Posts Tagged ‘ Greek

By request: Oud Transcription– Marko Melkon’s “The Little Refugee”

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.”

Marko Melkon

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.

Here you can find an excellent discography in Greek, and some interesting covers of To Prosfygaki on YouTube including one by Soúla Vazoúra and this one by a large Ottoman-style ensemble.

Markos Melkon "To Prosfygaki" Sheet Music

Click for Free Download

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!

More music transcriptions

Greek Blues: Rembetika

It’s long past time that I share some of the Greek music I’ve found so inspiring the last several years. “Rembetika” (ρεμπέτικα, also spelled “rembetika” or “rebetika“, pronounced as the latter is written), or “Greek blues”, developed among Greek Christian refugees that migrated from Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Greece as a result of  the 1923 population exchange between Greece and nascent Turkey, relocating Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims to recently founded nation-states.  Greek refugees brought with them hundreds of years of Ottoman Turkish culture, a cosmopolitan tapestry of various eastern ethnicities, musics and traditions.  The music that resulted was music of a poor urban subculture, rich nonetheless in eastern timbres and scales as well as lyrically descriptive of the impoverished lifestyle, and ultimately became a critical seed in the development of Greek popular music throughout the 20th century, very similarly to the way in which the thread of blues runs through American and Western popular music.

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Vasillis Tsitsanis was an early and hugely successful composer of rembetika songs, both before an after World War II.  From a collection of his pre-war music comes the gem “Πικρός είναι ο πόνος μου” (“Pikrós eínai o pónos mou“, “Bitter Is My Pain“).  Like perhaps a plurality of rembetika songs, “Pikrós” is a zeïbékiko or zeybek (Turkish equivalent), a slow 9/4 dance.

The original recording from 1936 can be heard in the video below, as well as on this wonderful compilation from Rounder records. Follow along with the transcription and lyric below:

Rembetika Sheet Music - "Pikros einai o ponos mou" - Tsitsannis

The bouzouki, a long-necked plucked string instrument that Tsitsanis plays on the above recording was developed from the Turkish bağlama saz, influenced by Italian mandolin design and is today an indispensable element of Greek popular music.

In 2008, I was joined by Jordan Perlson and Brad Shepik to record an instrumental (and non-traditional) version of the tune for my Una Passeggiata (Live) record.

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Another gem of a tune from not quite 20 years later is Το Βουνό, (pronounced “To vounó“, “The Mountain“) by Loukas Daralas. Evangelos Prekas’ lyric is brilliant and succinct in reframing what is otherwise an archetypical expression of loneliness:

Θ’ ανέβω και θα τραγουδήσω       I will climb up and I will sing,
στο πιο ψηλότερο βουνό              on the most highest mountain,
ν’ ακούγεται στην ερηµιά               I will make my pain heard in the wilderness
ο πόνος µου µε την πενιά             with the beat of the music.

Με το βουνό θα γίνω φίλος          With the mountain I’ll become friend,
και µε τα πεύκα συντροφιά           and with the pines, companions
κι όταν θα κλαίω και πονώ           When I cry and suffer pain,
θ’ αναστενάζει το βουνό               it is the mountain that will sigh.

Απάνω στο βουνό θα µείνω          On top the mountain I will remain,
κι από τον κόσµο µακριά              and far away from the world.
θα κλαίω µόνος θα πονώ              Alone will I cry, will I suffer pain,
και θα µ’ ακούει το βουνό             and the mountain will listen to me.

Numerous recordings exist, but Kaiti Grey’s below is stirring, and the presence of the kanun, alternating with the bouzouki reveals both the Ottoman influence on the music and how much it had developed during several decades in the Greek mainland.

Rembetika Sheet Music - "To vouno"

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More on the history and music of rembetika can be seen in this excellent documentary, Music of The Outsiders

The music runs deep. If it catches your fancy, another website worth visiting is Ellinika.org, an entirely free course of Greek lessons developed by the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation some 50 years ago.  One of the best, bar none, courses I’ve come across for any language, it has helped me to get inside rembetika and some incredible music of the last century. There is also a detailed survey of rembetika history, recordings and places to find it at Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides

Special thanks on this post to George Gouzounis, for helping translate from the Greek, and to www.Stixoi.info, an incredible repository of Greek lyrics.

More free sheet music and transcriptions available here!

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