Thursday, August 4, 2011


MARKOS VAMVAKARIS may not be a big name in your world (yet), but in the world of Greek rebetiko/rembetika music, he’s a giant. Rebetiko is an urban Greek folk music that relied heavily on the bouzouki, a stringed instrument that is to this day the first word I think of when I think of Greek music (which, to be fair, is not particularly often). The CD collection “MARKOS VAMVAKARIS – BOUZOUKI PIONEER 1932-1940” is one of my favorite world music discs of all time, and I thank Tom Arnaert of Belgium for sending this one to me a decade ago. Like American folk music heroes Dock Boggs and Charlie Patton, Vamvakaris is a rough-edged, gravel-voiced instrumental wizard who should be more widely acknowledged as such.
It’s hearing bedeviling and trance-like music like his that makes one realize how Mediterranean Greece is just as much an “oriental”, or Eastern, country as it is a part of Europe. His music draws upon rhythmic patterns and sounds we commonly associate with the Middle East and the eastern half of the Balkans – certainly more Turkey than, say, even Italy. The CD is a retrospective of Vamvakaris’ work, all recorded before or during World War II and released on 78rpm records. His fingers slide around the “frets” – assuming there are frets – of his bouzouki like a wild man at times, while at others his music is rooted in festive, danceable folk music of the age. There are a number of backing and sometimes lead singers among the various songs whose voices compliment his, but you always know when it’s Vamvakaris on the mic. His singing is more of a “spitting”, a guttural and raw intonation that nonetheless sounds wonderful, and which lends a cool aura to this most ethnic of musics.

I’m posting a couple of tracks from the CD in hopes that you’ll find a way to buy it, either online, in a store or via download. If there are any other giants of the bouzouki I need to know about, please let me and the HJ community at large know about ‘em.

DOWNLOAD Markos Vamvakaris – “Karadouzeni"
DOWNLOAD Markos Vamvakaris – “Mavra Matia Mavra Fridhia"