and zeibekiko(9/8) and Arab-derived song traditions like the amanes(intricate melismatic vocal improvisation using the maqam, sung to the repeated word aman, ‘mercy’). Karpathos, perhaps due to isolated and inhospitable mountain terrain that guards villages like Olymbos, is home to some of the oldest duple-time dance forms: an abundance of distinct syrtoi are danced on the island; the soustais a brisk erotic courtship dance, derived from Hellenic martial dances, performed by pairs of men and women dancing facing each other; and the pano choros is an lively circle dance traditionally arduously performed for hours without breaks. It has also preserved archaic song forms, including a multipart polyphonic one, which combines florid Byzantine vocal melody over a drone and, uniquely, has always traditionally been sung by an all-female chorus. In the Cyclades, which have served as a constant crossroads between East and West, islands like Syros have long maintained Anatolian dances like the zeibekikoand Arab traditions like the makamand amanes alongside indigenous Greek folk forms like the syrtos; and Syros, in particular, is famous for a dazzling array of song and dance spectacles during Carnival.

Given its size and its position at the intersection of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, the island of Crete has a vast array of diverse traditional customs, which draw on all of the aforementioned roots of dhimotika, and the pride its inhabitants take in their music traditions is well documented. Villages that have produced scores of extraordinary musicians (e.g. Anoghia) are regarded with quasi-mystic reverence; and when lyra master Nikos Xylouris died (1980), all of Crete is said to have come to a halt in a state of mourning. The laoúto and Cretan lyra (bowed pear-shaped fiddle derived from the Turkish kemençe) reign supreme, though traditions also make use of outiand daouli, guitars and mandolins. Due to the powerful influence of Arabic tradition here, taksimia are habitual at the start of almost all forms of song and/or dance and variations on the syrtos,sousta and even kantadha (Ionian serenade) are found in indigenised forms in Crete.

While musicians feature prominently at weddings in the rest of Greece, a traditional saying states that musicians were hired to ‘make’ a wedding on Crete: it was song and dance that, along with religion, legitimised the union of the couple. Historically, beyond the usual array of functional songs and dances, festive occasions in Crete would also feature mantinadhes, a remarkable participatory tradition of musical-verbal competition: over the backdrop of ostinato laoúto accompaniment and heterophonic lyra interjections, one performer would start off proceedings by improvising a series of rhyming couplets (the skoposwould be spontaneously composed using the skeletosapproach and the text could be entirely spontaneous or could draw on proverbs or verses from Cretan poetry like Kornaros’s Erotokritos), at which point another performer or a member of the party would then respond to the statement (with a few couplets of responsorial singing and text that would address, respond to, reflect on or even ridicule its content), after which the role of performer would continue to be passed around all those at the occasion who had the skill and daring to offer their own spontaneous, witty and musical responses. Performance aesthetics in Crete revolve around egoismos (‘self-regard’, confidence, flair and gregariousness) and efpathia(‘vulnerability’, emotional sensitivity and poetic creativity), and such qualities were often related to character (i.e. being a ‘good’ textual/musical improvisor was regarded as a sign of being a ‘good’ person), in particular linked to male praxis (i.e. a simultaneous expression of being a musician and being a man).

Urban Musics

While dhimotika is associated with pastoral settings, the forms of traditional music that developed in cities, often referred to as laika (fromlaos, ‘the people’; not to be confused with specific post-war popular music genre laïkó), still sprung from the same tree. At first, the cities simply reflected the regional folk songs and dances of those who migrated to them. Of course, traditions would take on a complete different role in the new urban context: for example, a song brought to the city by a family that previously enacted community may have become a song of remembering home. In both places, it would maintain cultural heritage and identity and be imbued with meaning, but in very different ways and with a less clear and direct social function in the city than the village from where it came. Nevertheless, over time, as people started to identify as urbanites rather than as migrant workers (who tended to retain their lineage to a particular village), new forms of urban music started to emerge. The archetypal urban form, which drew on the rich multicultural tapestry of the city and pioneered reflections on the urban experience itself, is ρεμπέτικα [rebetika].

Rebetika has a deeply contested history with competing narratives and interpretations; the story of rebetika is often told very differently depending on the perspective, emphasis and taste of the narrator. This is partly down to the way it was swept up in the ideological discourses and politicised climate referenced earlier but also because rebetika itself is a complex of different styles and practices rather than a unified tradition. Even the etymology of the word rebetika is unclear: it is thought to come from any or a combination of the Turkish rembet (‘of the gutter’, untameable outlaw/rebel), the Greek remvomai (‘wanderer’, the unsteady), Persian/Arabic/Hebrew words that coalesce around ‘improvisor’ or the Turkish harabtai (‘shanty town’/‘bohemian’); and each of these speaks to core aspects of rebetika style and context. In different narratives, rebetikais described as the songs of ‘the poor’ and ‘the Greek Underworld’; of social ‘outsiders’; of ‘the dispossessed’. Again, in a sense, all of these labels are apt because, if we conceptualise rebetika(like dhimotika as a whole) as a tree with divergent branches, these labels can be attributed to different branches off the rebetika tree. In its early days, rebetika had two main branches: the ‘Piraeus’ style and the ‘Smyrna’ style (purists sometimes dispute the inclusion of the ‘Smyrna’ style as rebetikabut this goes against the general consensus amongst most commentators today). The Piraeus style featured the songs of ‘the poor’ rural migrants who ended up in the urban slums controlled by the manges (from Turkish manga, ‘small military troop’, or Latin, ‘dealer’, the mafia tough guys) of ‘the Greek underworld’; and the Smyrna-style rebetikadeveloped out of the songs of the ‘outsider’ Roma, Turkish and Sephardic Jewish musicians, galvanised by the influx of the ‘dispossessed’ refugees from Asia Minor (1922).

There are significant musical, cultural and social affinities between the two, and they became more intimately intertwined over time. Most of all, the common thread is their positionality as musics of the urban underclass and their intentionality as songs of hardship and despair. Borne out of genuine experiences of marginalisation, rebetika expressed the sorrows of those on the fringes of urban society.

Within this framework, the prototypal form of the Piraeus-style rebetika was the songs of the working class poor who ended up associated with the anti-establishment mangesand, by extension, the Greek underworld. In the late 19thC, the onset of industrialisation spawned slums in the Greek cities and ports, particularly in Piraeus (hence the name of this rebetika branch). These slums became dominated by the manges, who were, at best, decadent and socially disruptive, at worst, blatantly criminal. They comprised a distinct subculture with their own slang (e.g. batsoi, ‘slap’, policeman), fashion (kavouraki (a woollen hat), a jacket, striped trousers tied by a belt, with a holder for a knife, and pointy shoes), gestures (e.g. a ‘limping’ swagger, twirling the komboloi (‘worry beads’)), and so on, but they also included notorious mafia ringleaders like Crazy Nick, Yanni the Cabby and Marino the Moustache, who had all served time in prison. However, while therebetes (the musicians of this subculture) and the manges were cut from the same cloth, they did not entirely overlap: many rebetes (when exactly they started to be called this is unknown) were simply wandering vagrants who had found themselves on the underside of life or were groups of untameable bohemian rebels that had chosen the manges’ nonconformity but not their wanton criminality; though a few rebetes were full-on convictswho participated in the early rebetika alongside their illegitimate duties.

As such, the ‘womb’ of early Piraeus-style rebetika is often identified as the tekedes (the hashish dens) and the prisons. In the tekedes, lost souls puffed their problems away on the narghilé (pipe) and the mafia coordinated its underworldly activities, but it is also here that the rebetes developed their artform by adapting folk songs to reflect on their current circumstances, accompanied by the bouzouki (large long-necked plucked bowl-lute derived from Near Eastern țanbūrvia the Byzantine tambourás and the Turkish saz) and/or the tzouras (medium long-necked plucked bowl-lute) and baglamas (very small long-necked plucked bowl-lute). The tekedes, though not to mainstream urban Greek society, did have artistic and quasi-spiritual associations for some: it is derived from an Arabic word transliterated variously astekije/teqe/tekke(‘lodge’, ‘shrine’ or ‘Dervish monastery’), which refers to the mystical holy lodges where ecstatic song and wild whirling dances served as a vehicle for devotion and transcendence in Sufism in the Near East. In the prisons, convicted rebetes did the same, except they used only the baglamas for accompaniment, because these were small enough to be smuggled into prisons.

Accounts of the early rebetika imply that the wandering folk-song melodies and the dances came mainly from syncretic traditions, like those of the Dodecanese Islands, that fitted well into the manges’ context due to their longstanding syntheses of Byzantine, Oriental and Ottoman currents; though, in practice, a rebetika performance would have drawn on a variety of folk traditions based on the backgrounds of the musicians. However, songs became rebetikanot simply by virtue of their new setting but because the dhimotika forms were adapted to express this new milieu: song texts spoke to specific aspects of working-class life, often referencing work, poverty, the underworld, the tekedes, the prisons, the drugs, disease and death, as well as more poetic reflections on their experiences, with tragic themes of lost love, sexual desire, alienation and despair.

The bouzouki, at this time an exclusively urban instrument, provided a distinctive musical texture; and new musical devices mirrored manges’virtues (e.g. a very harsh vocal timbre to reflect the harshness of life and, of course, the regular smoking and ‘macho’ choreography for traditional dances like the hasapiko and zeibekikothat enacted and reinforced particular norms of hyper-masculinity). The rebetiswhose songs came to encapsulate the style was Márkos Vamvakáris, referred to as Márko(s) and known as the ‘patriarch’ of rebetika. At a young age, he left his home island of Syros for the ports of Piraeus and ended up in the manges’ subculture. Historical accounts show that he was a celebrated musician in the tekedes and became a virtuoso and innovative bouzoukiplayer. With Yorgos Batis, Stratos Payoumtzis and Anestis Delias, also admired musicians in manges’ circles, he formed the Famous Quartet of Piraeus, who, with the rise of the recording industry in the 1930s, recorded and disseminated a host of his songs, popularising Piraeus-style rebetikaand the bouzoukiacross the urban centres of Greece.

In parallel with this, Roma, Turkish and Sephardic Jewish musicians cultivated a prototypal form of Smyrna-style rebetika. From the mid-19thC, they made a living playing in the mani khavesi [café amanes],modest music clubs that served wine and food and hosted ‘Eastern’ music, which had sprung up in cosmopolitan seaside towns and cities, especially in Saloníki. Professional Roma koumpaneiafrom the mainland played their melismatic songs, ornamented violin melodies, ostinato laoúto drones and asymmetrical rhythmic patterns on the défi. Turkish musicians performed Smyrneïka, a genre of popular and traditional Ottoman songs often described as ‘amorous laments’, and the Jewish musicians who became prominent in this genre, added their own secular Sephardic songs of exile and despair in Ladino (a Jewish dialect of Old Spanish) which drew on Andalus vocal forms. The smyrneïkafeatured themes of love, loss and sorrow and its melodies and extensive taksimia(instrumental improvisations) and amanedes(vocal improvisations) were based on the makam. It was mainly sung by women accompanied by a male ensemble combining a melodic string instrument, a chordophone playing ostinato textures and a rhythmic accompaniment (e.g. violin, outiand défi), and was often complemented by women dancing the tsifteteli. These women occupied a somewhat ambiguous social position: on the one hand, they were portrayed somewhat in line with traditional gender stereotypes (women as intoxicating temptresses); on the other, they transgressed gender norms by leading performance in a public context, which traditionally had been an exclusively male role, and were revered for their talents, their social independence and their fierce personalities; and so historians generally conclude that the rebetissas enjoyed a level of social, cultural and musical freedom available nowhere in mainstream Greek society during this time. The acculturation of the smyrneïkaand other traditions in this new environment constituted a prototype of the Smyrna-style rebetika, which was galvanised into a fully-fledged tradition after the arrival of dispossessed refugees from Asia Minor, and particularly Smyrna, in the population exchange (1924). This influx brought new musicians who grew the established pool and new populaces whose tastes were in line with its ‘Eastern’ aesthetics and who identified with its sentiments on the ‘living death’ of exile. Amongst the most famous  Smyrna-style rebetissas was the Sephardic Jewish singer Rosa Eskenazi, who started out singing Sephardic and smyrneïkasongs in the café amanes of Thessaloniki and, after the population exchange, performed the latter amongst new refugee communities in Athens, as did other famous Smyrna rebetes like Vangelis Papazoglou and Panagiotis Tountas; their successful recordings brought a degree of fame for the Smyrna-style rebetikaamongst new arrivals particularly in Athens and Macedonia.

Thus, during the late 1920s and early 1930s, both the Piraeus-style and the Smyrna-style had flourished as branches of the rebetika tradition, and had been disseminated as popular music through commercial recordings. The Piraeus-style placed a greater emphasis on simple dhimotikamelodies (which were embellished heterogeneously), harsh vocality, idiomatic folk rhythms, sparse musical textures and gritty lyrics full of mangas slang, whereas the Smyrna-style tended to employ elaborate vocal and instrumental improvisation, asymmetric rhythms and poetic text. Both forms were expressions of marginalisation in their own ways, offering vehicles for cathartic release of emotional distress and despair and the means of finding beauty and profundity in pain and suffering. Writers sometimes refer to rebetika as ‘the Greek blues’ and, despite the musical and cultural imprecision of such a comparison, this conveys in a metaphorical sense the function of this music as a cultural expression of the marginalised and as a form of cultural empowerment for the powerless. Scholarly research and accounts from rebetes themselves highlight that, by dealing with reality head-on, rebetikawas a form of activity that transcended simply musical performance; it offered cultural representations of resistance that brought people together into communities united by common subcultural identities and it constituted a social action of self-empowerment in the sense that it provided some source of strength to endure, and perhaps even embrace, marginal positionality.

Yet, though it had been enjoyed and engaged with by many, rebetikaitself soon became as persecuted as its proponents. Under the totalitarian Metaxas regime (1936-1941), the administration attempted to cut down the rebetika tree, imposing strict censorship and harsh criminalisation on performance of its associated music or dances; on its instruments, including a bouzoukibanthat resulted in many musicians having their instruments smashed to pieces by police; and on its musicians, many of whom were imprisoned simply for their links with the genre. The regime justified this on the basis of their perception of its ‘corrupt Orientalism’, though, as with most cases of music censorship, it was most likely because of links to oppositional subcultures (here, the manges for the Piraeus-style and the minorities associated with the Smyrna-style) and its social efficacy as a device for uniting and empowering these marginalised peoples. At the same time, the leftist revolutionaries fighting against the Metaxas regime employed rebetika as a tool in their resistance: insurgents played rebetika recordings in their underground meetings, tapped into oppressed rebetika networksfor recruits and even listened to rebetika recordings to pump themselves up for guerrilla combat. The regime’s ban and the resultant illicit power of the genre perhaps partly explains why rebetika became this symbol of opposition for rebels. Historical accounts also show that some fighters saw the Piraeus rebetika as a soundtrack for their struggle because it symbolised ‘the proletariat’ and it encapsulated ‘the spirit of resistance’. Nevertheless, despite its grassroots status, rebetika never really got off the ground as a political force to be reckoned with, and the music and its people were hit hard by its suppression. This suffering intensified dramatically through the occupation of Greece by Nazi forces and the Civil War; the Smyrna style in particular was devastated by the genocidal extermination of Jews, the assault on other ethnic minorities and the suppression of all cultural forms perceived as ‘Oriental’.

However, after the occupation subsided and the Civil War ended, rebetika underwent a revival and revitalisation that brought it back from the brink of destruction. Musicians like Manolis Chiotis and Mary Linda, and later Vassilis Tsitsanis and Sotiria Bellou, ‘modernised’ rebetika, transforming it into a form of laïkó tragoudi (popular song) by bringing itmore in line with ‘Western’ musical aesthetics (e.g. the use of the tetrachordo rather than trichordo bouzouki meant it could be combined with guitars and ‘Western’ harmonic systems more easily).

They also ‘professionalised’ the genre, establishing its place in the mainstream middle-class society by replacing the underworldly musings with poetic lyrics and by becoming successful figures in the bouzoukia (laïkó nightclubs). Tsitsanis’s song ‘Sinefiasmeni Kiriaki [Cloudy Sunday]’ exemplifies the new genre in that it set a Piraeus-style melody to a ‘Western’ harmonic accompaniment with words that captured the mood of the time by envoicing the people’s suffering under occupation. From here, rebetika grew branches anew for each new movement and generation: Mikis Theodorakis drew on rebetika melodies and style for his leftist éntekhno (‘art song’) and ‘metasymphonic music’, like Epitaphios(1960), in a mission of ‘humanizing the masses’ through artworks that merged low (rebetika) and high (Yiannis Ritsos’s poetry) art; Manos Hadjidakis and Theodorakis used rebetika as inspiration and as diegetic music in their films Never on Sunday (1960) and Zorba the Greek (1964) respectively, bringing rebetika to the world; Stelios Kazantzídhis updated rebetikato express the sorrows of the post-war working class (1960s); rebetika formed part of the rise of paradosiaká, a musical attempt at post-nationalist cosmopolitanism that embraced dhimotika, Byzantine chant, rebetikaand traditions from Asia Minor under its remit; Kostas Ferris cinematised the story of the genre in his seminal Rebetika (1983); Dionysis Savvopoulos cultivated a consciously-artistic néo kýma (‘new wave’) that combined everything from rebetika to French chanson to dhimotikato Balkan rock and made an effort to ‘re-Orientalise’ rebetika; rebetika revival groups like Rebetiki Kompani have attempted to rekindle the original styles; ensembles like Cretan group Haïnidhes have created neo-dhimotika forms based on mixing dhimotika with rebetika as well as often either Western or Near Eastern influences; diasporic Greek communities (e.g. in Australia, Canada and the UK) reinvent rebetika anew to hold onto their roots while adapting to new environments (e.g. see ‘Rebetiko Carnival’ in London); and ‘World Music’ musicians, like Palyrria and Kristi Stassinopoulou, fuse dhimotikarebetika and other traditional Greek musics with a whole host of international music influences in their heady, eclectic mixes; and the list goes on. The contexts which bore rebetika into the world no longer exist today, but then rebetikahas always managed to find, rather than lose, itself in translation, and remains a symbolic embodiment of the complex and pluralistic ‘double-descended’ positionality of Greek culture.

Sources & Reading Suggestions

Rembetika [Documentary Film] (BBC, 1982).

Rembetika: The Blues of Greece [Documentary Film] (Wombat, 1983).

Rembetiko [Cinematic Film] (Athos Films, 1985).

World Routes: Epirus; Southern Greece & Crete [Radio Broadcast] (BBC, 2004).

Auerbach, Susan, ‘From Singing to Lamenting Womens Musical Role in a Greek Village’, in Ellen Koskoff (ed.), Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989).

Barrett, Matt, ‘Rembetika and Greek Popular Music’, Greece Travel, <>

Bowman, John et al., ‘Greece’, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2016, <>.

Buchanan, Donna, Balkan Popular Culture and the Ottoman Ecumene: Music, Image, and Regional Political Discourse (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2008).

Butterworth, Katharine and Sara Schneider (eds.), Rebetika: Songs from the Old Greek Underworld (Athens: Aiora, 2014).

Cowan, Jane, ‘Greece’, in Bruno Nettl et al., The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (London: Garland, 1998).

Cowan, Jane, Dance and the Body Politics in Northern Greece (Princeton: Princeston University Press, 1990).

D’Angour, Armand, ‘How did ancient Greek music sound?’, BBC News Online, 23 October 2013, <>.

Daniélou, Alain, ‘Greece: Traditional Music’, Smithsonian Folkways Online, 1974, <>.

Dawe, Kevin, ‘Roots Music in the Global Village: Cretan Ways of Dealing with the World at Large’, The World of Music, 42 (2000).

Dawe, Kevin, Music and Musicians in Crete: Performance and Ethnography in a Mediterranean Island (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007).

Dubin, Marc and George Pissalidhes, ‘Greece’, in Simon Broughton, Mark Ellington and John Lusk (eds.), The Rough Guide to World Music (London: Penguin, 2006).

Dubisch, Jill (ed.), Gender and Power in Rural Greece (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

Emery, Ed, ‘Rebetika: A Brief History’, Institute of Rebetology, <>.

Gauntlett, Stathis, ‘Between Orientalism and Occidentalism: The Contribution of Asia Minor Refugees to Greek Popular Song and its Reception’, in Crossing the Aegean (Oxford: Berghan, 2003).

Gauntlett, Stathis, ‘Mammon and the Greek Oriental Music: Rebetika as a Marketing Construct’, Conference Paper, 2003.

Glaros, Angela, ‘Singing knowledge: aesthetics, authority and gender in Skyrian music’, PhD diss., University of Illinois, 2011.

Hagel, Stefan, Ancient Greek Music: A New Technical History(Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 2017).

Herzfeld, Michael,Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology and the Making of Modern Greece (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982).

Herzfeld, Michael,The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain Village (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).

Holst-Warhaft, Gail, ‘The Female Dervish and Other Shady Ladies of the Rebetika’ in Tullia Magrini (ed.), Music and Gender Perspectives from the Mediterranean (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

Holst-Warhaft, Gail, ‘World Music and the Orientalising of the Rebetiko’, Conference Paper, Hydra, 2001.

Holst-Warhaft, Gail, Road to Rembetika: Music of a Greek Sub-Culture (Athens: Harvey, 1975).

Hnaraki, Maria, ‘Speaking Without Words: Zorba’s Dance’, Conference Paper, 2009.

Kallimopoulou, Eleni, Paradosiaká: Music, Meaning and Identity in Modern Greece (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009).

Koglin, Daneil, Greek Rebetiko from a Psychocultural Perspective: Same Songs Changing Minds (Farnham: Burlington, 2016).

Lambropoulos, Stelios, Rebetiko [Online Resource], <>.

Leonidou, Anne, ‘Portrait of the Greek Dance’, HIS, <>.

Vamvakaris, Markos, Autobiography: The Man and the Bouzouki, trans. Noonie Minogue (Greeklines, 2015).

Mackridge, Peter, ‘Cultural Difference as National Identity in Modern Greece’, in Katerina Zacharia (ed.), Hellenisms: Cultural, Identity and Ethnicity from Antiquity to Modernity(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

Mathiesen, Thomas, ‘Greece’, Grove Music Online, 2017, <>.

Michaels, Despina, ‘Tsitsanis and the Birth of the “new” Laïko Tragoudi’, Modern Greek Studies, 4 (1996).

Panagakos, ‘Downloading New Identities: Ethnicity, Technology and Media in the Global Greek Village’, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 10 (2003).

Pappas, John, ‘General Notes on Greek Folk Dances’, Greek Folk Music & Dance, <>.

Pennanen, Risto, ‘The Nationalisation of Ottoman Popular Music in Greece’, Ethnomusicology, 48 (2004).

Peristeres, Spyros, ‘Folk Music of Greece’, Smithsonian Folkways Online, 1955, <>.

Petropoulos, Elias, Songs of the Greek Underworld: The Rebetika Tradition, trans. Ed Emery (London: Saqi, 2000).

Sclavunos, James, ‘So good, they made it illegal’, The Guardian Online, 19 April 2004, <>.

Sykäri, Venla, ‘Dialogues in Rhyme: The Performative Contexts of Cretan Mantinádes’, Oral Tradition, 24 (2009).

Tragaki, Dafni, ‘Humanizing the masses: enlightened intellectuals and the music of the people’, in David Cooper and Kevin Dawe (eds.), The Mediterranean in Music(Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2005).

Tziovas, Dimitris,Greek Diaspora and Migration Since 1700: Society, Politics and Culture (Farnham: Burlington, 2009).

Washabaugh, William, The Passion of Music and Dance: Body, Gender and Sexuality (Oxford: Berg, 1998).

Zaimakis, Yiannis, ‘“Forbidden Fruits” and the Communist Paradise: Marxist Thinking on Greekness and Class in Rebetika’, Music & Politics, 4 (2010).

Zaimakis, Yiannis, ‘Music-making in the social world of a Cretan town (Heraklion 1900-1960): a contribution to the study of non-commercial rebetiko’,Popular Music, 30 (2011).

Sources of Images

Header image: Flickr

Map of Greece: Wikipedia

Greek refugees leaving Turkey 1923:Bowenplace

Syrtos dance: Britannica

Hasapiko dance: Hellenica World

Tsifteteli dancer: Greek songs, Greek music

Nikos Xylouris Yannis Markopoulos Rizitika: Discogs

Daouli and karamoutsa musicians: John Pappas, 2007

Zourna musician: Edge Hill University


Zeibekiko dance: Greek songs, Greek music

Nikos Xylouris: epanastatesuneidisis

Dimitris Vakakis and other musicians, Ta Chalkina, Crete (2013): James Nissen (2013)

Rebetiko Musicians: Greek songs, Greek music

Inmates at Halkidas Prison: Clio History

The Famous Quartet of Piraeus: Greek songs, Greek music


Márkos Vamvakáris: Ioanna Zikakou, Greek Reporter

Rosa Eskenazi:

Rebetika Jam, London (2014): James Nissen (2014)

Kourelou playing their ‘London rebetiko’ (2014): James Nissen (2014)