Friday, January 20, 2012

Rembetiko, Music of My Heart

Pictured Above: Semsis, Eskenazi and Tomboulis

One of my favorite musical genres is Rembetiko, the soulful, inventive music of the Greeks of Anatolia (Asia Minor). This style is rich with Ottoman, Persian and Arabic influences, both musical and cultural and many of its great performers were Ottoman Jews and Armenians. A study of the Ottoman Empire highlights the wonderful and destructive power of multiculturalism and diversity. On one hand the incredibly rich mix of cultures, races, religions and languages produced some of the most amazing music, architecture, poetry and cuisine that has graced the world. On the other hand, it bred conflict, instability and the first Genocide of the century, ultimately leading Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria to undertake a massive population exchange, with the goal of creating more homogeneous, stable and peaceful nations. If I had to derive a one line line lesson from the Ottoman Experience for the United States, it would be as follows: enjoy the cultural blessings that diversity bring, but tread carefully, for human beings are flawed creatures of conflict. Here is a wonderful song performed in 1929 by Andonis Dalgas and one performed by the prodigious Roza Eskenazi.

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