ASCSA Presents Lecture on Greek-Jewish Musicians of Early 20th Century

ATHENS – On May 24, the first of three scheduled musical lectures by the award-winning American ethnomusicologist Christopher C. King, dedicated to the rich yet overlooked history of Jewish women’s music in Greece, took place at the Gennadius Library of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (ASCSA). The event, titled The Unsung History of Greek Jewish Women in the Early 20th century, was moderated by journalist Marianna Skylakaki.

The discussion focused on the stories and songs of Amalia Vaka (Matsa), a Jewish singer from Ioannina, and two Sephardic Jews from Thessaloniki – Rosa Eskenazy and Stella Haskil. The relationship between Greek traditional music and the Jewish artists who either lived in Greece or performed regularly in the country before emigrating to the United States was thoroughly analyzed, while highlighting their influences, their role in the musical culture of the time, and the transatlantic ‘journey’ of their work.

The excellent discussion on the subject was accompanied by audiovisual material. On the phonograph were heard, ‘You sleep with your mother’ (Vaka), ‘Melachrino’ (Eskenazy) and ‘I’m burning, I’m burning’ (Haskil), complementing the ongoing discussion. Finally, the attendees had the pleasure of enjoying a variety of related songs which were performed live.

Christopher King and Marianna Skylakakis at the lecture The Unsung History of Greek Jewish Women in the Early 20th Century, on May 24, at the Gennadius Library. To their right are musician who performed characteristic music. (Photo by TNH/Eirini Zachariades)

Speaking to TNH, King said: “This afternoon I told a story with other people, a deep story about the music and the culture of Greek Jewish women. I just wanted to tell this story, which has never been told.”

Christopher King is an American musicologist, activist, author and 2002 Grammy Award winner. His book “Epirotiko Moiroloi” was published in 2018. In response to a question from TNH whether the public can expect any new work of his, he replied that he is currently “working on fiction, but fiction that takes place in Greece.”

The next two musical lectures of the great musicologist took place on May 26th in Thessaloniki (Department of Music Studies, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and on the 29th of the same month in Ioannina (Holy Synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Yashan). The events are supported by the US Embassy in Greece, the US Consulate General in Thessaloniki, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Municipality of Ioannina.


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