Rembetica is the style of popular music that developed in the 19th century in port cities of Western Asia minor, particularly in Turkey. It usually featured a male vocalist, and accompaniment by bouzouki and guitar. Rembetica was popular in the Greek city of Piraeus, where many Turkish refugees had moved to after the Greco-Turkish War of 1922, and was often performed in the most disreputable sectors of society: hashish dens, prisons, and shanty towns. It was recorded frequently between 1932 and 1937, which is when the bulk of the 22 recordings on this compilation were made; after 1937 a dictatorship imposed censorship upon such material, although some other such tracks dribbled out in the 1940s. The performances are plaintive and earnest, stressing minor melodies, occasional harmonies, and skilled bouzouki picking. If you're the kind who can only handle bouzouki in limited doses, you should give this anthology a wide berth: the instrument's at the forefront almost all the time, and while the music is moving and emotionally delivered, the melodies and arrangements aren't too diverse. The lyrics (translations are included in the sleeve notes) were often shockingly grim and realistic, sometimes with explicit violence and drug references. On "The Junkie's Pain," An. Dhelias (who would die of a drug overdose in the street) sings, "First I started snorting dope, then I began the needle/And my body did begin slowly to waste away...Since heroin, it has caused me to die out here on the street." Lou Reed, eat your heart out. The sound, remastered from old 78s, is surprisingly good given the obscure sources.
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger