The Marvels of Greek Rhapsody

Greeks everywhere owe Tony Klein a huge debt for his issuance of Greek Rhapsody – Instrumental Music from Greece 1905-1956 (Dust to Digital, 2013). This small hardcover volume contains two CDs as well as 152-pages of liner notes, annotations on each of the 42 musical selections, historic photographs and an extended essay on how to care for 78rpm records. This final essay sees inclusion because this compilation itself comes from recordings first released on 78s. As such, Klein asserts, that Greek Rhapsody is “the first compilation to be devoted to a panorama of historical instrumental recordings of Greek popular and folk music from the earlier decades of the 20th century (page 10).”

Klein has a long and personal association with Modern Greek music since he “is a British musician, researcher, and writer, based in Sweden. He has played and researched Greek music for 40 years, and studied with, among others, the veteran Stelios Keromitis.” Greek Rhapsody is not even his first re-release project. In 2005, in collaboration with music collector Charles Howard, Klein issued “Mortika-Rare Vintage Recordings from a Greek Underworld (Arko Records, 2005).”

You do not have to be steeped in the history of Modern Greek music to appreciate the sheet beauty of this music. I have as yet to find in Greek or English a history on Modern Greek music. So I have steered my way with the Greek entries in The New Grove Encyclopedia of Music as well as the occasional review essay, book on an individual musician and what sees publication on that unfortunate modern invention called ‘rebetika.’ In my searching for Modern Greek music I have found original 78s issued here and imported from Greece as well as quite a few original Greek record catalogues and listings. What is said to be ‘rebetika’ in those old catalogues and what is said to be rebetika today do not always agree. I want to learn the real history of Modern Greek music not some romantic myth.

And, in part, this is why Tony Klein should be applauded for his efforts on behalf of establishing just such a true and accurate history. Klein’s gaze is not limited to current geographic borders or ethnic prejudices. As a musician himself and as his liner notes demonstrate he hears (and accepts) connections across times, borders, musical traditions and even oceans. This orientation sees expression in that he draws upon music first recorded in Greece, Istanbul, the United States and even a German prison camp during the First World War.

Klein goes where the music takes him. So, even in his choice of music he departs from using commercially released music with the inclusion of the prison camp material as well as even including (when he believes it important enough) to offer a selection that also has features a singer. While Klein only claims to offer an essay on the care of original 78rpm records I believe his lengthy discussion of the laterna is extremely valuable as well.

Here is listing of the performers and songs found on this two disc set:

1. G. Gretsis & S. Stamos – Greek Rhapsody
2. George Deligeorge – Lemneiko-Zeibekiko
3. Instrumental Trio – Vlachico Sirto
4. Spyros Peristeris – To Mistirio
5. Markos Vamvakaris – Taxim Serf
6. Solo Laterna – Kazapiko
7. Spyros Peristeris – Tatavliano Hasapiko
8. A. Kostis – Dertlidikos Horos
9. Spyros Peristeris – Soultani Zeibekiko
10. Spyros Peristeris – Guzel-Zeibekiko
11. Spyros Peristeris – Hasapiko Laternas
12. Andonis Amiralis “Papatzis” – Hasapiko Politiko Argo
13. Spyros Peristeris – O Meraklis
14. M. Hiotis-D. Gongos ’’Bagianderas’’ – To Perasma
15. Kyria Koula – Zeibekikos Horos
16. Spyros Peristeris – Taxim Minore
17. Frangiskos Zouridakis – Syriano Hasapiko
18. Ierotheos Skizas Mandolinata – Karotsieris Hasapiko
19. Spyros Peristeris – Pireotiko Taximi
20. Spyros Peristeris – Romvia (Tatavliano Hasapiko)
21. Giannis Stamatiou & P. Vasileiou – Glykies Pennies

Disc B
1. Spyros Peristeris – Beykos Hasapiko
2. Spyros Peristeris – Keflflidiko Minore
3. Spyros Peristeris – Boutzalio
4. Ag. Tombouli – Raftaki
5. Havagies Bezou-Stipa – Kardia Ap’agapi Orfani
6. Solo Laterna – Zeibekiko
7. Apostolos Papadiamandis & Konstandinos Kalamaras – I Hira
8. Spyros Peristeris – Sevdali
9. Diodia Kyriakati – Karsilamas Mytilineikos
10. Spyros Peristeris – Dertilidiko
11. Lambros Leondaridis – Karsilamas
12. Ioannis Papaioannou – Serviko Hasapiko
13. Spyros Peristeris – Minore Tou Teke
14. Ierotheos Skizas Mandolinata – Vlahiko Hasapiko
15. Markos Vamvakaris – Taxim Zeibekiko
16. D. Arapakis – Memetis
17. Manolis Hiotis – Giouzel Taxim
18. Alexis Zoumbas – Arvanitiko
19. Lukianos Cavadias – Hasapiko Kavvadia
20. Spyros Peristeris – Mistirio Zeibekiko
21. Ioannis Halikias – Minore Tou Teke

Without a standing body of authoritative vetted publications coupled by readily available remastered re-releases on the history of Modern Greek (and so the place of these commercial recordings in that history) Klein is very much an explorer – or better still, pathfinder. To be sure there are individual essays, encyclopedia entries and even books and re-released compact disks of Modern Greek music. But as far as I have been able to locate all this material is scattered in nature, in the historical sense. So, we never find a chronology, a list of artists, a lengthy discography and so on.

For many of you just having the music available is enough. But in the long-term that is simply not enough. As diligent a researcher and gifted a thinker as Klein may be this lack of an overall structure has caused him to underestimate the commercial nature of the original recordings. Responding as a researcher (and perhaps as a frustrated collector) Klein notes early in his text that: “Most of the original discs represented here are, more or less, rarities. This may well reflect that they were pressed in small quantities, and had limited circulation and limited market appeal (11).” This notion of “rarities” needs closer attention than Klein allows.

To begin with the very nature of the commercial record industry from 1890 onward directed itself toward niche marketing. As public publications have noted for decades Greeks in the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean were involved even if only as scouts or agents for the earliest of commercial companies efforts to record and sell records in that region. In the compilation volume, Ethnic Recordings in America: A Neglected Heritage (Washington DC: American Folklife Center, 1982), the role of Greeks as record promoters, producers and in terms of overall record sales within the United States receives close attention. Tetos Demetriades, as a prime example of the ethnic record promoter/producer, sees attention not only in various essays found the Ethnic Recordings in America volume but also in Klein’s narrative.

Klein’s presentation of musical events and possibilities heard from one recording to another extends itself past what one finds in the Ethnic Recordings in America book by his allowance (and full acceptance) of the inter-relatedness or direct influence of a variety of musical traditions in Greece, the coast of Asia Minor and north Africa. Curiously, Klein while noting the monetary cost of commercial records between 1900 and 1950 asserts it was beyond the possibility of most poor musicians to afford. In another section of his text he speaks to how specific records such as Ioannis Halikias’, Minore Tou Teke, influenced contemporary musicians. Klein freely admits he has received re-mastered re-recordings of original music from other collectors. If Tony Klein, the musician, can afford to invest the time and money necessary to locate such recordings wouldn’t earlier generations of fellow musicians avidly seek out, even if it meant monetary sacrifice, such music? All in all, I believe Greek Rhapsody – Instrumental Music from Greece 1905-1956 to be a solid contribution to the history of Modern Greek music, well worth the price and a true gift of some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.