Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Give the Singer Some

I see some of this post as a public service, putting info out there that somebody, somewhere just might need to know. Then I see part of it as just satisfaction for my own curiosity, tracking down some history and some buried recognition.

See, I was mixing up a "Sultry Sirens" kind of thing the other day featuring lots of amazing female vocals in various genres from various regions that fit the above billing. Lining up all these tunes, it was a little shocking to realize that more than a few of them had no listing of the vocalist's name. They were listed under the name of the remix dj, or the arranger or the bazouki player! So I took it upon myself to track some of these gals down, and get their names and faces out there.

First asignment, Imam Baildi. Who's doing the amazing clear high notes of "Den Thelo Pia Na Xanarthis"? Then who's that with the throaty tones on "O Pasatempos"? I Googled around for a rather embarrasing amount of time, refining search terms, attempting to transliterate Greek and listening to song samples on a number of different site to double check my research. It doesn't help that there are any number of ways to spell some of these Greek names in English. [In the last week - literally- the site has risen to the top of this search and it actually lists the original artists for the entire album. Wish I'd found that last week!]

The amazing and elusive Meri Lida (or Mary Linda) does the version of "Den Thelo Pia" from which the Falerias brothers sample so heavily. Meri's looking a little Breakfast at Tiffany's here, isn't she?

A crooked trail finally led me to a download; I Tunes had the song mislabeled, if you can believe that! I just happened to click on some of the other track samples once I found a disc featuring Lida and one of them was actually "Den Thelo Pia." The lyrics weren't Greek to me, and wouldn't be to anyone who listened with half an ear. The various European Amazons(.uk, .de, .fr etc) have more of her stuff, which is where I found these images.

Ioanna Georgakopoulou (or
Ioánna Yeorgakopoúlou) is sampled on a couple of tracks on their disc; her 1946 version of "O Pasatembos"("The Seeds") is a killer track. But how to find out who she was? These women's voices are all over dozens of compilations of rembetika, but they are usually listed under the name of the bouzouki player. Ioanna does have a Lala page with a few samples. I have to say I am more than a little tempted to order the four disc set "Rembetika Gia Panta" from!

In an aside, both tracks are anchored by the bouzouki of Manis Hiotis; he composed "O Pasatempos." . Here's an interesting bit of history on the instrument and rembetika genre.

The history of the bouzouki is forever entwined with rembetika, the highly improvised Greek music often compared with American blues. The rembetik culture bloomed in the underworld of prisons and hashish dens in the port cities of the Aegean Sea and western Asia Minor in the early 1900s, reaching its zenith in the years between the world wars. A typical early ensemble might have included a singer, two or more bouzoukis playing melody and simple chords, and a tiny version of the bouzouki called the baglama providing a staccato rhythm accompaniment. The songs, with lyrics about drugs, hookers, money, love, and death, were based on a variety of ancient modes and traditional dance rhythms, and they were characterized by expressive improvised introductions called taxims, impassioned singing, and bouzouki breaks between verses. Among the most influential of early players--or rembetes--were Márkos Vamvakáris and Ioannis Papaioannou.

Eventually rembetika’s roughneck reputation softened and the bouzouki entered the mainstream--partly due to a fine player and prolific composer named Vassilis Tsitsánis. Tsitsánis fused the old dance rhythms with more elaborate chord progressions and a westernized harmonic sensibility, and his lyrics had a more conventional appeal than the rough-hewn tales of the earlier artists. Tsitsánis became the first national star of the bouzouki and made the instrument socially acceptable. When he died in 1983, 200,000 mourners brandishing bouzoukis and baglamas filled the streets of Athens. Among the many virtuosos who followed in his wake was Manis Hiotis, who added a fourth course of strings to the bouzouki and changed its tuning to C F A D (like the first four strings of a guitar tuned down a step). The new arrangement allowed a greater range and flexibility and fostered the evolution of a showier style.

Here's another, more in depth history of the genre.

And if you can't get enough, the Wiki article has a nice long list of Rembetiko compilations with English liner notes. Well, and look at the things one can learn surfing around. Shantel's "I'll Smash Glasses" is an old rembetika song. He's on my list for next time; I've got to figure out who those sexy singers of his are!

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