Spiros Skordilis

A bit of History of Greek Songs

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Kantada can be best described as a Middle Class Serenade.  It was most likely introduced to Greece about 1863 when Ipeiro united with the Seven Islands.  These types of songs were popular in Kerkyra (Corfu) and Kefalonia.  Until about 1940 and before (World War II), it was common for a young man to stroll the streets in the moonlight, singing to the girls. The Kantada is melodic and soothing.  The lyrics always echo the same theme:  love, flowers, nature, the sea, and the Beauty of Life.  They hardly ever mention  illness, death, or social strife.

After WW II the mood of the people had changed.  The Kantada was instantly something of the past.  Gone was the innocence of wooing with song and music under the stars.  In the tavernes there were still some remnants of the Kantadas being played by fewer and fewer strolling guitarists, but even these places of entertainment were giving in to the demand for a more "worldly" selection of musical entertainment.  The cultural artistry of the Kantadas was slowly being forgotten. Over the years, many artists have tried to both revise and resurrect the Kantadas.  Some have made limited success.   The popularity has never lasted to the prominence the Kantadas once held.  However, in more recent years,  Kantades has sparked a resurgence.  Many social clubs, church choirs, and choruses and even modern tavernas have been featuring the Kantades in their selection of entertainment, as more roots are being rediscovered. The following are a few examples of the lyrics from popular kantades that have survived the years:

Apopse tin Kithara Mou                           
Tonight with my guitar     

Tonight I decorated my guitar with                
Ribbons, I am going to walk the                       
Streets, singing to the beautiful girls.             
Tonight don't sleep, wait to hear                   
My guitar, and my songs for you.                   
I dream of you, so I picked the most               
Beautiful flowers just for you. 

To Yelekaki
The small vest   

A young girls has made a vest for
her lover, and sewn it together with golden
strands of her hair.  Wear it for me, and always
think of me and my aching heart that sings to you.
She knows the vest will keep them together.


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(1880 to 1900) The Smyrneika are songs with a distinct Asia-Minor influence, played with the Santuri, violin, guitar, Ute and the Tambour.  These songs have a distinct Arabic and Turkish influence. The (Prosfyges) or refugees that came to  Greece, brought with them the Cafe-Aman style of entertainment from  Smyrna.  Rumanian musicians played Santouri and the Arpa. There was usually a woman and a man singer in the Cafe-Amman.  The clarinet was a popular instrument played by the Gypsies.

1922 to about 1932  The Rebetika songs made up by the "Rebetes",  was a  new class of society. This tired population, was trying to re-adjust in a new country.  They were of Greek descent, living in Turkey.  Now they had to come back to their mother land as pilgrims, homeless and without jobs, starting all over again.  The "Rebetika" are songs written from the heart.  The "Rebetika" are songs for people who have been hurt.  Who felt displaced and unable to cope with the problems of their new environment.  These songs portrait mostly the social way of life.  They expressed and gave great examples of the social culture, the living conditions, entertainment conditions, the home, and the family.  The"Rebetiko" songs have an unusual classical simple ness.  The"Rebetiko" touched the hearts of a pure simple culture, striving for an identity in their new environment. This was the golden era and the birth of some of the most famous composers of the "Rebetiko" songs.  Markos Vamvakaris, Tountas Mpagianteras, Basilis Tsitsanis and many more.  The Bouzouki players were the composers, singers, and performers of the "Rebetiko" songs.  As the living conditions were changing, so was the music environment, by:

1932 to about 1940:  The Bouzouki and baglama started to be the favorite instruments.  The Teke or better known today as (Taverna) was the place of entertainment. In the days past, the (Taverna) was a meeting place for men only.  The (Taverna) did not have music. It did not have curtains or even windows.  It had simple straw chairs,  small wooden tables and a sink.  Men went to the (Tavernes) to spend few hours discussing politics, and other social problems.    Now that the (patari)  was added to the (Taverna) it created a new interest.  The Bouzouki players (or Bouzouksides) were allowed to eat and drink while they were playing.  In the "Rebetika" songs the word waiter is never mentioned. The word (Taverniari) or (Kapila) is mentioned in many songs. Taverniari  means owner of the (Taverna), (kapila) is the person pouring the wine.  Even though changes were made in the (Tavernes), decades passed before women became part of this men's culture. 

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Costas Armenakis Accordion--Spiros Skordilis Bouzouki Panos Visvardis guitar in VACHOS TAVERNA  in Plaka, Athens Greece, 1960.


Laiko, translated into English means popular  another form of expression would be working class attitude.  The Laika songs started from the fifties to the present day.  The Laika songs are melancholic, courteous, virtuous, and emotional.

1940 to about 1952These are the years, that Tsitsanis gave us his best compositions.  These were the years of the war, hunger, fear and shootings.  The "Rebetiko" did not ignore these years, it was just too soon to express in song and lyrics.  BasilisTsitsanis was the magician of those years that altered the"Rebetiko" into the Laiko songs.  From about 1950 to the present time, Laika songs are sensitive melodic jewels, that express the needs of the popular working class.  The Bouzouki, guitar, accordion synthesizer, drums and present day technology can be applied to these songs.  From the  50's to the present time, the (Taverna) took its place in society and the Greek culture, It became a place of the neighborhood, where one can find good food, music and an informal casual place to relax and meet friends.  
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  Lena Dana, Spiro Skordilis in Chicago1972                            

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