Rebetiko and blues: from Yiorgos Batis’s ‘O Boufetzis’ (1935) to Georges Pilali’s ‘Teketzis’ (1994)
Yiorgos Batis was a rebetiko songwriter and musician who was not very productive, but his songs have been very influential. Rebetiko is a style of folk music that originated at the end of the nineteenth century by marginal people in prisons and ports of Greece. It has been slowly disappearing since the mid-twentieth century, which resulted in rebetiko being inscribed on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2017. Rebetiko has always been associated with instruments of the bouzouki family, characterised as ‘the blues of Greece’, and Batis primarily played the baglamas in his songs. His song ‘O Boufetzis’ (‘The Buffet Runner’) has been covered by many artists and still remains popular. The rebetiko record collector and enthusiast Panos Savvopoulos perpetuates the myth that ‘O Boufetzis’ shares the same melody with the blues song ‘How Dry I Am’, and claims that this proves that blues and rebetiko are connected.
Daniel Koglin refers to the mixture of rebetiko with ‘older and contemporary “subcultural” or “undercultural” styles such as the blues’ (2016), pinpointing three albums by different artists, including the 1994 Theocomodia (Divine Comedy) by Georges Pilali. In this live album, the singer-songwriter, guitarist and satirical poet Pilali released the song ‘Teketzis’ (‘The Teké Runner’), which is his own interpretation of Batis’s song. Pilali was heavily inspired by the blues and he tried to connect the two worlds by impersonating a character that wandered in the Mississippi Delta during the 1900s by incorporating both blues and rebetiko slang in his stories. His version of ‘O Boufetzis’ was performed with the use of a resonator National steel guitar, where the fingerstyle and slide blues techniques dominate. Transcription and analysis of this arrangement, accompanied by an interview with Pilali, demonstrate the common ground between two traditions that have followed independent evolutionary paths.
Nassos Polyzoidis is a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, educator, music theorist and PhD researcher at Bath Spa University, where he gained a Master’s Degree in Songwriting. He also holds an Associate Diploma in Music Teaching from the University of West London. His doctoral research explores the common characteristics of Greek rebetiko and Afro-American blues with the aim of conceiving a creative method for generating cross-cultural music and lyrics. It focuses on the analysis and reception of rebetiko fusions with contemporary Western music. He teaches in conservatoires and privately. He releases his music under the pseudonym Nassos Conqueso, along with his side project Sakké ConQuéso.