Dafné Kritharas: Djoyas de Mar

September 11, 2018

Sea Changes

Listening Post 167. Every sea is a timeless highway of hope and sorrow, and Dafné Kritharas has combed the Aegean for telltale echoes. Though focused on tides from the 1920s and 1930s, her crosscurrents run deeper: In 1492, the multicultural Ottoman Empire welcomed Jewish refugees from Spain, creating Ladino-speaking communities across the eastern Mediterranean. The sun set on pluralism with the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22, and ethnic Greeks fled Turkey for their ancient homeland. In World War II, Nazi Germany occupied Greece and murdered more than 80 percent of its Jewish population. Rich are the musical legacies of these subcultures—traditional songs Greeks sang in Anatolia, rebetiko kindled by their uprooting, and the ballads of Greek and Turkish Jews, all represented on Djoyas de Mar (Jewels of the Sea). And gifted is the artist who sails musical artifacts into a new era sounding fresh, their particularity and universality intact. Kritharas (Paris born, Greek father, French mother) rises to the challenge with her sterling voice—supple and strong, passionate but without exaggeration—and meticulous accompaniment (guitar, piano, percussion). Her bilingual repertoire smolders with songs of elusive love. In Aïdinikos choros (Dance of the Nightingale), a traditional Greek song from Smyrna (Izmir), a thirsty supplicant asks an uncaring lover for a drink (video 1). Emblematic of rebetiko’s tavern swagger is Katinaki mou gia sena (Because of You, Katinaki, They Killed Me, video 2). La roza enflorece (The Rose Blossoms), a traditional Ladino song, finds a lovesick singer certain she will die of yearning (video 3), while Sien drahmas (100 Drachmas, video 4), composed in Salonika (Thessaloniki) in 1930, portrays a couple dreaming of escape to Palestine. Rebetiko today is on the upswing in Greece, while Ladino music enjoys a renaissance in Israel, Western Europe and the Americas. With one album of Aegean treasures, Kritharas makes an impressive entrance on two stages. (Lior Éditions)

Djoyas de Mar: Chants grecs et judéo-espanhols de la mer Égée
Dafné Kritharas, voice
Camille El Bacha, piano, arrangements
Paul Barreyre, guitar, voice
Naghib Shanbehzadeh, percussion


Aïdinikos choros/Αϊδίνικος χορός/Dance of the Nightingale
(from the Greek lyrics)
From your sweet eyes
running immortal water
I asked you for just a little
And you did not give me a drink


Katinaki mou gia sena/Κατινάκι μου για σένα/Because of You, Katinaki, They Killed Me
My Katinaki, it’s over you they killed me

They laid me out in Fotis Fountain.

They attacked me in a cowardly ambush
Three stabs they gave me to the heart

That’s how I was lost to you, my Katinaki
My sweet doll, remember me


La roza enflorece/The Rose Blossoms
(from the Ladino lyrics)
The rose blossoms in May
My soul darkens, suffering from love
Suffering from love 

Nightingales sing, sighing of love
And the passion kills me, my pain increases
My pain increases

Come more quickly, my dove
More quickly to me
More quickly, my soul, because I feel myself dying
I feel myself dying


Sien Drahmas/One Hundred Drachmas
I make one hundred drachmas a day/Now I can provide for you
I don’t want to hear from your mother/That I can’t support you.

We will run from sorrow/Because I know a way out, oh!
We’ll go to Palestine/Lest we come to ruin, ah!

Go run to your mother/Make her a proposition
I only want a single bed/This is the consolation, ah!



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