Meyhane #6: Celebrating the cuisine and music of Rum Turks and the Disciples of Markos in Concert
Long ago, Istanbul was home to many ethnic cultures that contributed to the cosmopolitan life for centuries. They were both Turkish as in Turkey was their homeland and their language, but they were ethnically not of Turkic origin. The most prominent groups were Rums, Jews and Armenians. Most of the meyhane's in their golden years were owned by these groups.
Meyhane Series #6 is dedicated to celebrate (sans politics and religion) the rich culinary heritage of Rum Turks. They are called "Romi", word used by Romans to describe the inhabitants of Anatolia- modern day Turkey, as opposed to the word “Heleni” was used to describe inhabitants of the Greek peninsula-modern day Greece. As an interesting side note, this is also the namesake for the famous poet Rumi.
However, the identity of Romi and Helenis are remarkably different. In most critics’ opinion, Romis had superior cuisine and more refined tastes due to their center of gravity being Istanbul, one of the most cosmopolitan cities of its time and still today. They embraced new tastes, techniques coming from other parts of the world. The Rum cuisine is quite different than Greek cuisine of today
Many of the Rum Turks have been forced to migrate-mostly to Athens- starting 100 years ago with certain accelerating events nearly 50 yrs ago. However, they were not greeted with open arms by Greeks who considered them as Turks, since they spoke Turkish and followed different traditions. Most of them lost their businesses and fortunes due to migration. They lived relatively poorer compared to local population in Greece. Still today, they continue live in certain neighborhoods in Athens and make an effort to continue their traditions. Rum Turks were over 3 million at the turn of last century and now only a few thousand left in Turkey.
We are on the verge of a complete loss of the culinary traditions of Rum Turks; recipes, ingredients, techniques and stories behind. Many restaurants closed down and owners migrated. It is very hard these days to find an authentic Rum Meyhane in Istanbul. Hence our efforts to honor this amazing culture at our next event. Hope you can join us.
Music Program “Disciples of Markos”
Rebetiko, often referred to as the blues of Greek music originated with the migration of Rum refugees from Anatolia in 1920s where they settled in shanty suburbs of Athens like Piraeus. The traditional Greeks preferred western style music, but the refugees brought together the eastern music style from the Ottoman Anatolia with words that described the everyday life challenges and joys of the urban underworld. As in blues, improvisation plays an important role in rebetiko music as songs most commonly starts with a taximi (taksim) that sets the tone. Rebetiko is also not played with traditional western scales. It is played with a group of notes called “dromos” Greek word for roads, which are adaptations of Turkish Makam- a complex set of rules that sets the scales. These makams are Nihavend, Hidjaz, Hidjazkar, Sabah, Segah, etc. The difference between dromos and makams are the adaptation of makams to be played on a bouzouki, an instrument brought to Greece by the Romis, and is a close cousin of Baglama. The rhythms in rebetiko are based on traditional folk dances from Anatolia, Zeibekiko (Zeybek), Tsiftetelli (Ciftetelli), Hasapiko (Kasap havasi).
The Disciples of Markos play Rebetika music from the hashish dens (called Tekkes) of the 1930’s GREEK UNDERWORLD. The music was a mixture of Greek folk music and the Turkish music brought to Greece by thousands of immigrants from Turkey in the 1920’s. In the ghettos of Athens and Piraeus a new style began to emerge, it was the music of dopers, thieves, whores, beatniks, well dressed outsiders and all sorts of shady characters. This heavy, low down music told the stories of the hardscrabble underworld Rebetika life of knife fights, drug busts, love and longing.
The Disciples play in the style of Markos Vamvakaris, the most famous singer-often called the “howling wolf of rebetiko”, songwriter and the heaviest, most stoned-out bouzouki player of the 1930’s. While bouzouki is the main instrument in a rebetika ensemble, the Disciples like to include other instruments that were used in the 1930’s; accordion, violin, santouri, baglama, tzouras, even the classic clinking of the ouzo glasses . The Disciples are located in the San Francisco Bay Area where they hold the distinction of being the longest-running rebetiko band in America.
Gregory Masaki Jenkins – vocals, percussion Dmitri Mavra – bouzouki Darcy Noonan – guitar, violin, vocals Debbie Berne – guitar