Various Artists

Women of Rembetika: 1908-1947

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JSP continues its grand series of rembetika compilations with this four disc collection -- the very first retrospective to feature exclusively female performers. Rembetika's murky history is compelling. Its origins are not exactly known, but can be traced to the mid-19th century. In 1911, the word "rembetico" appeared on a record label, and the word was defined as being of "mildly erotic" bohemian content; it was used to describe such records through the mid-'20s. That said, the musical style was recorded before the word appeared. Beginning around 1925, the music's name changed and became associated specifically with the underworld and street culture -- primarily because it was played in brothels, hash and gambling dens, prisons, and other surroundings associated with criminal activity. It was raw, immediate, sometimes harsh and bawdy, other times violent and sinister or blatantly seductive. The music listeners consider true rembetika emerged after the Greco-Turkish war. It flourished between 1925 and 1937 when it was officially censored as "immoral" by the Metaxas government. The music lived, however, and went deeply underground; it surfaced again briefly around 1946 before it was once again censored. The instrument rembetika brought to Greece's popular consciousness was the bouzouki, though violins, ouds, hand percussion, and singing were all part of the rembetika experience. The four-disc, 87-track collection was curated by the great rembetika scholar Charles Howard. It commences before "rembetico" history and ends after its second banishment from Greece's official cultural world. Many of these sides are true underground records. Some of the artists here, such as Marika Papagika, Rita Abadzi, and Roza Eskenazi achieved fame beyond Greece's borders (Papagika recorded in New York). More importantly, however, are those sides by lesser-known singers like Kyria Pipina, Aggelitsa Papazoglou, Ioanna Yeorgakopoulou, and Chrysa Thivaiou. This is a treasure trove of outlaw music from the early 20th century, performed by some of its greatest artists, many of whom even fans of the music didn't know existed. The sound is as fine as can be expected, and Howard's effort was gargantuan -- he even included transcriptions in his liner notes.

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