“All the rebetes of the world love me…those who do not know me, will know me now,” sang Markos Vamvakaris.
In his autobiography, the ‘patriarch’ of rebetika recalls writing the song in Trikala whilst on a tour.
It was recorded in 1937 and since then its lyrics and melody, as well as other important rebetika songs, which have their own close connection with a Greece of another era, have been heard millions of times around the world.
84 years on, those who love rebetika have their own hangout in Melbourne.
Every Wednesday in the cosy space of Triakosia (300 Queens Prd Clifton Hill), the Melbourne Rebetiko Jam takes place.
Since March 2019 musicians Wayne Simmons and Con Kalamaras have been sharing the incredible music that takes their audiences back to Greece.
READ MORE: “Rebetika will always be relevant”
Mr Kalamaras and Mr Simmons chat to Neos Kosmos about how they “wanted to create a safe space with the participation of all musicians, regardless of their experience and skills”.
“This is what is missing. People should feel comfortable playing in public,” they said.
The goal is for people to come learn about rebetika (also known as Greek Blues) and share their passion for it.
Online lessons have also been created, sharing sheet music and audio files through Dropbox, accessible for those interested in learning rebetika.
“We say here are the songs… if you can learn them, good, if not do not push it. However, people gather as a result of the jam, two or three people come and practice together,” Mr Kalamaras said.
He stressed that these sessions are “particularly important” as thanks to Rebetiko Jam the “interest in rebetika is constantly growing”.
“From this, other small groups started. We see it as a cultural investment in Melbourne. When I hear that kids rehearsed outside of the jam, our job is done. I am very happy”.
When Mr Kalamaras started the project with Mr Simmons, they wanted to see where rebetika will end up in Melbourne in a few years.
They had in mind the culture that they experienced themselves in rebetika clubs across Greece. A group of musicians, around a table, playing songs – pre and post war rebetika and folk music in their original form.
It is no coincidence that some people come from far and wide to attend the Rebetiko Jam. To practice, to play, but also to learn about who Markos Vamvakaris, Costas Skarvelis, Rita Abatzi, Roza Eskenazy, Margarita Papagika were.
Mr Kalamaras said the long-term influence is just as important. This includes the emergence of the three-string bouzouki, which is slowly making its way onto the Melbourne scene. “From little things, big things grow.”
Two years after its inception, about 15-20 participants ranging from ages 10 to 60, of Greek and non-Greek origin, join each other weekly, sharing their love for rebetika.
The popularity of the project reached the ears of the City of Yarra which supports the Jam through its annual grant program
“If you know where you come from, you know where you are going,” Mr Kamalaras said.
He recalls his father telling him that his grandfather would sing the melodies of the Asia Minor’s rebetika star Giannis Papaioannou.
“It’s strange to sing lyrics from the 30s and know that it was popular when your grandfather lived; you feel the connection,” he said.
Neos Kosmos asked if the pair of musicians would be organising something special for the two year anniversary, to which Mr Kamalaras responded, “Every week, every Wednesday in Triakosia is a special event”.
*Translated by Marianna Alepidis