Thanks to Mark Marshall from Toronto, who wrote in asking for a transcription of this gem of an old rembetika recording: Markos Melkon‘s “Το Πρόσφυγακι” (To Prosfygáki, “The Little Refugee“).
The following bio is freely adapted from an excellent article in Greek by Constantine Kopanitsános and Giannis Zarías published this month.
Melkon was born Marko Alemsherian in 1895, an Armenian in Ottoman Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey). To avoid being drafted into the Ottoman army, he fled to Athens in 1912 before making his way to New York in 1921. His popularity as an oud player and singer, particularly among the Armenian-American community, grew in the 40′s and 50′s as he toured throughout Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and the Catskills, and through his entire life worked steadily in the “oriental” music scene centered on New York’s 8th Avenue, in clubs like Port Said, Britania, Egyptian Gardens and Grecian Palace Cafe, places that luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein, Melvin Douglas, Ann Sheridan and Dave Brubeck would frequent.
Melkon was a crowd pleaser, remembering the names of all the regular audience members as well as their favorite songs, adapting his selections to his setting. In reference to Turkish oud virtuoso Udi Hrant from Istanbul, who played for Melkon in his home one time, Melkon commented, “I don’t play that kind of music. I make the people dance.”
Melkon spoke and sang in Greek, Armenian and Turkish, and appeared on recordings from numerous Mediterranean musical including Arabic and Sephardic music, and possibly Bulgarian and Albanian as well. He left 56 recordings as a singer and around 200 as an instrumentalist, including 10 solo taxims, all in different eastern modes. His 1937 interpretation of the well known Turkish song “Oğlan Oğlan” was a hit nationwide.
At one of his last recording sessions, he cut “Asia Minor“– a Latin-flavored track for oud with Roger K. Mozian’s orchestra, unreleased until the 1996 compilation Marko Melkon. Another compilation worth checking out is Armenians On 8th Avenue (both records from Traditional Crossroads, 1996) featuring 8 of Marko’s tracks alongside his contemporaries.
Note: The download link above will open a check-out dialogue but will NOT ask for any credit card information– it’s entirely free!