Between 1895 and 1923, as the empire was unravelling, several hundred thousand Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, Jews and Turks emigrated to America, bringing their music with them.
Between 1895 and 1923, as the empire was unravelling, several hundred thousand Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, Jews and Turks emigrated to America, bringing their music with them. When war, expulsions and massacres tore their world apart, music helped them preserve their culture and their memories—and, in some cases, to make a living. The Ottoman migration to America coincided with the birth of the phonograph industry and its discovery of a lucrative “ethnic” market. That in turn helped to nurture a lively nightclub scene on Manhattan’s Eight Avenue, where skilful Ottoman musicians and sinuous belly dancers pulled in the late-night crowds into the 1980s.
As European-style national states took the place of the old multi-ethnic empire, the old “oriental” music was often frowned upon or even suppressed back home. But it continued to thrive in the diaspora, which preserved songs and styles that would otherwise have been lost.What happened to the music once it was transplanted? What did it mean to the emigrants, and to the generations that followed? How has it helped to hold their communities together?
Maria Margaronis traces the story of those Ottoman musicians, and explores the mysterious power of their makam-based music, which binds together joy and sorrow, spiritual longing and sensual desire. This is one of a series of 6 programmes which examine the interactions between music, identity and social change at key points in history.
Audio of George Katsaros speaking to journalist Steve Frangos used courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
Photo: Armenian father and son Onnik and Ara Dinkjian