Hellenic Rembetika and Turkish Music Concert in NYC

The ensembles performing together at the Hellenic Rembetika and Turkish Music Concert at St. Peter's Church in New York City. Photo by Marina Belessis Casoria

NEW YORK – A shared love of music brought the audience together to enjoy the Hellenic Rembetika and Turkish Music Concert on Thursday, Sept. 7 at St. Peter’s Church at Citicorp Center in Midtown Manhattan.

The event, as noted in the program, was “a unique evening of musical bridge building and discovery,” with an authentic Hellenic Rembetiko ensemble led by vocalist/musical director Julie Ziavras and a Turkish international music ensemble led by musical director Nedim Katgi, an international musician, entertainer, and singer.

Presented by EMBCA (East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance) in association with the Turkish American Chamber of Commerce & Industry (TACCI), the sold-out event was the first of EMBCA’s fall season.

Lou Katsos spoke with The National Herald about the event, noting that Hellenism was not confined by the borders of the current Hellenic Republic, the cosmopolitan population was an international people with more Hellenes living outside of mainland Hellas than within it, and for 2,500 years, the influence of Hellenic music spread across the eastern Mediterranean wherever Hellenes lived and thrived.

Lou Katsos, Julie Ziavras, Ali Kocak, and Nedim Katgi at the Hellenic Rembetika and Turkish Music Concert. Photo by Marina Belessis Casoria

Katsos mentioned Anatolian civilization, Constantinople, Asia Minor, and Egypt among the areas where Hellenes thrived and their music was extremely influential across ethnic or linguistic divides.

He noted that the influence could be traced back to before Alexander the Great, through the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, and until the rise of Kemal and nationalism and the population exchange in the 1920’s. The political divides are recent, just barely 100 years in comparison to thousands of years of cultural presence of the cosmopolitan Hellenes of the eastern Mediterranean.

There were critics of the event who asked Katsos why this event and why now at a time when relations between the Hellenic Republic and Turkey are strained to say the least over a variety of issues, but he observed that this is about music and culture, not politics, and that the fiercely nationalistic people are missing the point. Hellenes have always been an international people, he said.

The Hellenic Rembetika ensemble featured Ziavras on vocals and guitar, Kostas Psarros on bouzouki and vocals, Mavrothis Kontanis on oud and vocals, Costas Baltazanis on guitar, Megan Gould on violin, and Steve Vavagiakis on hand percussion.

The performers at the Hellenic Rembetika and Turkish Music Concert at St. Peter’s Church in New York City. Photo by Marina Belessis Casoria

The Turkish and International Music Ensemble, Inc. (TIME) featured Katgi on piano, Jenap Jon Turk on violin, Hakan Inan on Oud, Mustafa Demirci on kanoon, Sal Mamudoski on clarinet, Senol Kucuk on darbuka, and a chorus with singers Deniz Isler, Elif Onural, Ozlem Rozanitis, Ilknur San, Dogan Aygoren, Ben Cengiz Yakut, and Utku Kurtmer.

TIME performed first, and many in the audience were impressed with the familiarity of a number of songs whose music they recognized that the group sang with the Turkish lyrics and then also in Greek. The Hellenic Rembetika performed classic songs by well-known composers including Stavros Xarchakos and Vasilis Tsitsanis.

The enthusiastic audience sang along with the artists on many songs including Ta Kavourakia. The finale featured both groups performing a traditional Turkish song and then Glenda ti Zoi (Celebrate Life) music/lyrics by Yannis Papaioannou and Vasilis Papadopoulos.

The next EMBCA event is the 2nd Annual Archiving the Hellenic American Experience, Katsos told TNH.

More information is available online at: embca.com.