Roza Eskenazi with Demitris Semsis (violin) and Agapios Tomboulis (cümbüs),
Through the first half of the 20th century, the popular songs loosely grouped together as rebetika, performed by Greek, Turkish and other ethnic groups (Armenian, Jewish, Roma), thrived in the night-clubs and music halls of port cities like Istanbul, Smyrna/Izmir, and Athens, as well as in the diaspora, notably the USA (cf. Accordion crimes).
For “the birth of modern Istanbul”, I’ve already praised Charles King’s Midnight at the Pera Palace, which puts the popular music scene of the day in context. Despite its syncretic style, rebetika found itself on the faultlines of a period of convulsive change, with savage ethnic conflicts leading to the population exchanges of 1923. The rebetika ethos is commonly linked with other popular demi-monde styles like flamenco, fado, tango, blues, and so on. 
This was also a booming period for the commercial recording industry, and we have a wealth of reissues on CD (often with fine liner notes and translations), such as
- Greek-Oriental rebetica: songs and dances in the Asia Minor style—the golden years, 1911–1937 (Arhoolie Folklyric, 1991)
- Armenians, Jews, Turks and Gypsies: oldest known recordings (Collection Greek Archives, 1995)
- Great voices of Constantinople 1927–1933 (Rounder, 1997)
- To what strange place: the music of the Ottoman-American diaspora, 1916-1929 (Canary, 2001)
- Women of rembetika 1908–1947 (JSP, 2012).
Left to right: Safiye Ayla, Necmiye Ararat Hanim, and Suzan Yakar Rutkay.
Prompted by the CD Women of Istanbul (Traditional Crossroads, 1998), I’ll feature YouTube playlists for some of the female singers who feature on such discs, as they achieved popularity from the 1920s alongside male performers. Their biographies only hint at the changing times. As Harold G. Hagopian observes in the liner notes, the gramophone
could effectively divide the public from the private, the voice from the body, screening women at least for a time from the very modern world they helped foster.
Left, Zehra Bilir; right, Roza Eskanazi.
Here she sings in an Armenian dialect quite remote from “standard” Turkish, with stock phrases borrowed from Anatolian folk türkü, rich in allusions. As my Istanbul friends tell me, the folk lyrics seem to have inspired a poem by Ali Kızıltuğ, in which a man professes his undying love.
This style is featured on the CD Amanedhes and taxims 1929–1937 (playlist):
Safiye Ayla (1907–98) (8 songs here):
The Jewish-Greek singer Roza Eskenazi (mid-1890s–1980), based in Athens—a playlist with 276 gorgeous tracks:
The list opens with Why I smoke cocaine—the Greek lyrics translated by Hagopian:
Where’s all my prettiness, where are those great looks of mine?
In all of Athens, no girl had my class.
I was really a doll, with money and all—
I’m not putting you on, I made the world go wild.
Then this tough guy, yeah, a number one Mr Cool,
Got me involved with him;
He took all I had and left me flat—
He took my heart, my. youth, and my money too,
And from the pain, I smoke cocaine.
(Oh damn you cocaine, you’ve wiped me out!)
Bigshots loved me, old guys, young guys, boys,
And all the fine dudes on the scene.
What great times I had, with wine and song;
Every day I partied it up and led the good life.
And now, poor me, I wander around and waste away,
‘Cause my hang-up for that tough guy won’t let me be.
That cokehead came and wrecked my brain,
So I myself now smoke cocaine.
Müzeyyen Senar (1918–2015) (25 songs):
Hamiyet Yüceses (1914–96) (99 songs):
Marika Papagika (1890–1943), Greek singer based in the USA (12 songs):
Other Greek singers include Rita Abadzi (c1914–69) (295 songs!):
and Marika Kanaropúlu (1914–90), who moved from Turkey to the USA via Greece—18 songs here:
Again, she was a fine exponent of soulful solo amanedhes:
And here she exemplifies the migrant experience with Neva hedzaz (“Like a dry and drifting leaf”):
* * *
All these singers were backed by a host of fine (male) instrumentalists. The CD Istanbul 1925 (Traditional Crossroads, 1994) also has many wonderful instrumental tracks, like this:
For a couple more examples of the free-tempo taxim preludial style which opened that song, here’s the blind Armenian oud-player Udi Hrant (1901–78):
as well as the wind-player Şükrü Tunar (1907–62):
And here’s a wonderful recent taxim on zurna:
For a change of tone, to follow this recording of Misirlou from 1927 New York, sung by Tetos Dimitriades,
Quentin Tarantino included a version on the brilliant soundtrack of Pulp fiction (cf. Dusty):
Rebetika makes another good illustration of Bruno Nettl’s parameters for musical change and adaptation—in scales, vocal style, heterophonic and harmonic accompaniment, instrumentation, context, and so on. For related themes, see e.g. Landscapes of music in Istanbul; Köçek in Kuzguncuk!; Musics of Crete; Italian folk musicking, Accordion crimes, and Bernard Lortat-Jacob at 80.
With many thanks to Hülya and Augusta!