Eskenazi, Roza (c. 1900–1980)

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Eskenazi, Roza (c. 1900–1980)

Greek popular singer, who performed in the cafe amán style, whose many recordings brought her as much fame abroad among the Greek diaspora as within Greece itself. Name variations: Rosa Eskenazy; Roza Eskenaze. Born in the Ottoman Empire around 1900; died in 1980.

Roza Eskenazi was born into a Jewish family in the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century and grew up in a society that was stimulating in its religious, cultural, linguistic and musical diversity. At a very young age, she began her career as a defi player in what was then rapidly evolving into a lively new world of popular entertainment, the Greek cafe music scene. In the cafe amáns of Constantinople where she performed (in Turkish, the exclamation amàn means "mercy" or "pity"), Eskenazi quickly became one of the most celebrated singers in the Smyrnaic-Rebetic tradition of song and dance that was taking shape at that time. The cafe amàn style of musical performance developed in the last decades of the 19th century in cities of the Aegean Sea such as Athens, Constantinople and particularly Smyrna, from which the term Smyrnaic-Rebetic is derived.

Roza Eskenazi grew up in the complex multiethnic world of the late Ottoman Empire in which Armenian, Greek, Roma (Gypsy), Jewish and Turkish musicians worked together. Artists within each group were able to enlarge and enrich their own artistic vision because of constant interactions with various cultural styles. Eskenazi's skills as a vocalist—with her sweet but reedy soprano voice, as expressive as it was pure—were complemented on her hundreds of recordings by the brilliance of the instrumentalists with whom she chose to work. These included the violinist Dhimitris Sémsis as well as the celebrated oud player Agápios Tomboúlis, whose performances on her classic recordings helped to frame her unique vocal art in a superb fashion. She was also fortunate in receiving enthusiastic support from directors of major record firms, including Smyrna-born Spiros Peristéris of the Odeon-Parlophone firm, as well as from Dhimitris Sémsis of His Master's Voice records who successfully balanced his career as instrumentalist with the demands of a busy recording executive.

By the early 1930s, Roza Eskenazi was a superstar in the world of Greek popular entertainment, already surpassing the fame of Marika Papagika , the reigning vocal queen of the previous decade. Many of Eskenazi's recordings were highly successful in the Greek diaspora, particularly in the United States where her 78s sold well despite the Great Depression. Her recordings reminded listeners of the world they had left behind while providing an aural portrait of the Ottoman culture that had been destroyed by World War I and its bloody aftermath. Eskenazi reflected this complex world in her singing, which was done not only in Greek, but also in Turkish,

Kurdish, and Ladino (the Spanish-derived language of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora of the Mediterranean).

Roza Eskenazi escaped from Greece before Nazi Germany occupied the country in the spring of 1941. During the war years, she lived in the United States, where she performed before enthusiastic audiences. While there, she also made recordings but returned to Greece soon after the end of World War II. Just when it appeared that she would end her days a forgotten star of yesteryear, in the 1970s a new interest in her life and art brought about a revival of Eskenazi's career. Her classic recordings were reissued, and through the efforts of Tassos Schorellis and other enthusiasts, her achievements became known once again to a younger generation of Greek music lovers. By the late 1990s, compact disc reissues had preserved her recorded legacy.


Archives of Traditional Music, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Eskenazi, Roza, as told to Kostas Hatzidoulis. Auta Pou Thymamai [That Which I Remember]. Athens: Kaktos, 1982.

Frangos, Steve. "Portraits in Modern Greek Music: Roza Eskenazi," in Resound: A Quarterly of the Archives of Traditional Music. Vol. 12, no. 1–2. January–April, 1993, pp. 5–8.

related media:

Rembetica: Historic Urban Folk Songs from Greece. Rounder Records C–1079.

Roza Eskenazi: Rembétissa. Rounder Records CD-1080.

Schwartz, Martin, and Chris Strachwitz. Greek-Oriental Rebetica: Songs and Dances in the Asia Minor Style. Arhoolie/Folklyric CD-7005.

Women of the Rebetiko Song. HM Records CD-632: Hellenikos Phonographos/The Greek Archives, Vol. 6.

John Haag , Assistant Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia