vonrza 21.07.2022


investigating queer-feminist language, sound, and art embodiment through oral histories of marginalized SWANA artists. Opening non-textual spaces for grief & remembering, radical solidarity & vulnerability among kin.

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Developed by musicians who were forced to leave Asia Minor (present day Anatolian Turkey) to Greece due to their ethno-religious background in the beginning of 20th century, Rebetiko was mainly founded by the intercommunal music brought together by the Greek survivors of the Ottoman Empire coming from Smyrna (Izmir), Constantinople (Istanbul) and other urban centers. Inscribed on UNESCO‘s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”, Rebetiko (loosely translated as “Rebel music”) is a musical and cultural expression directly linked to song and dance that initially spread among the urban working-class populations. Liberal, anti-authoritarian, slightly self destructive, but most of all honest and straightforward to the feelings and real life experiences of the Rebets (musicians), this genre is still a matter of interest, attraction and inspiration for the poetics of the everyday life. The genre draws influence from various Byzantine, Greek, Turkish, Roma, Armenian, Jewish and other urban and local musical conventions that were once scattered around the Ottoman Empire but came together in mainland Greece, producing an entirely unique sound.

Like most forms that can be loosely described as “urban blues” (rai, flamenco, fado, and tango), the rebetika was regarded as working class and disreputable. However, Rebetiko’s capacity to be current and to reflect the multiculturalism of the time makes it quite authentic. The artistic components of Rebetiko “are close to the magic of spontaneous creativity, and yet they have the surety of a tradition behind them, and a social framework where musician and listener are united by the mutual recognition of being outside” (Road to Rembetika 77).

The musical cross-fertilisation or hybridisation that creates such styles is only possible when people are forced into close proximity and share a common experience of social marginalisation. That’s why Rebetika has historically been about an underground attitude.

Engaged through her academic, artistic and political work for years in highlighting the shared transnational cultural roots in music, politics and arts, Merve Namlı is planning to organise a 3 days Festival about Rebetiko and its correlation with forced migration. The contemporary and traditional music performances will be accompanied by panel discussions and film screenings, focusing on the liminal character of Rebetiko for creating multicultural spaces for the Germany-based artists, performing Rebetiko and similar genres from the Eastern Mediterranean. Inspired by the cosmopolitan spirit of 1920s Rebetiko, the curator wonders if Rebetiko could be the peace bridge against everrising nationalism and open an artistic space for the Greek and Turkish diaspora in particular, and eastern and western music in general.


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