Greece Culture: Music and Dance: Constantinople and Asia Minor coast (Ionia)
Greeks settled on the Asia Minor coast as early as the 11th century BC, and were founders of Byzas (the source name for the later Byzantium, which became successively Constantinople and Istanbul, though the Greeks still call the city Constantinople). Other Hellenic cities were Smyrna, Ephesus, Miletus, and Troy. This coastal area was called Ionia by Greeks. During Byzantine times, Constantinople was the main city of the empire, and also its religious and intellectual capital. After its fall to the Ottoman Turks, Greeks still remained there, and were , along with Jews and Armenians, the chief merchant class of the Ottoman empire. Greeks were permitted to remain in the city after the 'exchange of populations' in 1923, in exchange for permission for Muslims to remain in Greek Thrace, Kos, and Rhodes. There was still a sizeable population of Greeks in the city up until the 1970s, many of whom were forced out by tensions over the Cyprus crisis in the 1960s and 1970s. Smyrna (Smyrni in Greek) up until the 'katastrofi' of the early 1920s was also a major commercial and cultural center, and the scene of a highly sophisticated urban music whose bowed instruments included both the violin and the politiki lyra. The latter, also called the Constantinopolitan lyra, is a very small, pear-shaped lyra, played with the fingernails pressed laterally to the strings, and an extremely difficult lyra to play well. The name 'politiki lyra' comes from the Greek word for city 'poli(s)', Constantinople widely known among Greeks, even today, as 'The Poli' ,or The City). Other instruments most commonly played in ensembles with violin or lyra included the kanonaki or santouri, and the outi (oud). Also present in some ensembles were clarinet, accordion, toumbeleki (dumbek), finger cymbals or spoons, and occasionally instruments such as cello or piano (though much more rarely). Popular rhythms/dances included island style syrtos and ballos (especially in coastal areas), karsilamas, tsiftetelli, hasapikos, zeibekikos. There were various forms of the latter, including the Aptalikos, the latter popular in coastal Asia Minor and on the neighboring island of Lesvos/Mytilini. All forms of zeibekiko are traditionally done by men, though women dance it in present times, too , and is done either solo or by several dancers simultaneously, each doing their own variations. The tsamiko and kalamatiano were also popular in Asia Minor.
Though many musicians and dancers these days lump all of the music brought over by the refugees from coastal Asia Minor as Smyrneika (music from Smyrna/Smyrni), though that city very much a musical center, many of the musicians who performed there were from the Poli (Constantinople) or elsewhere., or had studied in Constantinople(or elsewhere). One of the two most famous violinists of the genre, for example, Dimitris Semsis, had the nickname 'Salonikios' (meaning, from Salonika, or Thessaloniki). Semsis was actually from a Macedonian town with the Slavic name, Strumitsa, though he studied violin in Thessaloniki. Rosa Eskenazi, one of the most famous singers of the period, was a Greek Jew from Constantinople, and Marika Papayika, a singer who became famous in New York City after the 'katastrofi', was from the island of Kos. Many musicians today also refer to the music brought by Greek refugees from Smyrni as Rembetika, due to the large overlap between this music and the bouzouki centered music that later developed in Piraeus, Athens, and Thessaloniki, though the latter seems to this author, at least, as a distinctly different musical genre for the following reasons.
First, the instruments that characterized the 'classic' period of rembetika, in the 1930s-the bouzouki, baglama and guitar, were all instruments with immovable frets, and therefore fixed-pitched instruments with the capacity to play only half tones and whole tones. The instruments that played melody in ensembles from Smyrni, with very few exceptions., were instruments that had the capacity to play intervals smaller than the half-tone, known as 'moria'-fretless instruments such as the violin, oud, kanonaki and clarinet. These smaller intervals made possible the playing of modes common to both the Greek 'dhromi' (or 'roads') and the Turkish 'makams', the latter related to the Arabic modal system as well, and the improvised solos based upon these modes known as taximia, the instrumental form of the sung 'amanedhes'. Though the bouzouki became famous for such taximia as well, the moria were lost with the fixed frets. Additionally, the use of chordal accompaniment (with the guitar) for pieces with melody played on bouzouki, was something that didn't exist in the monodic music of the older music of Smyrni, though later, coastal and island pieces (especially ballos and syrtos) were played with chordal accompaniment on laouto and/or santouri, though usually with chords known as 'pemtes' or 'fifths' (ie. chords that left out the third scale degree used to differentiate western minor or major chords). Lastly, the themes of the bouzouki centered rembetika were largely connected with the Greek 'underworld', with various drugs , jails, and betrayal in love-hence the frequent (though questionable) comparison with American blues (questionable because the latter has nothing in common with rembetika on a musical level).
In the famous Café Amans of urban music Smyrni, singers such as Roza Eskenazi, often danced on stage, while playing castanets or frame drum, especially to the rhythm of the tsiftetelli. There were many songs in this rhythm, often sung with the improvised, unmetered vocal solo based on the mode in which the song was set and which usually included the exclamation 'Aman Aman'. In Constantinople,the butchers' dance known as Makellarios was popular, later widely known as 'Hasapikos' (hasapis the Greek word for butcher).