Towards a new way to approach Rebetiko
Kostas Masselos (Nouros) (1892-1972)
It took me a lot of years up to the moment a searchlight turned on inside me and I could realize that my roots from Asia Minor had shadowed secretly the biggest part of my life. As an example, I could not understand before why I always had felt as a stranger on the Cycladic islands, which I admire so much. On the contrary, every time the boat was passing or came to anchor to islands of the Eastern Aegean sea, I was feeling something warm flowing inside me. Like if I had come home to a familiar landscape but I could not understand the reason why.
I have to notice that I never heard a word from my father and his relatives, as long as they lived, about their hometown Izmir and likewise nobody, from my mother´s side, had ever explained why one of four inhabitants of Thessalonica, my hometown, suddenly had disappeared when the Germans came to town.
The catalyst which put the first searchlight on was the moment I listened to Rita Abadzi’s warm breathes in the remarkably fine CD “Rita Abadzi 1933-1938”, Heritage.
The second searchlight was the re-discovering of Kostas Masselos (Nouros).
The moist sound of his nickname Nouros twirled round in my mind. I was trying to find the, unknown to me, origin of this word. I could not find it in Turkish lexicons and not in Spanish. I asked a man from Argentina, I thought it could come from the French noir (black). No result. All of a sudden, I met a Syrian girl coming from Turkey and she gave me the answer. Nuro in Syrian means, fire.
I had imagined instinctively something like that because from the “black” and soft like velvet voice of this man comes out a burning breath which do not singe but touches you carelessly with flames which do not burn.
Nouros had an inward voice, not outward as, for example, Vangelakis Sofroniou. You go into ecstasy though he does not lift you up in the sky as Dalgas did or Stratos Payioumtzis. Nouros does not break your heart as Mitsos Atraidis can do, but he takes you into half dark, melancholic, mysterious and monastic rooms. He softens your soul and throws you on downy pillows, while you feel like breathing perfumed smoke in phosphoric colours.
Nouros voice had a duende*1. It was not a gothic demon, it was of another short from Asia Minor, in a blue violet colour, like the inner side of sea-shells. But from one moment to another his demon could change appearance. He then got a dark grey colour, a shining and metallic surface, like an oyster, with squeaking scales, as if every one of them had its own life.
His duende was volcanic but with en inward activity. It was passionate but covered with a veil of calm, granite old Greek dignity. This oblong demon, looking like an eel, was fastened on Nouros and enticed him into masculine lovers.
His duende concealed him with an undefined and unsatisfied melancholy. That one which never reveals when and how you have been loved from all those who walked besides you, slept with you, been photographed with you, or if they did it because of other hidden reasons. That melancholy which accompanies you through all your life and leads to an old age, keeping you half-drowned into seas of wonderings and dubious memories. The same melancholy which was standing besides him under the night lights of the music places where the customers were longing for the black and waving sounds coming out from his mouth.
Because his voice was moving in spirals, “folding” and ”unfolding” from his larynx’s contractions and the ups and downs of his lower jaw.
Everybody had something nice to say about Nouros good heart. In his few photos he looks serious, mysterious and distant. Perhaps, those who have met him got a different opinion, but there is something in his sad eyes that makes me think so.
Closed to the end of “Tabahana mané” (1931)*2 he makes something fantastic with his voice, covering with nimbus clouds of envy (?) the heart of the magic but egoistic Stellakis Perpiniadis who was present during the recording. Stellakis opened his mouth and spat out this “unexpected”, rigid and frozen comment: ”drop dead, faggot!”
Duende and the choosen human being are living together as two different entities. Duende decides to whom it will stay and how long, enlightening and torturing. The human being is like a feather which leds away by the wind,though duende has a stable and callous substance. The meaning of right and wrong, good and evil are stabilised and definitely balanced. Duende never pets, it only becomes frantic.
Nouros got perhaps not sorrowed or annoyed by Stellaki’s comment (ask his heart for being sure…) but duende does not forgive or accept stupidity. It became livid, lifted up its scales but its anger evaporated within a second. It took back its sea-shell colour and forced Nouros to smile and answer in a happy-go-lucky way.
The comment “drop dead, faggot” contains a couple of words which give en electric shock to each other and we ought to approach them in two different ways. According to the concept of that time (1930΄s) and the today’s one. The 1930’s was a totally different time compared to 2000’s.
The World War 1 and the defeat in Asia Minor were fresh in people’s mind. Death was like a well-known visitor. On the other hand, men have always had a tough way when they’re joking and the codes inside Rebetiko esnaf ”permitted” similar word games.
No matter what Stellakis Perpiniadis had in mind his comment sounds sharp. One can see it as wickedness or envy for Nouros’ voice. Those two men knew each other well and Stellakis appreciated Nouros and admired him, something that he did not use to do. But at that moment threw an arrow and hit Nouros in his Achilles’ heel.
People within Rebetiko were not angels. Nevertheless, some of them were very special and sensitive in another way. It is my belief that Nouros was one of them and that the verses of ”Ηouzam mane”*3 give his stigma:
Whoever has a blackened heart, let’s stay together
wander the wastelands and hide ourselves from the world’s gaze.
Nouro´s voice offers consolation.
Rebetiko is a music for consolation.
Vasilis Tsitsanis, another extremely sensitive man, says in a verse of the song “Gipsy, break up the violin”:
I did not come here tonight to amuse myself,
I just came to get consolation…
During the last years before his death and while his duende was counting the last pearls of his life, Tsitsanis used to greet his public by saying, “ala, alania!” but at the same time, he was somewhere else. His customers were dancing “empty” and exhibitionistic zeibekiko dances, but he was somewhere else, because the bridges had been cut and the leaves had left the trees…
*1 duende = New Oxford Dictionary: 1. ghost, evil spirit/2. inspiration, magic, fire – Random house Dictionary: 1. demon, spirit/fascination, magnetism.
No matter if duende is a spirit or a demon it cannot be described and being bottled…
Kostas Ladopoulos (2009)