Archive for July, 2017

Smyrna, Asia Minor and Constantinople (A)

July 11, 2017



Smyrni, or Smyrna (Σμύρνη or Σμύρνα) is the Greek name of the present Izmir in Turkey. Asia Minor ( Mικρά Aσία ) is the Asiatic Turkey and Constantinople (Κωνσταντινούπολη) is Istanbul.

The rich musical heritage of their past Greek communities is very important in Greek music. This heritage includes music written in Smyrna, Asia Minor and Constantinople before the 1922 disaster, and songs  that were created in Greece after that, the “Smyrna Rebetiko School”. This heritage has also western music made by composers who were born in those places and songs about the disaster and the refugees of 1922/23. “Smyrneika” has been effecting music created in Greece itself up to the present day. The “Smyrneika” (usually used for the  music of all the region) had so many deep roots in the Asia minor Greek being ,so it was the carrier of the Greek musical genes throughout the first half of the 20th century, along with the rebetika music that emerged in the cities’ slums of the era.

The two parts of this post are dedicated to urban songs which created in Smyrna,  Asia Minor and Constantinople until the disaster and the population exchange with Turkey of 1922-1923.

The music life in Smyrna

Before the First World War Smyrna was part of the Ottoman Empire. In the city lived around 300000 inhabitants, most of them were Greeks and Turks and minorities of Armenian, Jews, Arabs and Europeans. In the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, Smyrna is a cosmopolitan bourgeois city, with an important port, prosperity, flourishing culture and music.

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The music is rich and reflects the city’s diversity of cultures. Many prominent composers were educated in central Europe, and Italian operas and light music were very popular. Of course there was the music of the Eastern tradition, but also music of the Islands, the Balkan, Black Sea and even Jewish Klezmer music. Clubs, books, record shops, instrument manufacturers were all around. Very popular in the turn of the century were Small orchestras, “Estoudiantina”(Εστουδιαντίνα). It consisted about 8-10 musicians, a singer or two. The instruments were strings, violin and cello, winds and also the traditional canon, oud and tambours. In 1893 a big Estoudiantina was founded, and was called Politakia (Πολιτάκια) and later  “Smirneiki Estoudiantina”.


Bourgeois musical coffee shops were crowded by families from the early evening till early morning. There was the more traditional type, “Café -Aman” with traditional instruments and a man and a woman singing. They played manly dances for the visitors and sometimes women dancers were dancing Tsifteteli.  Important part of the program was longing love songs with the improvisation eastern words “Aman aman”. There were small clubs with 4-5 musicians called “Gaming place” (παιχνίδια).  In these cafes and clubs the urban folk songs were created, many times by members of a company, just for making spontaneous fun. On the famous quay were big cafes with European names like “Kramer”, “Café de Paris”; there you could hear the well known big Estoudiantina along with European music.

After the disaster


After the Catastrophe and population exchange of 1922-1923, refugees’ camps around the big cities in Greece were crowded with million and a half people, impoverished and desperate, who were longing for their homeland. Among the refugees were gifted musician and singers so the torch hadn’t gone out and the “Aman aman” was now also about motherland. Some of them found escape in a well known Turkish establishment-the hashish dens that could be a back room a nightclub. They had their own places but refugees musicians began to participate also in the rebetiko music of the local neighboring hashish dens, the “tekes”.

In the 1920s ensembles were established, coffee shops “Aman” and nightclubs were opened in Athens, and at the end of the 1920s many record were made. The lovely oriental melodies, the orchestrations and the participation of female voices attracted many people outside of the refugee’s camps. In the 1930s, through records it reached and touched people of all classes.

The “Amanedes”(Αμανεδες)

These are longing songs to the beloved one that have an elaborate  dialogue between the singer and instrument; the improvisation “aman aman” of Arab-Turkish origin is incorporated in it. The song ends up with short and fast, joyful orchestral final, as if to get out of heaviness…

There is a view that these songs reflects the more sensitive, vulnerable, even feminine part of the Greek soul, as the writer Nikos Kazantzakis wrote in his Greece travelling book of 1926-27 “Journey to the Morea” (Peloponnese): “In the taverns, at festivals, on holidays, when they have drunk a little, the small businessmen and infantry officers of the Peloponnese, so logical and selfish, break into melancholy eastern amanedes ,into a sudden longing; they reveal a psyche completely different from their sober every-day one. A great treasure, a deep longing….”*

Here is probably the first version of the Smyrna Minore, of 1909. It was written by Yannis Alexiou (Γιάννης Αλεξίου), the singer is Yorgos Tsanakas (Γιώργος Τσανάκας) with Estoudiantina orchestra.



Another version sung by Savvina Giannatou (Σαβίνα Γιαννάτου) which follows Marika Papagigka of 1919**.(Press on YouTube bottom for English subtitles)



Our third is “Manes of Good-night”(Μανές της καληνυχτιάς) as recorded in 1929 by Antonis Diamantidis “Dalgkas” (Αντώνης Διαμαντίδης, “Νταλγκάς” ,1890-1945), one of the most important singers of this music. The nickname Dalgkas, which means passion, was given after his way of singing as in this video.(English caps)



Three popular songs

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Tik tik tiki tiki tak was recorded in 1910 in the City, Constantinople, by Giagkos Psamathianos (Γιάγκος Ψαμαθιανός)***. The release of the same performance in 1913 has some historic meaning: it was the second time that the designation “rebetiko” was indicated on the record. (The first was the song Απονιά (Heartlessness) of 1912).

Glikeria who is one of the finest performers of Smyrneika , together with  Dilek Koç from Turkey and Areti Ketime.(caps)


“I don’t want you anymore” (Δε σε θελω πια), was recorded around 1910****. It was influenced by an Italian popular song of the time and like “Tik tak” has been a great success since then. Markos Vamvakaris says in his autobiography that he remember this song from his childhood in Syros.

Glikeria sings in a tribute concert to Asia Minor (caps)


Violets and hyacinths (Μενεξέδες και  ζουμπούλια) is an urban song which was popular also in the Ionian Islands.

“The word “eivala” (έιβαλα) that is heard in the song is most likely of Arabic origin; it passed in the Turkish language and was naturally used by the Greeks of Asia Minor and Smyrna. It’s an exclamation word, meaning “cool!” or “wonderful” or “okay”; it shows that the person saying it is having a very good time or is very happy about something. Some say that the word’s origin is from the Ionian Islands, but I couldn’t find anything positive on this version.​”(Katerina Siapanta)

Katerina Papadopoulou sings this beautiful waltz in a TV show (caps)


The second part is at:


* This is from Gail Holst-Warhaft article

Amanes: The Legacy of the Oriental Mother” (English)




Some words about the “Minore” that young guys were singing in front their beloved girls’ house at:



Many thanks to my dear friend Katerina Siapanda, thank you so much for your help!













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