Vandaag wordt de Amerikaanse gitarist Dick Dale tachtig jaar oud. Hij is vooral bekend geworden door zijn versie van de bekende surf-klassieker “Misirlou”. Het zal nu ondertussen bijna vier jaar geleden zijn dat ik dankzij Klara dan nog wel er achter kwam dat dit eigenlijk Griekse volksmuziek is. Klara speelde het nummer immers in een zeven minuten lange versie door Sakis Stratopoulos, bouzuki; Geoff Goodman, mando-cello & gitaar; Alex Haas, bass en Shankar Lal, tablas (Enja 9117-2). Bij de voorafgaande aankondiging had ik niet echt opgelet, dus ik wist niet of dit nu een bijzonder originele aanpassing is van het nummer dat vooral bekendheid kreeg sedert “Pulp fiction” of juist de originele versie (of beter gezegd als men het over volksmuziek heeft: een uitvoering die dicht aanleunt bij de mogelijk originele versie)…
Most people today know “Misirlou” (often spelled “Miserlou”) as Dick Dale’s signature piece, extremely popular back when issued in 1961 and then again when used to great effect in Pulp Fiction in 1994. (Whippersnappers might know it better from The Black Eyed Peas sampling Dale’s version in a song last year.) But “Misirlou” is an old folk song, its origins obscure.
We can guess where it came from by the range of people who know it today: it can be heard at celebrations of Greeks, Turks, Arabs, or Jews. The logical explanation for this wide range is that it originated in Asia Minor, in what is now the borderlands of modern Turkey and Greece, i.e., between Salonica and Constantinople (the title means “Egyptian girl” in both Greek and Turkish).
The song’s oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morocco to Iran, claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, in the realm of Middle Eastern music, the song is a very simplistic one, since it is little more than going up and down the scale of Makam Hijaz.
The song, surely one of the catchiest melodies ever, spread throughout Greece and the Ottoman Empire, and was also presumably picked up by the local Jewish community and spread from there. Who originally wrote it, of course, is lost to history.
The song was first performed by the Michalis Patrinos rebetiko band in Athens, Greece in 1927. It may not even be the earliest recording, though, despite claims to the contrary; Richard Spotwood’s Ethnic Music on Records, Volume 3: Eastern Europe lists a recording by Tetos Demetriades for Victor in 1927.
The Greek word Misirlou refers specifically to a Muslim Egyptian woman (as opposed to a Christian Egyptiotissa); thus this song refers to a cross-faith, cross-race, relationship, a risqué subject at its time.
Initially, the song was composed as a Greek zeibekiko dance, in the rebetiko style of music, at a slower tempo and a different key than the orientalized performances that most are familiar with today. This was the style of the first known recording by Michalis Patrinos in Greece, circa 1930 (which was circulated in the United States by Titos Dimitriadis’ Orthophonic label); a second recording was made by Patrinos in New York, in 1931.
De Griekse tekst verwijst expliciet naar een Egyptische schoonheid; zoals je allicht weet, was er in de tweede helft van de 19de eeuw tot de Egyptische onafhankelijkheid in 1952 een belangrijke Griekse kolonie in oa Alexandrië, zo leert een mens nog ‘ns wat bij :-)
Μισιρλού μου, η γλυκιά σου η ματιά
Φλόγα μου ‘χει ανάψει μες στην καρδιά
Αχ, για χαμπίμπι, αχ, για χαλέλι, αχ
Τα δυο σου χείλη στάζουνε μέλι, αχ
Αχ, Μισιρλού, μαγική, ξωτική ομορφιά
Τρέλα θα μου ‘ρθει, δεν υποφέρω πια
Αχ, θα σε κλέψω μέσα από την Αραπιά
Μαυρομάτα Μισιρλού μου τρελή
Η ζωή μου αλλάζει μ’ ένα φιλί
Αχ, για χαμπίμπι ενα φιλάκι,άχ
Απ’ το γλυκό σου το στοματάκι, αχ
My Misirlou (Egyptian girl), your sweet glance
It’s lit a flame in my heart
Ah, ya habibi, Ah, ya haleli, ah (Arabic: Oh, my love, Oh, my night)
Your lips are dripping honey, ah
Ah, Misirlou, magical, exotic beauty
Madness will overcome me, I can’t take any more
Ah, I’ll steal you away from the Arab land
My black-eyed, my wild Misirlou
My life changes with one kiss
Ah, ya habibi, one little kiss, ah
From your sweet little lips, ah
In 1941, Nick Roubanis, a Greek-American music instructor, released a jazz instrumental arrangement of the song, crediting himself as the composer. Since his claim was never legally challenged, he is still officially credited as the composer today worldwide, except in Greece where credit is variably given to either Roubanis or Patrinos. Roubanis is also credited with fine-tuning the key and the melody, giving it the oriental sound that it is associated with today. The song soon became an “exotica” standard among the light swing (lounge) bands of the day.
After Roubanis’s version, the song became a minor big band standard, performed by Harry James, Freddy Martin, Woody Herman, and Jan August (who had a hit with it in 1947). It was Xavier Cugat’s version, however, that pushed it into exotica territory; versions would follow by nearly every notable exotica artist, including Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, Esquivel, Dick Hyman, Enoch Light, and our old friend Korla Pandit (on his 1958 LP Music of the Exotic East).
In 1944 maestro Clovis el-Hajj, an Arabic Lebanese musician, performed this song and called it “”amal.”” This is the only Arabic version of this song.
In 1945, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, women’s musical organization asked Professor Brunhilde E. Dorsch to organize an international dance group at Duquesne University to honor America’s World War II allies. She contacted Mercine Nesotas, who taught several Greek dances, including Syrtos Haniotikos (from Crete), which she called Kritikos, but for which they had no music. Because Pittsburgh’s Greek-American community did not know Cretan music, Pat Mandros Kazalas, a music student, suggested the tune Misirlou, although slower, might fit the dance. The dance was first performed at a program to honor America’s allies of World War II at Stephen Foster Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh on March 6, 1945. Thereafter, this new dance, which had been created by putting the Syrtos Kritikos to the slower Misirlou music, was known as “Misirlou” and spread among the Greek-American community, as well as among non-Greek U.S. folk-dance enthusiasts.
In addition to some of the versions mentioned above, we have a recording in the early style recorded in Greece in the late 1940s by “Danai”.
In a parallel development, the “King of Yiddish Radio”, Seymour Rexite, and his wife, popular Yiddish theatre actress Miriam Kressyn, recorded a version in the late 1940s, with lyrics by Kressyn. It’s probable that Rexite and Kressyn had known the song from their youth, but they were also known for Yiddish versions of popular American songs (including, most entertaingly, songs from Oklahoma).
An indisputably traditional Jewish version was recorded in the early 1950s, however. Ethnomusicologist/filmmaker/magician Harry Smith spent two years recording elderly cantor Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, capturing hundreds of hours of traditional music and stories. One of the Rabbi’s songs was clearly Misirlou. A 15-LP limited edition of the highlights was released in the 1950s; only a handful of copies survive. Abulafia’s grandson, 81-year-old Lionel Ziprin (a former amphetamine-addicted beatnik whacko who has since gone back to his roots and hangs out with chasidim in his Lower East Side apartment), has been trying to get the recordings reissued; John Zorn has expressed interest in releasing them on his label, Tzadik Records.
At the time, the 1940s and 1950s, there was a thriving Near-Eastern nightclub scene in New York and New England. Such restaurants or clubs, usually owned by Greeks, featured near-eastern style music played by Greeks, Armenians, and Arabs, and often belly dancers. The musicians played belly-dance music to accompany the dancers and also ethnic folk music to which the club’s patrons, also usually Greeks, Armenians, and Arabs, would dance their traditional line dances. Eventually the Misirlou song and dance were introduced into this scene, and to the Armenian-American and Arab-American communities. This was not unusual as there were actually many new, American-made, “folk” songs and dances in this era. It became known to the Armenian-Americans as the “Snake Dance” due to its sinuous foot movements.
Also, an oddity: while there weren’t too many R&B/African-American recordings of Misirlou, one of the few was a 1955 recording by doo-wop “bird group” The Cardinals, best known for “Come Back My Love”, recorded the same year.
The song was rearranged as a solo instrumental guitar piece by Dick Dale in 1962. Dale’s father and uncles were Lebanese-American musicians who were a part of the aforementioned ethnic nightclub scene(his birth name was Richard Mansour). Although they were Arab, they, like other performers, played the music of all the main cultures which made up the nightclub patrons–that included Greek music and Misirlou. During a performance, Dale was bet by a young fan that he could not play a song on only one string of his guitar. Later that night, he remembered seeing his uncle play “Misirlou” on one string (actually one course, a double string) of the oud. He tried to imitate that style on his guitar, but vastly increased the song’s tempo to make it into rock’n’roll, and the result was the famous Dick Dale Misirlou. It was Dale’s version that introduced “Misirlou” to a wider audience in the United States as “Miserlou.” Dit is de eerste opname waarbij de opmerkelijk snelle tremelo-effecten te beluisteren vallen. Volgens Dale zelf ontdekte hij dit effect door zijn gitaar te bespelen alsof het drums waren. Dale trad met zijn Deltones voornamelijk op in het Rendez-vous Ballroom van Balboa Beach, waar o.m. Jimi Hendrix, die toen bij Joey Dee & the Starliters speelde, af en toe langs kwam. Say no more. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Subsequently S. Russell, N. Wise, and M. Leeds wrote English lyrics to the song. Nearly every notable surf band would perform a version, undoubtedly unaware of its pre-Dale history: The Surfaris, The Trashmen and The Astronauts all had versions, with varying results. The Beach Boys recorded a Dale-inspired “Miserlou” for the 1963 album Surfin’ USA, forever making “Miserlou” a staple of American pop culture. Hundreds of recordings have been made to date, by performers as diverse as Agent Orange and Connie Francis.
Op nationaal vlak brak Dick Dale nooit door, aangezien zijn platenfirma meer zag in The Beach Boys, die nota bene zelf grote fans waren van Dick Dale en ook vaak in Balboa Beach te zien waren, net als Jan and Dean, die door Brian Wilson werden geproducet en ook veel meer succes kenden dan Dick Dale. In 1965 besloot Dale er dan ook, ontgoocheld, mee te stoppen. Het jaar daarop kreeg hij van de dokters te horen dat hij nog drie maanden te leven had. Een operatie waarbij zes kwaadaardige tumors werden verwijderd slaagde volkomen, zodat Dale nog in levende lijve zijn come-back kon meemaken in de jaren negentig. Zijn nieuwe CD “Tribal thunder” (eigenlijk gewoon een andere titel voor “Misirlou”, probably because he was sick of paying Roubanis’s estate undeserved royalties) maakte weliswaar weinig brokken, maar in 1994, Dale’s version of “Misirlou” was used on the soundtrack of the motion picture Pulp Fiction, thanks to a suggestion to Quentin Tarantino from his friend Boyd Rice. More recently, the song was selected by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee as one of the most influential Greek songs of all time, and was heard in venues and at the closing ceremony–it was performed by Anna Vissi. In March 2005, Q magazine placed Dale’s version at number 89 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In 2006, his version once again found popularity, this time as the basis of The Black Eyed Peas’ single “Pump It.” Dale’s version would also be used in the reggaeton song “Dame Un Kiss” by Franco “El Gorilla”. (Met dank aan Peter Cnop)