Seshata Sensi

JOURNALIST, CONSULTANT & PHOTOGRAPHER

The Traditional Hashish Songs of Greece

Source: Dope Magazine

Many of us have visited the ancient and beautiful land of Greece, and most visitors will at some point treat themselves to live performances by traditional musicians in bars and tavernas.

Many will have heard the sounds of ρεμπέτικο (rebetiko), which is a particularly beautiful musical tradition – but very few know its history, and fewer still know of its deep association with hashish use. So I’ve come to Greece’s ancient capital city, Athens, to find out more about this unique phenomenon.

It’s eight in the evening and still well over 95 degrees as we take our table, in a taverna hidden in one of the myriad, winding alleyways that surround Monastiraki square. The air is thick and the aroma of meat and spices fills my nostrils as the first plaintive notes of the bouzouki, an ancient stringed instrument similar to a lyre, shimmer through the darkness.

Vanessa, my guide for the evening, begins to relate the story of rebetiko to me, the ululating voices of the two singers providing a harmonious backdrop to her softly-accented speech.

Rebetiko originated in the coastal cities of Greece and Asia Minor during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Throughout Ottoman times, large numbers of Greeks inhabited the region of Western Anatolia, particularly in the city of Smyrna (now known as İzmir) and its surrounding area.

For centuries, Christian Orthodox Greeks and Ottoman Muslims lived side-by-side in relative harmony in Western Anatolia – and in Greece itself, which also had a sizeable population of resident Ottomans. The Greeks in Anatolia were by many accounts well-integrated, and important contributors to the economy.

Intermarriage between the two faiths was not uncommon, and while differences certainly existed, there was a great degree of cultural admixture—one ancient Ottoman tradition certainly enjoyed by many was that of the smoking of hashish. It was in this environment that rebetiko first developed, and its sound is fundamentally influenced by both Greek and Turkish traditions.

However, the region was to suffer devastating turbulence throughout the first World War, and in the subsequent years…

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