An Ode to the Bouzouki

An Ode to the Bouzouki

Have you ever wondered what that Greek-like guitar is that is played at Greek events, including Greek Festivals? That, my friends, is the bouzouki.

The bouzouki is a Greek string instrument with either three or four courses (sets of two strings, like on a 12-string guitar). It is commonly used in modern Greek music, in addition to traditional Greek folk music. The bouzouki is often ornately decorated like many instruments that have evolved from Ottoman and Balkan tradition. The bouzouki is typically played with a pick.

The bouzouki originated from instruments brought from Turkey and the Balkans, (mandolins, citterns, and the like), but influences go all the way back to Ancient Greece. The bouzouki was inspired by the pandura, a long-necked lute dating back to at least 1,000 B.C. The name “bouzouki” comes from the Turkish word “buzuk” meaning “broken” or “modified.”

Because of the Greco-Turkish War in the early 20th century, approximately 900,000 Greeks of Anatolian and Muslim descent had to leave Turkey and move back to Greece, bringing their instruments with them. This quickly modernized Greek musical tradition. From here, the modern bouzouki was born and quickly ushered the support of Greek folk music.

The main style of music, rebetiko, is a beautiful style of music that tells stories using melody and rhythm. It can be compared to fado (from Portugal), tango (from Argentina), and the blues. Rebetiko draws lyrical inspiration from the hardships of Greek daily life, covering topics of crime, poverty, drinking, prostitution, and violence, as well as themes of war, love, exile, and work. Surprisingly enough, the bouzouki was first recorded in America in 1926.

The bouzouki is often played at Greek weddings, festivals, and other events where groups of people (parea) get together. It also is the foundation for many popular Greek dances, including the syrtaki and zeimbeiko.

To hear the bouzouki in action, check out the live musical stylings Marmatakis Trio and Etho Ellas during the Denver Greek Festival.

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