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Greek Rebetiko Song

Greek Rebetiko Song

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Published by Stavros Girgenis

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Published by: Stavros Girgenis on Sep 08, 2012
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03/26/2014

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CHAPTER ONEINTRODUCTION: PERFORMING GREEKNESS THROUGH REBETIKOSONG
―The Greeks gained their freedom from the Ottomans only to become slaves of Europe.‖
 
―Rebetika is traditional Greek music. It is the truest expression of the Greek people.‖
 -Pavlos Vassiliou, 2007
Introduction and Chapter Summaries
The first decade of the twenty-first century marks a powerful moment in modernGreek history. Economic, political and cultural dilemmas that have shaped Greek modernity since the founding of the Greek nation in 1832 are finally coming to a head.
As Greece enters what international press characterize as ―a time of crisis,‖ a marked
instability permeates the public and private sector:
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economic corruption and politicalfavor-trading fuel general mistrust in government practices; reduced wages and inflatedprices stunt Greek market growth; and austerity measures imposed by the EuropeanCommission drastically alter economic and cultural realities. As Greeks scramble to
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BBC: ―Greece Crisis: Fears Grow That It Could
 
Spread‖ [
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8648029.stm]
Visited April 28, 2010; ―The Washington Post‖: ―Greece‘s Debt Crisis Could Spread Across Europe‖
[http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/07/AR2010050700642.html] VisitedMay 11, 2010;
―The Independent‖: ―As Tourists Stay Away, Greece Suffers an Identity Crisis‖
[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/Europe/as-tourists-stay-away-greece-suffers-an-identity-crisis-is-there-too-much-concrete-and-too-many-bawdy-clubs-639194.html] Visited May 11, 2010.
 
 2account for a staggering national economic debt, ideological concerns about control of contemporary Greek culture and
topos
(Leontis 1995) rise to the fore: Should Greeksengage in the sale of their land and cultural artefacts in order to account for economictroubles? How should Greeks cope with increasing global interdependence in thepolitical, economic and cultural realm? And how can Greeks create a national identity, acontemporary Hellenism that takes into account the realities of globalization, worldmarket politics and national myths of Greekness?While Greek modernity has always entailed a struggle for control over Hellenism,today the conflict seems less philosophical and more practical in nature than ever before.
The ―social, cultural and environmental bankruptcy that evo
lved [in postwar Greece] asGreece opened its doors to foreign investors and tourists, and commodified its ancient
monuments‖ (Leontis 1995, 170) now plays a decisive role in the handling of objects of 
Greek culture. One no longer questions whether Greeks are willing to commodifynational culture, but which and how many objects they sell and at what price. Rebetikomusician and leftist intellectual, Pavlos Vassiliou who comprises the focus of this study,characterized the negative effects of the pervasive commodification trend in the
following manner: ―The question is not whether Greeks are willing to sell themselves for 
monetary profit. It is now a matter of just how far they are willing to go, even to sell theirsouls in that insatiable Greek desire to bec
ome European just to be like everyone else‖
(Vassiliou 2010). The commodification of objects and ideologies of Hellenism along withthe effects of powerful transnational forces have transformed perceptions of contemporary Greek culture and Greek national identity.
 
 3Just how far are Greeks willing to go? A German senator crossed an invisibleboundary during recent loan negotiations with the European Union when he suggestedthat Greeks account for the national debt by selling the Acropolis to the Germans. Greekswere so outraged by the suggested sale of their national cultural symbol that PrimeMinister Giorgos Papandreou made an immediate television appearance assuring thepeople that the sale of the Acropolis would not take place. But a chord deep in the heart
of Greek sensibility had been struck. Was Greek poet Giorgos Seferis‘s once outrageous
nightmare in which Americans had won the Acropolis in an auction and turned itscolumns into giant tubes of toothpaste, not so far-fetched after all (Leontis 1995)? Whilean auction of the Acropolis never did take place, in 2010 Greece did accept high interest-rate loans from Germany and from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) andimplemented a series of mandatory austerity measures.
Given Greece‘s economic
dependence on Germany and on the IMF, the national symbol may already have beensold without most Greeks realizing it.In this thesis, I discuss the complex characteristics that shape Greek modernitythrough the prism of music. I focus on contemporary performance of the urban popularsong genre rebetika, a musical form that has been used time and again to support varyingnotions of Greek national identity. For as with ancient artefacts, Greeks disagree over theproper way to incorporate rebetika into contemporary society. Over years of extensivedebate, Greeks questioned whether rebetika was fundamental to the Greek nationalcommunity imagined or lived and how the music should be incorporated intocontemporary life. In this work, I challenge the reader to view rebetika as a Greek 
―musical ruin,‖ thus normalizing the questions I address about the music. For like the

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