Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Misirlou - A Turkish, Greek, Israeli, Easy Listening, Klezmer, Surf Rock, Punk Classic

As a guy with one or two of my own, I appreciate obsessions in others. The song Misirlou, for example. Why settle for just one version when you can have six? YouTube user Iatedmen posted six different versions of the Turkish, Greek, Israeli, easy listening, klezmer, surf rock, punk classic to YouTube yesterday. My compliments.

About Misirlou, as Wikipedia tells us....
"The song was first performed by the Michalis Patrinos* rebetiko band in Athens, Greece 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."

*note this attribution is somewhat disputed, but good enough for now.

For an American, the other major figure in the the Misirlou story is surf-guitar pioneer Dick Dale. As of Sluggo of Dinosaur Gardens tells it..
"In 1960, a ten-year-old boy walked up to Dick Dale at a local show and asked him if he could play an entire song on one guitar string. He said sure kid, come back tomorrow, and then wracked his brain that night trying to figure out a composition that would work. Lebanese-American Dale (his birth name was Richard Mansour) thought back to the weddings of his childhood and remembered the traditional number “Misirlou”, which fit the bill; he resolved to play it insanely fast. It would become Dale’s signature song."
I'm not going to embed each of Iatedmen's videos, though all are excellent and worth listening to. They include Greek singers Glykeria , Tzeni Vanou, Cuban bandleader Xavier Cugat (who's 1950's exotica rendition is fabulously deranged), Brazilian classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida, American pop singer Connie Francis (also known for her album 'Connie Francis sings Jewish Favorites'), and American surf rock band, The Ventures. (Though not the classic Dick Dale version or an outstanding punk version by Agent Orange.)

This being a Jewish music blog I'm going to jump right into two klezmer versions of the song. First up is the Portuguese klezmer band Melech Mechaya in a poorly recorded but great street corner jam.

Melech Mechaya - Miserlou

For a more standard and polished version, here's The Klezmonauts, performing at the Llanidloes Green Fair, in October 2007.

The Klezmonauts - Misirlou

Courtesy of the DinosaurGardens website, here is a Yiddish version and a Hebrew version. The Yiddish version is from Seymour Rexite, bandleader and husband of Yiddish Theater star Miriam Kressyn. Kressyn is credited with translating Misirlou into Yiddish in the 40's.

Seymour Rexite - Miserlou (cir. 1950)

The Hebrew version is from cantor Rabbi Nuftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, who was recorded by ethnomusicologist Harry Smith in 1951. (See my post 'Rabbi Abulafia's Boxed Set')

Rabbi Abulafia - Misirlou (cir. 1951)

For more on the evolution of Misirlou, you can listen to Dick Dale and to musicologist and Klezmer musician Yale Strom on NPR's "Discover Songs" series.

1 comment:

elisabeth said...

Great post -- that street jam was really fun to watch! I am definitely teaching Misirlou that next time I lead Israeli folk dancing.