A. Kostis was the pseudonym of Konstantinos Bezos (1905-1943), a guitarist and singer from Greece who recorded sides for RCA Victor and Columbia in the 1930s and 40s. He played several different styles throughout his career, including a large Hawaiian steel guitar repertoire. However, this song is a “rebetika”, a kind of Greek popular song and “outlaw blues” which typically dealt with street culture: sex, violence, drugs and death. Springing up around the turn of the 20th century in places like Constantinople (Istanbul!) and Ottoman Smyrna, its origins are hazy and, as it was a song tradition associated with hashish dens, criminals, jail, and the poorest classes, it was banned for a time starting in 1937. So the music went underground and the tradition carried on, ever with the possibility of imprisonment or worse.

“Isouna Xypoliti” translates to “Without Stockings.” I looked around the internet and found a really great translation of the lyrics, which deal with a man addressing his wife who now wants luxuries like earrings:

“you were barefoot, out on the streets, now that I took you in (or married you) you even ask for a horse and stable boys, you were out in the market begging for some food, now that I took you in you want earrings”

However, because of all the antiquated Greek slang, some of the lyrics are difficult to connect. The last two verses deal with imprisoning Death to live forever, dice gambling and something about the cops, but it is not entirely clear. To me, the incomplete understanding of the lyrics is just another reason to dig in and inhabit the world and voice of the character. And the two guitar attack playing a traditional 9/4 meter full of quick, dark, and sort of “Eastern blues” runs, is hypnotizing.

This shellac is also of the much rarer 12″ sort, which makes for an almost 4-minute song, whereas most 78s are 10″ and hold between 2-3 minutes of music. Opa!

 

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On the rare La Belle Creole label, this Haitian 78 rpm of Guy du Rosier singing the rollicking, self-penned calypso “Mathilda” is a real treasure; and not only because it is basically impossible to find in any shape. Around 1948 Du Rosier and his Rhythm recorded this lively performance filled with masterful percussion, rock solid & perfectly playful piano by Bebo Valdes (father of the very famous contemporary pianist Chucho Valdes), and an energetic vocal take which was just loose enough to catch the island feeling but not lose the ensemble nuances that you need to pull off this kind of laid-back sound. Later on, in the 1950s, Harry Belafonte would do his own version of this tune to great acclaim, but this lesser-known original take (on a super clean shellac – yes!) is the one I prefer every time.

Edith Piaf once called Mr. Du Rosier, a calypso star from an early age, ”the living breath of Haiti.”

 

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