The Journeys of Ottoman Greek Music

Episode 463

What is Greek music? For our guest Panayotis League, it's no one thing. Rather, it is diversity that defines the many regional musical traditions of Greece and the broader Greek diaspora. In this episode, we discuss League's ethnomusicological research on Greek music in diaspora, and we explore the history and transformation of Ottoman Greek music before and after the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece. As League explains, Greek music in the Ottoman Empire was inextricably linked to the musical traditions of neighboring Turkish, Armenian, and Sephardic communities. However, the First World War, the Second Greco-Turkish War, and the exchange of populations that sent the entire Greek Orthodox population of Anatolia to Greece eliminated spaces of intercommunality where Ottoman music thrived. In our conversation, we discuss how the intercommunal music of the Ottoman Empire survived in Greece among exchanged people who pioneered the new rebetiko style that would reshape Greek popular music. We also discuss how the music of Ottoman Greeks fit into a larger diasporic communal dynamic in places like the United States.

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Contributor Bios

Panayotis League is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Florida State University and Director of the Center for Music of the Americas. He publishes widely on Greek and Brazilian music, dance, and oral poetry, and his monograph "Echoes of the Great Catastrophe: Re-Sounding Anatolian Greekness in Diaspora" is forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press. He performs the traditional music of Kalymnos and Crete throughout the Greek diaspora, and in 2019 was named a Master Artist by the Florida Folklife Program.
Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.



Dimitris Semsis, Agapios Toumboulis, and Roza Eskinazi were fixtures of the post-Catastrophe Ottoman Greek music scene. Source:
The ensemble of Konstantinos Kereakoglow (cornet, far left) and Michalis Kereakoglow (valve trombone, far right), originally from the village of Kapi, Lesvos, in Lynn, Massachusetts circa 1922. Courtesy of Gregory Kereakoglow.
The annual picnic of the Pan-Lesbian Sappho Association, August 1, 1926, Saugus, Massachusetts, featuring Ottoman Greek musicians from the island of Lesvos and the Asia Minor coast.


Bucuvalas, Tina (ed). 2018. Greek Music in America. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Erol, Merih. 2015. Greek Orthodox Music in Ottoman Istanbul: Nation and Community in the Era of Reform. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gauntlett, Stathis. 2003. “Between Orientalism and Occidentalism: the Contribution of Asia Minor Refugees to Greek Popular song, and its Reception.” In Crossing the Aegean: An Appraisal of the 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey. Ed. Renée Hirschon. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 247-60.

Hirschon, Renee. 1989. Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus. New York: Oxford University Press.

Holst-Warhaft, Gail. 2002. “The Tame Sow and the Wild Boar: Hybridization and the Rebetika.” In Songs of the Minotaur: Hybridity and Popular Music in the Era of Globalization. Ed.
Gerhard Steingress, 21–50. Münster: LIT Verlag.

League, Panayotis. 2016. “The Poetics of Meráki: Dialogue and Speech Genre in Kalymnian Song.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 34(2): 367-397.

League, Panayotis. 2019. “Grooving Heavy, Dancing Drunk: Gustemic Metaphor and Mimetic Polytemporality in Anatolian Greek Music.” Ethnomusicology 63(3): 393-417.

Pennanen, Risto Pekka. 2004. “The Nationalization of Ottoman Popular Music in Greece.” Ethnomusicology 48(1): 1-25.

Poulos, Panagiotis. 2013. “The Non-Muslim Musicians of Istanbul: Between Recorded and Intimate Memory.” In Ottoman Intimacies, Balkan Musical Realities. Ed. Risto Pekka Pennanen, Panagiotis C. Poulos, and Aspasia Theodosiou. Helsinki: Foundation of the Finnish Institute at Athens, 51-70.

Susam-Serejeva, Sebnem. 2015. Translation and Popular Music: Transcultural Intimacy in Turkish-Greek Relations. Oxford: Peter Lang.


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