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‘We come from the City’ (Από την Πόλη έρχομαι): Café Aman Istanbul

Stelyos is from Istanbul. After many years as a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate choir, he moved to the island of Gökçeada (Imroz) in 2020. He teaches music in a Greek high School and trains the Greek children of the island to sing traditional Orthodox church music. 

Together with his wife , Stelyos established the Istanbul music band in . Café Aman sings the music of Istanbul in Greek and Turkish. The band is reviving the repertoires from Anatolia and Greece and the tradition of the café-aman taverns, where traditional songs were performed from 19th-century Century Ottoman times. He explains the concept of ‘Istanbul Music’: 

Istanbul music is not just Rebetiko. We have no such obsession. There are ladino songs in it, there are also songs in Armenian. There are also Kurdish songs, although few. In other words, after melting all this wealth in a shared pot, something called ‘Istanbul music’ emerged.

The group is popular in Greece and Turkey. Stelyos talked about a very successful concert that they did in a large concert hall in the centre of , the , in November 2019. Café Aman istanbul was invited to the Megaron and had to perform two nights in a row at the Hall because of the level of interest. Tickets sold out quickly. Stelyos said that at the time they were working on ‘Istanbul city music and heritage’ and decided to take this to Athens: We come from the City [Istanbul] (Από την Πόλη έρχομαι).

The Café Aman Istanbul knew that some Greeks from Turkey in Athens were fans them, but the huge interest in Athens was a surprise for them.  He explained why that was:

I felt this there [in Athens]; I tell you this because I also lived there: inside every Greek,  there is love for and a sense of belonging to Anatolia, to Istanbul. This is a feeling that comes from history. This doesn’t mean that the Greeks will cross the borders and will seize these lands, I don’t mean this [laughs].  But this is an indication of their spiritual bond with Turkey, even if they have never been. Music is already the most important bridge that unites these communities. Maybe it is a tool that makes us forget everything but makes us equal in the moment. No doubt that this is a great power. That night we all became İstanbullu [from Istanbul].

Café Aman Istanbul concert in Megaron, Athens, 2019. 

Apart from traditional songs, they also perform traditional dance. 

Café Aman Istanbul also recreated the traditional carnival of in which the Greeks of Istanbul wore comic masks and costumes to celebrate their neighbours, as you see in the photograph. The carnival would take place three weeks before the Great Lent and was also called  (literally, ‘eating beans’) because according to the Orthodox tradition, they would not consume meat until Easter. Baklahorani would begin with a parade from Pera to the Saint Demetrius Church in Tatavla. It would end with festivity in the street there. The festival was stopped in 1941. For one year, in 2010, the carnival was revived by a group of Greeks and Turks.  

A picture of Baklahorani from 1930’s 

Here you can listen to a song by Café Aman Istanbul: Gülbahar

I thank Stelyos for his time and for giving me permission to use these photographs and songs.