JEAN MOSCOPOL (1903-1983)
Jean Moscopol is a wonderful example of an attractive and cosmopolitan bon vivant.
He spoke Rumanian, Greek, French, English, German and Italian fluently. His
voice was both flattering yet bursting with hidden meaning, and woman threw
themselves at his feet. The elegance of tango music, together with its hidden
erotic, suited him exactly and he always appeared on stage in tails. By 1936
his repertoire included 300 sensuous and exotic songs of all the well-known
composers. His style had elements in common with his French contemporaries Maurice
Chevalier, Charles Trenet and Tino Rossi. The composer Henry Malineanu, who
wrote many songs for him, praised him with the following words: "Jean Moscopol
in addition to his enormous talent, is intelligent and has both taste and refinement."
Moscopol, whose family originally came from Greece, was born in Braila, a port
on the river Donau. His first ambition was to study law and literature, but
after working in an office for a short while he decided, at the age of 26, to
become a singer. After an "intermezzo" in Bucharest, where he made
his debut on the radio and played minor roles in theatre and film, he moved
to Berlin and studied classical singing with Professor Korst. At this time he
also sang in nightclubs, sophisticated bars and in two German films produced
by the famous UFA studios in Berlin. Back in Bucharest, the "Paris of the
East", his rise to fame and fortune began. Up to the end of the Second
World War he was performing at the most glamorous addresses, whether nightclubs
or restaurants, in the Rumanian capital.
In 1945 however, with the beginning of the post-war totalitarian regime in Rumanian,
his fortune was to turn. Seeking refuge in the USA, he had no choice but to
earn his living as the night porter of a New York hotel. Any money he had over
he invested in a small musical ensemble that he founded. Its repertoire consisted
of some of the tangos and romances he new from the past, together with new songs
about life in exile, many of which condemned the rise of communism. However
he never regained his former fame and is thought to have died in obscurity in
Los Angeles at the age of 80.
TITI BOTEZ (1901-1957)
Between 1930 and 1945, the golden years of Tango in Rumania, Titi Botez was
one of the most popular singers. Because of his emotional style and warm vibrant
voice he was dubbed "the eternal lover". He appeared with all the
major figures of the eastern and mid-European entertainment scene, releasing
records in Bucharest, Berlin, Vienna and Budapest. He also appeared in a number
of Rumanian films. His greatest successes were with songs composed by Petre
For many Turkish musicians, the Tango was their first contact with "western" music. As in most of the metropoles of Europe the Tango was to become the dominant
form of music in the nightclubs and dance venues of Istanbul in the late 20s
and the 30s after that. At the time the cosmopolitan glamour of Istanbul was
attracting sophisticated people form all over the globe. With the enthusiastic
support of both Armenian and Jewish musicians a Tango scene established itself
in the form of a uniquely Turkish Tango tradition.
SEYYAN HANIM (1913-1989)
In the Ottoman Empire the public appearance of Muslim Turkish women was unthinkable.
Actresses and singers were invariably Jewish, Armenian, Greek or Levantines;
on no account would they be Muslim. This only began to change after Atatürk
instigated his revolution separating religion and state. The very first Turkish
woman who, because of these new circumstances, dared to appear on a stage was
a Tango singer called Seyyan Hanim. She was a protegé of Kemal Atatürk
himself, who seeing that her career symbolized a new openness to the west, vigorously
Though on account of her success she became an important figure for the emancipation
of women in Turkey, a tragic irony was to occur: she married an army officer
and was to spend the next twenty years of her life in an obscure east Anatolian
garrison. Once every year, with her husband being one of the few people who
knew about it, she would make the long journey from her secluded home to Istanbul,
where she appeared on stage and made recordings.
IBRAHIM ÖZGÜR (1905-1959)
Ibrahim Özgür was born in Istanbul in 1905. After receiving a musical
training in the military music academy in Ankara he worked in nightclubs in
Istanbul and established a reputation for himself and the ingenious arrangements
he played with his orchestra. In 1931 he set off on a concert tour in the Middle
and Far East, returning via England to Istanbul seven years later to open his
own club. He made his first recording in 1938. Özgür exploited his
sense of nostalgia to the full in the Tangos he wrote, and his velvety voice
was well suited to the romantic style Tangos that he sang. He claimed that the
inspiration behind much of what he wrote was to do justice to the many love
letters of his ardent female following.
The greatest inspiration in his life was however an Indian princess in whom
he fell totally in love. His songs lament the unhappiness of love, the pain
of separation and the longing of unfulfilled love. When these themes find powerful
expression in his music and singing we sense he is speaking straight from the
bittersweet suffering of his own heart.
PJOTR LESCHENKO (1898-1953)
Pjotr Konstantinowitsch Leschenko was known as the "King of Russian Tango".
Between the years 1930 und 1950 he was without doubt the most popular Russian
performer in exile. Although he was well known in Russia too, not a single recording
of his was made there. This was because the Russian authorities regarded him
as a counter revolutionary. He began his career as a dancer and only in 1930
did he have his first break as a singer. His basic repertoire consisted of Russian
folk tales and Gipsy ballads, however his first love was the Tango. During the
30s he toured Europe on the wave of his enormous popularity, and from 1935 onwards
he ran his renowned nightclub "Leschenko" in his adopted home Bucharest.
Playing with the most talented members of his orchestra he made a large number
of recordings between 1931 and 1947, among these many tangos, and most of them
composed especially for him.
Most certainly the tango in Greece had a different meaning than tangos in other
European countries, during the 20s and 30s when the tango was popularly regarded
as the most fashionable dance music. Since the principalities of what is now
Greece united for the first time, Greeks were anxious to establish a national
culture at variance with what they had experienced under their Ottoman rulers.
After 500 years of oppression they wanted to eradicate all remaining traces
of the Orient in their culture.
The attempt to do this in the sphere of pop music was more or less of a failure.
The music of the oriental refugees became mixed with the Manga subculture in
Greek seaports to a musical style known as Rembetiko. In spite of all official
attempts to suppress and discredit it, Rembetiko became and remained the mainstay
of Greek popular music. There were several attempts to completely overturn the
status quo of oriental song traditions by eagerly embracing foreign traditions
such as the Neapolitan song, the French chanson and even the Argentinean tango.
This was the reason why many Greek singers of the 30s had Tangos in their repertoire,
though most of them were rather uninspired.
Among these singers SOFIA VEMBO (1912-1978) was definitely an exception. Whereas
the recording of many of her contemporaries appear undistinguished to us today,
in Vembo's early tango records we recognize the same power and intensity which
she drew on in her opposition to the occupying fascist power. It was this strength
that made her a leading figure in the resistance movement and an idol of a younger
generation of Greek singers.
The so-called ORIENTAL TANGO is also a musical phenomenon that arose at this
time due to the cultural conflicts mentioned above. This hybrid was in fact
a version of the Rumba: it deliberately ignored genuinely oriental forms in
favour of what in the minds of many Europeans was believed exotically oriental
instrumentation, evoking not only the magic of the snake charmer but also the
steamy erotic of the Harem! Even this strange curiosity of Greek cultural history
is not without a certain charm.
FARID EL ATRACHE (1914-1974) and his sister Amal El Atrache, known as ASMAHAN
(1918-1944), were born to a distinguished Syrian Druze family that was active
in the political struggle to free Syria from French rule after World War I.
On the death of their father in 1924, the family immigrated to Egypt. In order
to make ends meet the mother had to sing at family celebrations and clubs where
the oud, or Arabic lute, was played. Farid's musical talents were apparent from
the start. After receiving a classical musical training he performed with his
younger sister who was a gifted singer and they pursued their musical careers
together. At her brother's side, who himself was renowned for his own passionate
singing, and as a master of the oud, Asmahan became a legend. Their careers
were also dramatically enhanced by their work in film, which during the 30s
was establishing itself an important mass media in Arabic culture. Farid was
acquiring recognition both as a composer and an arranger. He was skilled in
introducing Flamenco and Tango themes into otherwise classical Arabic music,
while in her singing, Asmahan adopted western techniques without diminishing
the oriental nature of what she sang, or otherwise alienating her Arab following.
Farid and Asmahan's immensely innovative and popular way of working with each
other musically was brought to an end very tragically with Asmahan's sudden
death in 1944. At the time her death conspiracy theories abounded as to the
secret agent responsible for her dermise. Farid, who was now forced to pursue
his career alone, became renowned for his melancholy singing and was dubbed
the "sad singer". In addition to his accomplishments as a musician,
conductor, and composer, his acting brought him great acclaim. Through his performances
in a seemingly endless series of romantic films he was destined to break female
hearts throughout the Arab world. He became renowned as a womanizer and his
exploits with actresses, singers and dancers enthralled his steadily growing
number of fans. He resolutely refused to become married, initially stating that
marriage would be damaging to his creativity as an artist. He then rather coquettishly
claimed that as an aging old man, he on no account wanted to be responsible
of leaving some beautiful young women a widow. His friends and fellow musicians
however, were of the opinion that no women had ever succeeded in removing the
emptiness he continued to feel from the loss of his sister.
LILI BONICHE was born in 1921 to a Sephardic family of Andalusian origins, in
the Kashbah of Algiers. He was only 10 years old when he left his family to
be trained in the art of playing the oud, or Arabic lute. His teacher was a
master of Haouzi, a regional style of Arabo-andalusian music. By the age of
15 he had made his musical début on Algerian radio. As he developed further
he gradually moved away from classical Arabic music being strongly attracted
by 40s nightclub styles (typical at that time in regions to the south and east
of the Mediterranean coast): jazz, flamenco, mambo and rumba were all featured
together with the "established" dances such as the tango, paso doble
and brought together with the Algerian song tradition of the "Chaâbi" in a swinging and sensuous mixture that enjoyed great popularity.
In bringing this rich mixture of cultural styles into a further synthesis with
his own cultural origins Lili Boniche gradually developed a style of his own,
which he called "Francarbe". This was an elegant and self-confident
form of popular music, that could well been termed "world music",
had this term then existed!
As a protagonist of Francarbe in the late 40s and 50s, Lili Boniche made a career
for himself; first in Algeria and later in Paris where his first recordings
were made. In the 90s, the term "world music" by now in place, he
had a comeback with his album "Alger, Alger", produced by Bill Laswell.
Also in concerts, with the help of electric guitar and amplification, he attempted
to rescue the charm and elegance of this music of a by-gone era from oblivion.