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World Music CD Reviews Europe

Various Artists

By Bruce Miller
Published January 5, 2007

Mortika: Rare Vintage Recordings from a Greek Underworld

According to the liner notes, this disc is supposed to simultaneously drop a smorgasbord of vintage (mostly 1930’s-40’s) urban Greek songs of “lost love, drugs, murder and prison” and clear up the misunderstanding that all such music from this place and time period is Rembetika, when in fact it isn’t. And while that knowledge might be of use to the Greek music aficionado with a massive collection of this stuff, to one checking out the hypnotic sounds of early 20th century urban Greece for the first time, this is simply an essential collection of excellent music. In fact, it contains more variety than Heritage’s Lost Homelands collection of Smyrnaic song and all the stoned bliss of Rounder’s Rembetica. The classic singers, Rita Abadzi and Adonis Dalgas, are here, as are guitarists and bouzouki players from North American or Turkish Greek sub-cultures. Song titles, when translated, reveal tags such as “I Creep Along The Walls” or “The Hash Smokers”. But it’s the music itself, building on its repeated melodic figures as it goes, seemingly unconfined by the time restrictions of the 78 RPM format, that make this some of the most powerful commercial music ever recorded. The disc also has a book, which contains instrument information, bios and song lyrics.