Still, I remember the Catastrophe1 and the refugees....
How can I make you understand what it was like? Disaster! There wasn’t any place you could get away from seeing what had happened. People lived in disused railway carriages and old shacks or they put up makeshift tents. A catastrophe, I’m telling you pal, a massive disaster! I hope our eyes will never see such sights again! What those poor people went through is beyond anything. They were brought low, absolute rock bottom! That was after they’d already been screwed over by the Turks who drove them out. And when they got here, the same! They did whatever they could. They were screwed. They did everything you could possibly imagine to make a crust of bread and put a roof over their heads. If a father had five kids, even girls, they’d be out pilfering all over the place. A disaster, my God! What were the authorities to do? Who to start chasing first? You think it was just one or two? No, there were too many!
And the locals didn’t look kindly on them. They never stopped cursing them, ‘Hey scram!’ or ‘Hey you, get lost!’ They wouldn’t look at them. They didn’t have enough love to say ‘Hold on, these guys are our family, they’re actually Greeks. Let’s embrace them.’ This didn’t happen, not as far as I could see. Maybe somewhere else ... Our local thieves just wanted to do them over, filch whatever they had and laugh at them. Swindlers. In the course of time, they all managed to get to the places where they belonged. Some went to Thasos, others to Tripoli, some to Thessaloniki, others to Serres, Kavala, the islands, or the Dodecanese. Year by year they went their way. Now of course, they’ve shot ahead. All these refugees that you see are top at everything. They’re hard workers. Onassis, for example, there’s a guy you take notice of.
The refugees did a lot for music, that’s for sure. When they came over from Asia Minor the musicians came too. These people were brought up to work hard and play hard, all of them without exception. A guy might work like a dog all week but come the weekend he’d be partying. He’d be out and about, making sure the world saw him. Not alone. He’d take his wife and daughters, his whole family and go sit in a music dive - just as our folk have learnt to do from being around the refugees. To start with, we had our own musicians here who played almost only dhimotiko2 songs. Sometimes the odd amanes.3 But when these guys came they started doing tsifteteli,4 syrto, loads of things, manedhes, tzivaeria, aivaliotika ... not so much laiko5 song. No, not laiko. Like I said, laiko song was what I did, but these guys were playing old music.
Their coming didn’t make any difference to me. My thing was laiko song, the zebekika and chasapika which the great koutsavakidhes used to dance in Syros.
1 The Catastrophe, also known as the Asia Minor Disaster, precipitated the calamitous influx of an estimated 1,500,000 destitute refugees. Venizelos was out of power and in exile in Paris at the time of the Greek army’s ill fated incursion into Anatolia so can’t justly be blamed for the disaster. In 1923 he represented Greece at the treaty of Lausanne where the exchange of populations was agreed.
2 Traditional folk music. See glossary.
3 Vocal improvisation. See glossary.
4 The Greek ‘belly dance’ in 4/4 metre.
5 What we now generally call rebetiko. See glossary.