5 de novembro de 2014

Roza Eskenazi: canary of the Aegean


She danced, she sang, she hid resistance fighters – and her music ended up in Pulp Fiction. Laura Barton celebrates the rediscovery of Roza Eskenazi, the Greek firebrand who united an underclass.

It’s a short song, but rich and intriguing. “My sweet canary,” it begins. “You took my mind./ In the morning you wake me/ When you sing so sweetly.” Although it’s sung in Greek, you get the drift even without a translation: there’s something hard and yearning in the voice of its singer, Roza Eskenazi, a mingling of desire, infatuation and pain.

Eskenazi was the queen of rembetika, the Greek blues, a genre that sprang up in the Aegean’s port towns in the 1920s. She was a prodigious and prolific talent, revered for her soul and her charisma, as well as for giving a voice to the underclass: the displaced, the poor and the desperate. Yet until now, her music and the extraordinary details of her life have remained relatively unknown.

This month, however, Eskenazi will be celebrated – in a new album that pays tribute to her music, and in a documentary film, My Sweet Canary, that tells the story of a life and a career that encompassed two world wars, an elopement, a long-lost son, the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, German occupation, wartime resistance, imprisonment, and of course extraordinary music.
“The thing that struck me was the lack of any information about her,” says Martha D Lewis, the British-born Cypriot composer who this week releases Homage to Roza, a collection of reworked versions of Eskenazi songs. “It’s like the work of Billie Holiday going by undocumented.”
Eskenazi was born Sarah Skinazi in Constantinople, probably in the 1890s, and her childhood was somewhat itinerant, as her parents worked as rag-traders, mill-workers and maids. Although her family would not sanction a career as a performer, she was rebellious enough to become first a dancer then a singer, and elope in her teens with a much older man, then shave 10 years off her age and rename herself Roza Eskenazi. In the late 1920s, she was singing in a club when famed rembetika composer and record label boss Panagiotis Toundashappened to hear her. He convinced her, in the autumn of 1929, to make her first recordings. Their success was immediate, not only ensuring Eskenazi’s own fame but propelling rembetika into the mainstream.
more in : the Guardian