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Persembe Pazar - Rebetiko Band
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 11 Apr 2009 Sat 07:01 pm

music without frontiers

by Ed Emery

For Londoners, Turkey is now no longer a mysterious presence at the edge of Europe but almost a familiar cultural identity. An audience at a Stoke Newington Green (north London) concert of the music group Nihavend had a chance to listen to Turkish and Ottoman music celebrating Istanbul one night when, outside in the streets of Stoke Newington (home to a large Turkish community), there was tension. It was resolved as the concertgoers emerged into a pandemonium of honking car horns and waving Turkish flags: Turkey had just beaten the Czech Republic in the Euro 2008 football tournament.

Down the road at the Arcola Theatre, the Orient Express festival was under way, its aim to support the people of the Sulukule (Water Tower) quarter of Istanbul, whose houses are about to be demolished to make way for urban development along the shores of the Golden Horn. In 2010 Istanbul will be European Capital of Culture, and slum clearance – at least in the tourist zones – is high on the agenda. But Sulukule is home to a long-standing Roma community  Historically it has been a focus of popular musical culture, where Istanbuliots like to go for a good night out. So political and cultural activists are organising to resist the clearance, and globalised diaspora politics makes it unsurprising to find the campaigning to save Sulukule has spread to north London.

Hybridisation, promiscuous influences and high-speed global transfers are now marks of the international music trade. Music is one the prime vehicles for the politics of cultural identity, which has exercised the minds of ethnomusicologists during the past 20 years. The Arcola Theatre festival included a concert of Greek and Turkish songs, by the SOAS Rebetiko Band, a 45-strong Greek and Turkish ensemble created out of ethnomusicology seminars at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Rebetiko is an urban blues built around the bouzouki. It developed in the 1920s and 1930s in the port cities of mainland Greece, among Greek communities uprooted from Turkey in the population exchanges after the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Its lyrics are about drugs, prison, death and unrequited love, and its characteristic dances are the hasapiko and the zeibekiko.

I play baglama  in the band. When we started it four years ago we were mainly Greeks or of Greek descent (Anglo-Greeks, Cypriots). Then we were joined by a Turkish violinist, Cahit Baylav, and two woman singers from Istanbul, Cigdem Aslan and Ivi Dermanci, all with an interest in Greek music. The Greeks would launch into one of their songs, and the Turks would say: “We know that song: it’s one of ours!” Through research, we began to uncover a huge area of shared musical culture, a music without frontiers in which Greeks and Turks had a common interest. We now perform these songs (such as Apo xeno topo (From a foreign land), Üsküdar, and the prison/hashish song Yedikule) in both Greek and   and Turkish versions .


Discovering a shared heritage

An earlier generation, accustomed to nationalism and the bitter memories of war, would have found these celebrations of shared culture unsettling. But in Greece there are now groups that perform Ottoman music alongside Byzantine music, and in Turkey it is normal to hear rebetiko playing loudly from record shops all along Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi. Many of the young from both countries find it exhilarating to discover, share and celebrate their common musical heritage.

Some would still oppose these musical sharings. In 1936 the Greek dictator Metaxas banned rebetiko, which he thought degenerate and tainted by Orientalism. Instead he imposed a culture of Hellenism and western classical music. Rebetiko was also banned in Turkey, by Atatürk, who thought it excessively Byzantine (even though Atatürk had a record by Roza Eskenazi, the Istanbul-born icon of Greek rebetiko, in his collection)  In the 1990s the battles over music continued, with the Turkish government wrestling with the huge popularity of its own orientalising music – Arabesk, a music associated with migrants from Turkey’s East, with depressive lyrics, transvestite and trans-sexual singers and Arab-style musical treatments. In February 2007 the post-Islamist AKP government banned access to YouTube, so we haven’t been able to share the video of our concert with musical colleagues in Turkey.



 REBETIKO: Music Without Frontiers



Edited (4/11/2009) by Roswitha

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