Abatzi, Rita – “I’m Burning, I’m Burning” – [Mississippi Records]
The Greek Urban Experience with Turkish delights by way of
the town of Izmir, just prior to WWII. Rita singing the
rough and tumble rebetiko scorchers. Her voice lights your
cigarette, fiddle follows her striking sparks alongside.
Slow and smoldering at its best, but not without fits of
flancy check the “Blond Jewish Girl” for a nice romp, or the
syrto “Little Calliope” which gives this collection its
title. All lyrics translated in a nice booklet (the
Mississippi way!) allowed me to wonder about Paradosiako’s
words for “The Doe.” Specifically the lines
“Generous wife of the priest 2X
The tough guys you don’t talk to “2X
Most of the songs skirt the anguish of amor, The harm (or
is it haram) of the harem, girls from the other village
called out by name, even twice Rita sings of herself.
And I think I heard the backing musicians shout her name
in encouragement (or perhaps a tricky love triangle).
I prefer the scrapier numbers, where a slithering fiddle
reminds me of the film Latcho Drom, but other numbers
bounce in balaika or flutter in clarinet (“Girl from
Aigio”). The recordings are well-preserved, Rita less
so (RIP 1969). At least we revive Rita’s varied voice
and her name, the talented musicians (check out the
interplay on “Mercy Little Anna”) wander nameless
and amorphous, vanishing like the smoke from those
long ago underground dens.