Audience on its feet for Hipsters
Posted By JACK EVANS, SPECIAL TO THE INTELLIGENCER
Posted 24 days ago
The best way to end an exciting festival season is with a good party. That seemed to be the deal at Westben Sunday as a Greek folk group from Calgary called the Rembetika Hipsters got the audience clapping and yes, even dancing in the aisles.
The audience didn't seem to care that the music was predominantly eastern Mediterranean, with strange rhythms and often soulful melodies, even strange instruments like a baglana, a miniature version of a bouzouki, similar to a balalaika or a mandolin with a long neck.
The very name of the group clued those in the know into the type of music to be expected. Many people in the audience were Greek, of Greek descent or wished they were.
Rembetika originated in the wake of an early 20th century conflict between Turkey and Greece when large numbers of Greeks formerly residing in Turkey were expelled, forcing them to live in shack towns or slums around major Greek cities. They also brought Turkish culture and music with them, melding it into a distinct style of Greek music called rembetika, born out of poverty, disenfranchisement, oppression and perhaps even hashish, band leader Nick Diochnos explained. He compared it to the American blues, and said that it was outlawed in the mid 1930s and forced underground.
While many of the tunes were soulful, most of the rhythms, while disjointed by western standards, often in a strange nine-beat time, remained infectious, with the audience willingly swaying and clapping.
The eastern Mediterranean flavour also inspired a dancer named Zarqaa from the Meksha Belly Dance Studio in Colborne, to get up and perform, complete with tingling discs wrapped around her middle. She also led several in the audience to move with the music for the final number.
Retired Belleville businessman Bill Yeotes was front and centre in the audience, enjoying his first visit to the Westben barn auditorium and, being Greek himself, especially the music.
Typical of the Greek folklore included in the program was a song called "Tomas's Place," in which a wild party at a remote tavern attracts the interest of the angels in heaven and the demons from hell to join the party and share hands and dance with the people. Orchestra drummer Ben Johnson, spelled off for one number, moved to the back of the stage and demonstrated a Greek dance, "bent over like a hawk eyeing its prey," he explained. That inspired another person of Greek origin from the audience to get up and do a similar dance later on.