Zeibekiko (L*) dance and Rebetika music – Greek

*a Living dance is one performed in the country of origin (or immigrant communities) as part of a social event like a wedding where others can participate (not for an audience) by people who learned the dance informally (from friends and relatives by observation and imitation, not in a classroom situation). For more information, click here.

All of the text below (except headings and what’s under the YouTubes) is from the highly recommended book Dancing on the Off Beat, ©2005 by Joan Carol Friedberg, available from her publisher, Xlibris Corporation. Text is copied with the permission of the author.


All of the tough guys, inside their hearts, have a huge sorrow. —Rebetiko song

Some types of animals appear only at night. Where I live, in Topanga, California, I have seen raccoons, possums, deer and coyotes prowl during the late night and early morning hours of darkness. If you are not awake and about in the night, you might never know these creatures existed at all.

The same is true for a certain breed of man. During the 1920s and 1930s, in Greece, he was known as a mangas. In 1922, Greece, in a bold attempt to reclaim its ancient Asia Minor homeland, pushed its army inland into Turkish- dominated territory but was forced to make a brutal retreat. Known by Greeks as the Catastrophe, this defeat and its scorched-earth aftermath became the definitive Greek tragedy of the 20th Century. More than one million refugees from Asia Minor, many of whom had lived affluent lives there, suddenly found themselves homeless, destitute and hungry, having lost even their dignity.

Rebetika Music

It was out of their terrible tragedy that some of the most poignant and surly music and songs emerged from hash-smoking men in dark dens in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki. Their music, rebetika, was possibly a derivative of an earlier type of music that was a part of the classical, composed music of Ottoman Turkey.

A series of 5 old recordings of the dance Zeibekiko or Zeybek. Three recordings by Greek immigrants in America from the 1920s and two Turkish recordings. All instrumental pieces. 1. 0:00 Baloukaisariano- Harilaos Evangitis (violin), Markos Melkon (Laouto). 2. 2:00 Zeybek Havasi- Odeon Saz Heyeti. 3. 4:03 Bourdousaina- Tom Vrouvas, recorded NYC Dec 1926. 4. 6:06 Zeybek Havasi- Zurnaci Emin. 5. 8:00 Aptal Havasi- Adonios Sakellariou (clarinet & orchestra). Note the similarities between 1 & 2; 3, 4, & 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjJTPKxqNZA

Reborn in Greece in the 1920s and ‘30s, rebetika music became transformed after World War II, but continued into the 1950s and ‘60s. Though most Greeks scorned the music during those early years, it experienced a revival during the 1970s in Greece by an entirely new generation.

Taxim Zeibekiko – Márkos Vamvakáris, 1937. When at 1:40 Vamvakáris breaks into a regular rhythm, it’s a standard zeibekiko slow 9 (4+5) thus: 1, 2& 3, 4, 1, 2& 3, 4, 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8LSwgKxD5w
Átakti (naughty), another Vamvakáris song. slow 9 (4+5) thus: 1&, 2&, 3, 4, 1&, 2&, 3, 4, 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6AtR3i43DU
Here’s the same Átakti recording becomes the soundtrack to a late (1966) film of Vamvakáris (far left) playing and singing. He died in 1972. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5R9iUiVMj8
Íthela na s' antámona                        I wanted to meet you
na sou 'lega kampósa,                       and tell you a few things,
ki an de sou gýriza to nou                 and if I couldn't change your mind
ach... na mou 'kovan ti glóssa.          oh..they better cut my tongue.

De se thélo, de se thélo,                    I don't want you, I don't want you,
pia de s' agapó.                                  I don't love you anymore.
De se thélo kai páre kai drómo           I don't want you, and go away
kai tráva sto kaló.                               and move along.

Mou to 'pane oi mágisses                   Witches have told me,
ki óles oi kafetzoúdes,                        and all of the psychics,
mou to 'pe mia ap' tin Aígypto            a girl from Egypt has told me
ach... me tis fardiés plexoúdes.          oh...she had wide braids.

De se thélo, de se thélo,                     I don't want you, I don't want you,
pia de s' agapó.                                  I don't love you anymore
De se thélo kai páre kai drómo           I don't want you, and go away
kai tráva sto kaló.                                and move along.
Kai ti den ékana gia se gia                 What haven't I done for you
na se diorthóso,                                 to "fix" you,
ma esý 'sai tóso átakti                       but you are so naughty
ach... fýge gia na glitóso.                   oh...go away to save myself.

De se thélo, de se thélo,                    I don't want you, I don't want you,
pia de s' agapó.                                 I don't love you anymore
De se thélo kai páre kai drómo          I don't want you, and go away
kai tráva sto kaló.                              and move along.
Translation by: Κορίνα/Korina   https://lyricstranslate.com/en/%CE%AC%CF%84%CE%B1%CE%BA%CF%84%CE%B7-naughty.html

Zeibekiko – the Dance

In 2000, at Rebetiki Istoria, an intimate rebetika club on Ippokratous Street in a quiet neighborhood of Athens, young people, who were born many decades after rebetika music no longer flourished, sat in the smoky den as they sang about the lost souls of an earlier era. They knew all of the words.

The modern-day rebetes, or manges, inhabit the night clubs and the skiladika, literally, places of the dogs, and emerge from hiding after most civilized beings have long ago retired to their beds. If you stay late enough in one of these clubs, you may be rewarded by being able to witness the Zeibekiko dance.

Song: Átakti. Musician: Markos Vamvakáris. AITION, 2nd pan-Hellenic meeting of Zeybek dance. 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxv26XLex8o

The origins of this dance, according to many Greek sources, date back to Ottoman times, when it was known as the dance of the Zeibekides, or Zeybekler. The Zeibekiko’s distinctive musical rhythm, which appears in at least three variations in a very slow 9/4 meter, is identical to pieces in the Sufi liturgy of the Great Ummayad Mosque of Damascus, Syria, where it is danced by whirling dervishes, and possibly elsewhere in the Middle East as well.

In its Greek incarnation, it is also a solo mens’ dance in which the man twirls in place, but without the billowing white skirt and transfixed, beatific gaze. The name of the dance, derived from the Turkish Zeybek, could perhaps be translated to the Greek word palikari, a warrior who exhibits bravery. But this interpretation can be misleading, because the dance, as it evolved in the tekes or dark taverns of Greece in the 1920s and 1930s through the 1950s, is not danced to exhibit bravery, to prepare for war, or enter a religious trance. It is an internal expression of the poor, uneducated, but proud working class men for whom the dance served as a release of their frustrations.

In the early rebetic songs, the words reflect the sad lives of the most down and out people who sang them, mostly refugees from Turkey, which most Greeks refer to as Asia Minor, still not willing to accept that those lands no longer belong to the Greeks. Many of these older songs are about lonely bums who roam the streets or about men who smoke the nargile, a waterpipe filled with hashish, to let their worries drift from their bodies as the smoke snakes upward from the pipe, which they would suck on like a baby finding comfort in its mother’s breast.

Songs in the rebetic style from later periods sound equally melancholy but encompass different themes. They are often the creative offerings of composers who were drawn to the musical modes of the rebetic era, but whose lyrics are more cerebral than a result of any inner longings and torments such as those that spawned the original rebetic songs.

More than one such lyric refers to the legacy of General Ioannis Makriyannis, hero of the War of Independence. Although his name is today synonymous with a free Greece, he is not even mentioned in early histories of the war, and his exploits might have remained entirely unknown had it not been for the discovery of his written memoirs.

Markriyannis was born a peasant just before the turn of the 19th Century and was a young man in his early 20s when the Greek War of Independence drew to a climax in 1821. His portrait reveals eyes that were hollow, dark, both sweet and sad, and a long and elegant nose that rested on a gentle face. He sported an impressive mustache and a close-cut beard. On his head, layers of cloth were wrapped into a large turban. His demeanor was not imposing, and it belied his inner determination and bravery. In his memoirs, as retold by A.A. Pallis in Greek Miscellany, Makriyannis relates how he once drew his yataghan, a large dagger, on a doctor who was about to amputate his other, festering arm against his will. The doctor barely escaped being slain.

Although rebetika culture was almost exclusively a man’s domain, some of the most poignant songs were sung by the most famous torch singer of rebetika, Sotiria Bellou, who often used her plaintive voice to lament on the futility of love. Her voice so pure, her style so plain and unforced can make her words of yearning for a man feel so true and sad, even though she herself, they say, was apparently more interested in women than in men.

Sotiria Bellou sings San apókliros gyrízo. Written by Vassilis Tsitsánis 9 slow beats (4+5) thus: 1, 2& 3, 4, 1, 2& 3, 4, 5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCL8wBw4mzU
San apókliros yirízo stin kakoúrga xenitiá                           I wander like an exile      
periplanómenos, dhistikhisménos                                      in this hostile foreign land -
makriá ap’ tis mánas mou tin angaliá                                 strolling, miserable,
periplanómenos, dhistikhisménos                                      in this hostile foreign land 
makriá ap’ tis mánas mou tin angaliá                                 far from my mother's embrace.
Klaíne ta pouliá yia aë́ra kai ta dhéndra yia neró                The birds cry for air,  for water cry the trees.
Klaío manoúla mou ki egó yia séna                                    And I cry too, my dear mother, for you
pou ékho khrónia yia na se dho                                         for I haven't seen you in years.
Klaío manoúla mou ki egó yia séna                                    And I cry too, my dear mother, for you
pou ékho khrónia yia na se dho                                         for I haven't seen you in years.
Kháre, páre tin psikhí mou, isikhía yia na vro                     Death, take my soul
Afoú to thélise i mav́ri moíra                                              Since the black fate wanted me
mes sti zoí mou na mi kharó                                              never to feel joy in my life.
Afoú to thélise i mav́ri moíra                                              Since the black fate wanted me
mes sti zoí mou na mi kharó                                              never to feel joy in my life.
Sotiria Bellou sings Káne ligáki ipomoní. Written by Vassilis Tsitsánis
9 (4+5) thus: 1, 2, 3, 4&, 1, 2, 3, 4&, 5& , 1948. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDoAUD4gyro
Min apelpízesai kai dhe th’ aryísi          Do not despair and it won t be long
kondá sou tha ’rthi mia kharavyí           until on a dawn she will come to you
kainoúryia agápi na sou zitísi                and she will be asking you for new love
káne ligáki ipomoní                               have a bit of patience
kainoúryia agápi na sou zitísi                And she will be asking you for new love
káne ligáki ipomoní                                have a bit of patience
Dhióxe ta sínnefa ap’ tin kardhiá sou     Send away the clouds from your heart
kai mes sto kláma min xagripnás           and don t keep yourself awake in tears
ti ki AN dhe vrísketai stin angaliá sou    so what that she is not now in your arms?
tha ’rthi mia méra min to xekhnás         She will come back one day, don t you forget it
ti ki AN dhe vrísketai stin angaliá sou    So what that she is not now in your arms?
tha ’rthi mia méra min to xekhnás         She will come back one day, don t you forget it
Glikokharámata tha se xipnísi                On a sweet dawn she will wake you up
kai o érotas sas th’ anastithí                  and your love will be resurrected
kainoúryia agápi tha xaná zísi                New love is going to be brought to life
káne ligáki ipomoní                                have a bit of patience
kainoúryia agápi tha xaná zísi                New love is going to be brought to life
káne ligáki ipomoní                                Have a bit of patience

https://lyricstranslate.com              Translator: Biftekeftes

The Zeibekiko emerges when the men are sitting around drinking together, and one will say, “Let’s break the instruments . . . let’s throw some money.” When a Zeibekiko scenario is coming to life, and the kefi has begun to accelerate, someone outside of the culture might wonder, what are they singing about now? The songs might be about anything, but some themes are surprising. It might be a man bemoaning the loneliness of living in a foreign land, far from his mother’s arms. It is something of a paradox that a man who appears to be dancing with such a tough-guy style could be expressing such childlike anguish. On the other hand, sometimes a young man will dance Zeibekiko only to impress his compatriots and to exhibit his masculinity, and then the song content is not important, and something of the tradition has been lost.

Music- Tis Evdokias by Manos Loïzos, 1937-1982. This tune is currently the most popular accompaniment for zeibekiko dancing. Bouzouki soloist – Manolis Karatninis. Dancer unknown.
13 million views. 2008.
9 slow beats (4+5) thus: 1, 2& 3, 4, 1, 2& 3, 4, 5, alternating with 1&, 2&, 3, 4, 1&, 2&, 3, 4, 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5i6UZOcB-Xg

So though tricks such as a man dancing with an upside- down glass of wine on his head impress the other patrons, the entire meaning of the Zeibekiko becomes buried underneath its new value as circus entertainment.

Santorini – zeibekiko for the tourists. Music-Tis Evdokias. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QPO8HNTMuo
At 0:40 – Mario, young brother of the bride. 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_7fsZlqNnw
“the zeibekiko of the self-taught” 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPzN_B3OKSA
“wedding zeybeks” 2021 zeibekiko today – everyone does it – ’cause it feels good! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZCtnde_jCw

Perhaps part of the intrigue of the Zeibekiko is the different ways in which it can be interpreted by each dancer. One of the best Zeibekiko dancers I have seen used to do vulgar things, such as pushing a cigarette up his nostril or grabbing his crotch, to make it more authentically mangas. Sometimes, though, a man will look sensual and provocative in this dance. In a taverna I went to outside Igoumenitsa in 1982, a man danced the Zeibekiko in a slow twirl with another man’s legs wrapped around his waist. I was assured by the man who had taken me there that it was not a gay bar; it was just that men could express themselves with other men in ways that were not permitted between men and women.

In another context entirely, at two different weddings in villages of Florina, the Zeibekika got going long after everyone had tired of the regular dancing. Until I observed this happen, I thought that a wedding would be the last place you would find Zeibekika. I guess, though, that after the guys have had too much to drink, it leads to Zeibekika. At one of the weddings, someone put a large flour sifter on the floor, and the groom was obliged to dance the Zeibekiko within its confines, while guests threw drachmas into it. It seemed to me the flour sifter served as a symbolic metaphor for the groom’s new domestic lifestyle.

Never on Sunday, 1960. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIP2FRS2pD8

In an opening scene of the classic film, Never On Sunday, [7:38-11:10 above – DB] the naive American intellectual, Homer, claps enthusiastically after one of the patrons finishes dancing the Zeibekiko. The dancer is insulted and begins to beat up poor Homer until Ilia (Melina Mercouri) comes in and helps everyone clear up the misunderstanding. It seems that the dancer was dancing to express his feelings, to get drunk in the music and the words of the song, and to move his body to the music, to dance as an antidote to his own personal sorrows and not to provide cheap entertainment for the American tourist. The assumption that he was a performer was an offense to his philotimo, honor. This becomes Homer’s first lesson in understanding the Greek persona.

Another example of how philotimo works in Greek culture can be seen in another scene in the film, as Homer attempts to redeem the character and life of Ilia, a carefree prostitute. [at 1:25:15-1:27:20 – DB] Homer asks Taki, the bouzouki player, if he can read music, and Taki says “no.” Homer says, “Why don’t you learn?” Taki says he’s too old. Homer tells Taki: “If you don’t read music, you are not a real musician and you never will be.”

Taki locks himself in the bathroom and refuses to come out until Ilia says to him, “Do birds read music?” “Ohi,” no, he says. “Should the birds stop singing?” Taki’s face lights up, and he emerges. His philotimo has been restored. The next moment, the band begins playing “Never on Sunday,” Ilia and the boys dance a Hasapiko, glasses are broken, and the owner is ringing them up one-by-one on the cash register.

Today’s Zeibekiko no longer reflects its origins. Now dancers often become self-conscious performers.

Legendary Sofia Vembo in a Manos Hadjidakis‘ song. The scene is from the classic film “Stella” with Melina Mercouri. The YouTube is included here mostly to show the transformation of the status of zeibekiko music and dance. From scorned “outsider’ culture in 1925 to hip popular culture by 1955. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLZvW_jd5Pg

Song: To haro ton antamosan by Zampetas Rhythm: 4 slow beats, thus:1&, 2&, 3, 4, yet it’s labeled zeibekiko!
Singer: Stratos Pagioumtzis
Album: Sto limani tou Pirea
Dancer: Giorgos Provias
Comments: Inachos Sketos: Let some who think they are dancing zeibekiko see this!! From a tribute to the Duke (G. Zambeta)! Giorgos Provias (“the Nureyev of zeibekiko”) was one of the few guys who knew how to dance zeibekiko, he made the choreography in the movie “Zorbas the Greek”, the well-known syrtaki, so the least he deserves is respect !!!
Romilos Fronimides: He dances it very fast (modernly). The real zeibekiko was VERY SLOW, because the dancer was (usually) hashish and alcoholic, with “dertia”, so he was also in “nirvana” and danced much later ..
Glentzes: In zeibekiko the rhythm comes out of the earth and goes up to the heart, there awakens the emotions that lead the steps to the presses. The figures are measured, the zeibekiko is not for ….. satiety!
ΓΙΑΝΝΗΣ ΠΑΣΧΟΥ: Zeibekiko is the physical expression of defeat. The despair of life. The unfulfilled dream. It is the “I can not get over it”. The evil you see coming. The complaint of souls who did not adapt to the order of others.
Precious Rapaculia: You’re right dude, this is a show, almost ballet, anyone who has seen real guys dancing knows that they avoid hopping. Zeybek is an internal affair. And it MEANS that it is not taught as they do today in schools, with ready-made steps …

I have occasionally witnessed the Zeibekiko at clubs in Los Angeles, and once inside, you feel as though you can’t be far from Psyrri, or Omonia, old sections of Athens.

One such place is Athens by Night, in North Hollywood, California. At 9 p.m., the restaurant is nearly empty, not because people have gone home, but because they have not yet arrived. By 10 p.m., the place begins to show some signs of life, and by 11 p.m., it begins to fill up. The evening is just beginning. Five or so singers, all imported from Greece, rotate sets singing the latest Greek hits, backed by a bouzouki and keyboard band who are also some of the best musicians imported from Greece. If you like Greek pop music, this scene is lots of fun, but the manges have just begun to emerge, and they won’t begin their activities for another few hours.

It is 2:30 a.m. One lustful-looking man, whose face has a serious demeanor, with only a slight detection of a twinkle in his eyes, nods to the waiter with a slight flip backwards of his head. There is a discrete passing of money. The waiter nods to the bouzouki player, thrusts his arm up high and points a finger at the mangas. He then clears the dance floor of anyone still lingering there after the music has stopped. The bouzouki player begins his taxim, a complex improvisation that conforms to the rules of the particular mode, or dromos, road, he has chosen.

Dancer – George Xintaris. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TadnMNq3rI
Song: Enas Mpatsos by Markos Vamvakaris
From the TV series “The Minor of Dawn” (the name of a song by Markos Vamvakaris) premiered in 1983, and ended with a second cycle in 1984, reaching a total of 27 episodes. The series essentially deals with the history of rebetiko song through the creation and action of the legendary rebetika Quartet of Piraeus, which began in 1934 and consisted of Markos Vamvakaris, Giorgos Batis, Anestis Delias and Stratos Pagioumtzis.
Comments: (Google translated) Christos Dafopoulos: “Zeybekiko is a closed dance, with pain and inwardness. It is not addressed to others. The dancer does not communicate with the environment. It revolves around itself, which it places in the center of the world. For some it burns, for some it hurts and he does not seek pity from those around him. The scissors, the shakes, the balances on one foot are for the festivals. And, the more he dances, the darker he gets. “When with open arms he turns into a goat who falls against anyone responsible for his passions and when he bends down in a plea to fate and the uncle.” (From the text of Dionysis Charitopoulos “The lonely lament” contained in his book “We of the Same”, pages 13 and 14, “Greek Letters”, 2003.)
@Polemao Eleftheros The composer who, more than anyone else, influenced Marco Vamvakaris and influenced him in his tragedy, was Costas Skarvelis from Constantinople. Skarvelis, who arrived in Athens after 1922, was the main representative of the Byzantine, Constantinople butcher {hasapiko, rebetiko – DB]. His butchers, with main musicians Giorgos Kavouras, Stellakis Perpiniadis, Dalgas, Roukounas and Markos Vamvakaris himself, were exemplary. Written in a variety of rhythmic arrangements and melodies, they seem to carry the entire heritage of this rhythm and this dance from Istanbul to Athens. Vamvakaris expressed several times his admiration for Costas Skarvelis who considered him the best, before him, popular composer of the Greek discography. In addition, Skarvelis, who was an excellent guitarist, participated in many recordings of Markos songs. Several songs by Vamvakaris, not only hasapika but also zeibekika, bear the traces of melodies, but also of the themes of Costas Skarvelis. An example is the spinning song that Skarvelis plays guitar.

The mangas, now in total command of the floor, takes his cue, strolls onto the stage and begins to twirl slowly to the music, his arms outstretched like a bird beginning to take flight. One of the five rotating singers begins to sing an old rebetika song. A few of the other manges crouch on the stage, clapping in rhythm to the music of the Zeibekiko. No one else may set foot on the stage, as this dance belongs to the man who paid for it. Legends are told about some unlucky souls who have been knifed and breathed their last breaths right there on stage for disobeying this unwritten code.

A waiter brings a metal pot to the dance floor, pours brandy into it and lights it on fire. The dancer leans over the fire, pivots on one foot, while he thrusts his free leg over the fire. A man climbs onto the stage with a large wad of dollar bills and peels them off over the dancer with his thumb, one by one. Two waiters arrive on stage, one with a champagne glass on a tray, the other with a case of champagne. The waiters open one bottle after another, pouring a little champagne from each bottle into the overflowing glass, which is held on a tray by one of the waiters, until every bottle has been opened.

Finally, the dancer strikes a pose with his arms held up in the air. Then he thrusts his pelvis forward, brings his arms down and places his hands on his groin as if making an offering of his genitals. When the dance is finished, the dancer goes back to his table. He has now, presumably, been purged of all of the frustrations and troubles life brings, and he has received the recognition and respect of his peers.

Music- Tis Evdokias by Manos Loïzos, Dancer- Manos Loizos. 2012. Comment from Orthodoxy: “The best zeibekiko. true, heavy, lonely, without set figures, simple, airy but above all masculine taken from the soul. I bow !!! The whole story of zeibek in this dance.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG08nWmI9YA

Some nights, several dancers get up, one at a time, to dance the Zeibekiko, and the Zeibekika music can continue for an hour or more. When it ends, someone comes onto the stage with a large broom to sweep away all of the bills, which have now covered the stage like leaves on a windy Fall day. Thousands of dollars can be spent on such dances.

One famous true story tells of a man who was so emotionally moved by the music of a renowned clarinet player, that he spent his entire week’s earnings in one evening. Then, devastated when he realized what he had done, he killed the musician so that he would never again “rob” anyone of his livelihood. This story is often retold, I believe, not to illustrate how strange or unusual was this man’s crime, but to emphasize how great was the virtuosity of the musician, which is measured in how powerfully he was able to influence the emotional state of his listeners.

The men, who have been drinking all night, now slouch at their table. At about 3:30 a.m., the waiters bring each one a hot bowl of egg-lemon soup, and as these tough guys sit up with their heads crouched over the soup bowl, they suddenly seem transformed, as if they were children sitting in mom’s kitchen.

The Zeibekiko dance brings a catharsis to the dancer. Dancing solo in the center of the floor, with all of the others squatting all around you and clapping their hands for you, gives you an intense sensation of affirmation, an emotional expression and release of your sorrows and pain before these approving witnesses. And as you twirl around, you get “in your kefi and become purged. Zeibekiko is an experience that you cannot know until you have owned the dance floor and felt the affirmation of your parea and reached a state of kefi.

Even as an observer, on more than one occasion, after enduring a night without sleep, the loud ringing in my ears from the overamplified music, the smoke-filled room polluting my lungs, a night of eating the flamed cheese, washed down with retsina, and followed by a breakfast of egg- lemon soup, I have felt cleansed, and almost reborn, after one of these mangas nights at the club. It is, I suspect, because I have been moved to tears by the melancholy music, and I have witnessed the strange rituals of the manges, and I know that I am alive.

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