Sunday, June 13, 2010

Farewell, Virgin Mary

Time to go back to the Old World: Istanbul! (yeah yeah Constantinople). Here is a really fun catchy song from and about Istanbul. And no, TMBG never covered it. This song is so catchy it has basically replaced "Bread and Cheese" as our house anthem these days.

This was a really fun tune to research, because it kept leading me to new things and different places. I first heard of this tune from Nao, who learned it from a guy he met at a party. He was learning from this version, called "Istanbul Kasap".


Well that is a pretty catchy song. But "Istanbul Kasap" is more of a description than a song title: Istanbul is of course the famous city in Turkey on the Bosporus, and a "kasap" is a kind of dance. "Kasap" means "Butcher". "Kasap Havasi" is "butcher dance", translated as "hasapiko".

Here's a video that nicely illustrates the old style hasapiko:


More on that in a minute.

YouTube readily offers these for "Istanbul Kasap Havasi":




Ok, so it's obviously a popular song, but what is it called? With a little help from Google Translate and Turkish Wikipedia, we find that this song is called "Exe Geia Panagia", or more accurately, "εχε γεια παναγια".

Here is another version of that melody:


Now here is a recording of "Exe Geia Panagia":


The melody of "Istanbul Kasap" comes toward the end of this version, at 2:10. That hasapiko example above is actually "Exe Geia Panagia". So, we have basically two different songs with the same name, but they often share a section or two.

Here is a version that has the "Exe Geia Panagia" part sandwiched between the "Kasap Havasi" bits:


Here is my transcription, taken from the examples above:


Thematically, what have we got here? There are basically four themes, which I have creatively labelled A, B, C, and D. You can make two songs out of these, one song with themes A & B, the other with themes C & D. The whole tune is in maqam hijaz (hicaz), a.k.a. "phrygian dominant" or "ahava rabboh": .

The "A" theme is the first theme you hear in most of these examples. Aside from some ornamental stuff, this theme is basically the same in all versions.

After the A theme, we have our choice of "B" themes. They are all variations on the same idea. In my transcription, I use them all! Theme "B1" is taken from recordings number and 4 and 6. It is the least complicated of all the B theme variations but it is still fun to play.

I only found the "B2" theme in that original recording. This one is weird in that it has a couple extra bars. But, the theme is nice and I like how it goes into major there for a bit.

The "B3" theme is from recordings 5, 7, and 8. This is the most dramatic variation, so I chose to put it after the "C" and "D" themes.

The "C" theme is the one that connects the two songs. Many versions, including no. 1 above, use this theme without the corresponding "D" theme. That is kind of weird actually, since in the lyrics to "Exe Geia Panagia", C is the verse and D is the chorus.

The "D" theme is a very short, joyful catchy theme, where we finally get to hear the title of the song: "Exe geia panagia, ta milisamé / Oneiro itané ta lismonisamé".

So in summary: |: A :||: B1 :||: A :||: B2 :||: C :||: D :||: C :||: D :||: C :||: D :||: A :||: B3 :||: A :|||

So now we had a fun song to play, but I was still wondering, what is this song about? Google Translate was not much help here. Fortunately I was able to get some great answers out of a friend of a friend. He gave a very nice lengthy explanation, as well as the translation of the lyrics:

Transliterated Greek lyrics:

Sto Galata psili brochi kei sta Tatabla bora
Vasilissa ton koritsion einai i mavrofora.
Vasilissa ton koritsion einai i mavrofora.

Eche geia panagia, ta milisamé
Oneiro itané ta lismonisamé

Sto Galata tha pio krasi sto pera tha methiso
Kei mesa sto Genti Koule kopela tha agapiso.
Kei mesa sto Genti Koule kopela tha agapiso.

Eche geia panagia, ta milisamé
Oneiro itané ta lismonisamé

Genti Koule kei Tharapia, Tatabla kei Nichori
Afta ta tessera choria morfeinone thi poli.
Afta ta tessera choria morfeinone thi poli.

Eche geia panagia, ta milisamé
Oneiro itané ta lismonisamé

English Translation:

At Galata[1] a drizzle, and in Tatavla[2] heavy rain.
The queen of girls is the one dressed in black[3]
The queen of girls is the one dressed in black

Farewell to you Madonna[4], we talked it through,
It was but just a dream, we forgot about it.

At Galata, I will drink wine, At Pera[5] I’ll get drunk.
And inside Genti Koule[6], A girl I will fall in love with.
And inside Genti Koule, A girl I will fall in love with.

Farewell to you Madonna, we talked it through,
It was but just a dream, we forgot about it.

Genti Koule and Tharapia, Tatavla and Nichori
Those four villages[7] make the City[8] beautiful.
Those four villages make the City beautiful.

Farewell to you Madonna, we talked it through,
It was but just a dream, we forgot about it.


1. An area in Istanbul - see Galata bridge and tower.

2. A posh neighbourhood in Istanbul.

3. Referring to that crucified guy’s mother

4. Panageia: lit. the ultimate saint - referring to that gal again

5. Another area?

6. Genti Koole means "seven towers" in Turkish, and refers to the castle which was situated within the City walls and was throughout history, a treasury during early Ottoman rule, and a prison, for which it is mostly known. I believe there was also a Greek prison up north that was referred to as Genti Koule for its harsh conditions. The song probably refers to the area where it is situated.

7. Suburbs, boroughs

8. The City: Long before New York, Istanbul (Or Constantinople in Greek) was the cultural and economical capital of the known world. The metropolis which substituted Rome. The cultural inheritance of Istanbul is very rich because of the intersection of cultures for many centuries. Greeks have a particular relationship with it, for many reasons. Firstly because in 1453, it was conquered by the Ottomans, and it became Muslim. It was not Greek in the first place, it was basically Roman; what today is called Byzantine. But in the collective conscious of the orthodox Christians it has remained that the Turks (Muslim) took it away from us Greeks (but basically orthodox Christians).

In modern popular culture, or traditional music and lyrics from the past two centuries, there is a reminiscence of the City, also because modern Greek populations living in the city (probably in some of the areas referred to in this song) were extradited from their homes in various phases throughout the 19th and 20th century. More recently, in the ’50s almost all Greeks that lived in the City (we call them Citizens here) were deported to Greece, unless they became Muslim. This was basically the Cypriots fault, who were fighting a guerilla war with the Turkish population in Cyprus involving many terrorist attacks. So the Turks said, your friends killed our friends, so fuck off.

Anyway. The City is always revered by the Greeks, because it was probably, after classical Athens, their brightest moment (even though it was built by Romans speaking Greek).

However after some research I am afraid I will disappoint you.

The song refers to a treaty after the first world war (1918), which declared the truce between the allies (Greece was amongst them) and the Ottoman empire. This was favorable for the allies, a triumph of British politics, which brought the Ottoman administration in chaos and basically in the hands of the Brits who gained control of the wider area. The song was a celebration song, since the Greek population of the City had been oppressed by strict measures during the war, enforced by the Turks, and with this treaty the gained some civil liberties and privileges they were deprived from.

The chorus initially was "Exe geia, Panta Geia". Although translated as "Farewell", "Exe geia" means "have health", and "Panta Geia", "Always health", so "have health, always health". "Panta geia" was paraphrased "Panageia", because of the reference of the previous lyric the one dressed in black.

What this chorus is saying, is "Goodbye and Farewell, we talked it through (we resolved the issue), it was but just a dream now we forgot about it (i.e. the hard times are gone)."

Kind thanks to Wikipedia in Greek, and to Pantelis Aibaliotis!


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  2. As a former inhabitant of Tatavla in Constantiple/Istanbul 60 Years ago:
    2) Tatavla was not really posh, but always 100% Greek until the mid of the 20th century. Its Turkish name today is Kurtulush.
    5) Therapia is called Tarbya today and is a neighbourhood on the European bank of the Bosphorus, formerly a summer recreation place.
    6) Genti kule is a transliteration of the greek spelling of a turkish word. Since Gamma at the beginning of a word reads as Y and delta + my read as D (delta alone would sound like th in "the"), the word is pronounced "yedi" and means seven in Turkish. Yedi Kule now is also the name of a neighbourhood near the old city walls.
    Thanks to Sam for his researches and results!
    O Tatavlalis