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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Introduction to Laiko and Rebetika Music


By Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin




Laiko is a style of music from Greece.

Some people translate Laiko as "folk music". This is accurate, but there is more meaning and feeling with this type of music, especially from the 1930's era. Laiko can also mean "of the people", or "one with the people". This is how I like to interpret this word.

Laiko music was born out of the Rebetiko movement. Rebetika / Politika / Smyrneika music arrived in mainland Greece in the early 1900's after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, brought by the refugees from Turkey's Asia Minor. Music was shared and played among many ethnicities, including the Anatolian Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, Askenazi Jews, and Turks. They all typically gathered at a café called Café Aman where they shared their love of music and dance.

Another common place to hear music was Tekes, which refers to hash dens. Music of this time and style is typically about love, immigration, pain, refugee, politics, drugs and poverty. The era of the Forbidden Rebetika began in 1937, when the Greek prime minister Ioannis Metaxas banned music “hasiklidika”, the music of hashis (marijuana) smokers. If you listen to old and original versions of this music, you can also hear them smoking and getting high.

Sadly, at this time the beautiful bouzouki musical instrument was also banned. If one was caught carrying a bouzouki he would be sent to prison. Often times, the bouzouki was hidden under the musician’s coat. Later, new versions of the rebetes songs were brought back to life and modified to more “appropriate” language. Both versions are still highly popular and respected in Greece.


Instruments used by dancers for this music include:

  • Tambourine
  • Finger cymbals
  • Two small shot glasses in each hand to clink together
  • A shot glass striking koboli beads

*Thank you to my Rebetes uncles and parents for teaching me the history!

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The musician in the photo is Markos Vamvakaris, a singer who was nicknamed "patriarch of the rebetiko".

Markos Vamvakaris



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About the Author

This page was contributed by Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin, who is happy to share her culture and music she grew up with! Here's how Panayiota describes her background:

I always love engaging with intelligent like-minded people, especially artists. I love sharing anything and everything about my Hellenic culture and upbringing, especially music and dance. A conversation with me will bring you back to America's favorite Greek-American movie by Nia Vardalos called My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I love investigating Greek culture, history, music, and dance. Speaking of investigating, I think I missed my calling, I probably should have been an investigator. Instead, I use those skills to dig and dig and dig tirelessly, often times falling asleep on my laptop... just to find the truth. But, most importantly, accurate truth. For me personally, and other respectable folklorists, my culture and accuracy are very important. Each generation of ethnic born artists has a duty to do the best it can to pass down our traditions as was taught to us. We have been given this artistic gift to be the gatekeepers of our heritage and culture.




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