Sophia Bilides has been called the foremost practitioner of Smyrneika, a cabaret tradition born of Asia Minor Greek refugees in the 1930s-40s.
- Greek Smyrneika
- Natick, Massachusetts
Listen[audio:http://rvanews.net/folk_festival/2009/artists/Dervisaki.mp3|artists=Sophia Bilides|titles=Dervisaki from Greek Legacy]
From The Brothers Burton
Scott says: Traditional Greek music. It’s music that you probably think you don’t like, but as soon as you see and hear Sophia, you will change your mind.
Taylor says: Excellent Greek cabaret music from Anatolia. Very heavy on the Turkish influence, although I think that is reciprocal. Great vocals and great instrumentalists make for a great band.
Sophia Bilides has been called the foremost practitioner of Smyrneika, a cabaret tradition born of Asia Minor Greek refugees in the 1930s-40s. A second-generation Greek-Italian American, Sophia was raised in New Haven, Connecticut, absorbing the musical influences of her father’s Permata (Asia Minor) Greek community.
For three millennia, Asia Minor, also called Anatolia (Turkey) was home to several million Greeks, part of a vibrant culture that was shattered when conflicts led to the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe: the destruction of the port city of Smyrna (now Izmir), the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, and an exchange of populations which saw the expulsion of two million Greeks from their homeland. This exodus of Asia Minor Hellenes resulted in the dissolution of communities, the dispersion of traditions, and a new societal caste–the Anatolian refugee. Fortunately, highly skilled musicians from Smyrna and Constantinople managed to keep alive and further develop their urban musical traditions by bringing their cosmopolitan talents to the Greek mainland and to America.
One of the most prominent styles to flourish was the cabaret tradition known as Smyrneika (of Smyrna), urban songs born in the cafe-aman (Anatolian Greek tavern). Richly intricate melodies and popular sing-along refrains are set to sensuous dance rhythms and accompanied on the santouri, outi, violi, clarino, lyra, kanoun, kythara, doumbeleki, and zilia. The colorful lyrics center around the universal topics of love, nostalgia for the lost homeland, and the celebration of life. These songs require a combination of superb vocal skills and a flair for entertaining on the part of the singers.
On stage, Sophia translates her songs, with the goal of transporting audiences to the cordial and intimate atmosphere of the cafe-aman. Accompanying herself on santouri (hammered dulcimer) and zilia (finger cymbals), she will be joined by Mike Gregian on doumbeleki (drum) and Tom Babbin on kythara (guitar).
Sophia has performed the songs of her Asia Minor Greek heritage for 20 years at concert halls, clubs, and festivals throughout North America at such venues as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and Boston’s Hatch Concert Shell. She is the recipient of an “Individual Artist Folklore Award” from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and was featured in a Singing Traditions tour by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Her music has garnered international praise as well. “Her superb voice is heard to excellent effect in this fascinating singing style that straddles the cultural divide between East and West” (Folk Roots Magazine). The International Greek Folklore Society describes her as “. . .a spirited performer making Greek folk music a significant force; she brings to life a musical heritage that still speaks from and to the heart.”