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Rhythmic modes (usuls) found in rebetika

Though rebetika is widely known as a Greek musical form and the predecessor to Greek pop music, the rhythms of rebetika, for the most part, are specific to Anatolia and before were not to be found on Greek islands or on the Hellenic mainland. This is not to say that the rhythms are necessarily foreign - many Greeks lived along the Aegean, and perhaps they danced çiftetellis and zeybeks along with Turks, Armenians, Jews, and Romani. However, regarding rhythm, rebetika shares more characteristics with Turkish folk music that with Greek folk music from regions of present-day Greece.

Below, I outline the four most important rhythms in rebetika music. Other rhythms existed, including fast 7-beat rhythms shared with Macedonian and Bulgarian music, and other rhythms of Latin and Arab music origins, but none of them is specifically characteristically associated with rebetika.

The çiftetelli is originally an Anatolian Turkish rhythm, and dance, found throughout Western Anatolia and Thrace. There are many variations on the rhythm, and it can be found played at many tempos, from very slow to medium-fast.

basic ciftetelli rhythm
ornamented ciftetelli rhythm

The sirto, of all the rebetika rhythms, is the only one of definitively Hellenic origin. Sirtos are popular line dances, found throughout the Greek mainland and Greek islands as well.

basic and ornamented sirto rhythms

The karsilama is a fast 9-beat rhythm which is found from Bulgaria through Anatolia and east to Armenia. Rebetika karsilamas have the most similarity to Roman gypsy karsilamas, as well as folk music from the Thrace and Aegean regions.

basic and ornamented karsilama rhythms

Zembekiko (Zeybek)
This rhythm is found in particular parts of the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts (and is the most common rhythm in what is called Ege music). The main difference between Ege zeybekler and Greek zembekikos is speed - the Greek zembekikos are played up to twice the tempo as their Aegean counterparts. Also, there is not "one" zeybek rhythm (as Aegean zeybeks that are 8 and 10 beats long, as well as ones that change time frequently, can be found), whereas the zembekiko became a somewhat regular 9-beat rhythm. Here you can find the 2 main variants of the zembekiko rhythm: the second ("reverse zembekiko") can be found in early rebetika music but later disappeared from use.

basic zembekiko rhythm
ornamented zembekiko rhythm
reverse zembekiko rhythm

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