Pub­lished on November 19, 2017
Esti­mate 5 minutes read­ing

We pre­pared to meet Damien and Col­in, two musi­cians and orga­niz­ers with the group Pangea FC of San Francisco.

We arranged to meet them at Syn­tag­ma, the cen­tral sta­tion of Athens, and to intro­duce them to Husein.

We met at Vik­to­ria square again and entered the metro. On the train Husein tried out a man­dolin that we had brought, he seemed very inter­est­ed. When we arrived the pho­tog­ra­phers explored the plaza, look­ing for shots, and Husein con­tin­ued to study the new instru­ment, and he quick­ly found ways to play songs that he usu­al­ly played on the Oud.

Dami­an and Col­in arrive from their jour­ney eager to meet Husein, join the team, and get to work. How­ev­er, while the rest of the team wait­ed patient­ly to film the encounter, Dami­an and Col­in were greet­ed by a sta­tion agent who aggres­sive­ly asked them for their pass­ports. The agent was con­cerned about our film­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy in the sta­tion. Dami­an and Col­in were stunned speech­less and didn’t respond. Marc gra­cious­ly closed in to inoc­u­late the asser­tion that we were doing any­thing incen­di­ary. But to calm any con­cerns, the meet­ing” point had to be moved to a place where the sta­tion agent did not mind our meeting.


Lat­er we joined Sal­im, art project coor­di­na­tor of the non­prof­it Love With­out Bor­ders – For Refugees in Need,” and local musi­cian Bob­by, of New York City.

Sal­im, from Syr­ia, works on com­pil­ing works of art by refugees for art shows in the Unit­ed States, sup­port­ing refugee artist by giv­ing them inter­na­tion­al expo­sure. Lat­er that night he told us his sto­ry. He was hap­py as a suc­cess­ful busi­nessper­son with a greet­ing card com­pa­ny in Syr­ia. Now, the town where he grew up is gone. Here in Athens, its hard for him to sup­port him­self, much less find a legal place in the world. But he is using his skills and intel­li­gence in any way he can to help his fel­low refugees. Thanks to him, an art show was occur­ring in San Fran­cis­co as we spoke, includ­ing works by Husein and oth­er refugee artists, giv­ing them some eco­nom­ic reprieve.

Bob­by, as an Amer­i­can of Greek ances­try, had expa­tri­at­ed to Greece to learn more about a genre of tra­di­tion­al music called Rebet­i­ca. Rebet­i­ca is a bit like Amer­i­can blues, and oth­er sub­cul­tur­al music around the world in that it orig­i­nat­ed in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, which was a time of rapid urban expan­sion and war in Greece. Gen­er­a­tions of dis­en­fran­chised peo­ple from the coun­try­side were crowd­ing into the cities look­ing for bet­ter lives.

The music is intri­cate and dark, despite the light folk­loric sounds of the instru­ments used, such as the Bazou­ki, and a gui­tar tuned a half step down. We decid­ed to go to Exarcheia to vis­it a tav­ern known for this kind of music, and off we went. We found the restau­rant, a cel­lar dec­o­rat­ed with old pho­tographs of famous poets and musi­cians. Some of them would have been con­sid­ered crim­i­nals, as this kind of song­writ­ing was at one point bru­tal­ly cen­sored dur­ing the Metaxas dic­ta­tor­ship in the late 1930s, because of its roots in the Ottoman Empire.


At the restau­rant, we sat next to the musi­cians, who all crowd­ed around a table and sang, absorbed in their instru­ments. The place was crowd­ed with peo­ple young and old, who came to par­take in this very social music, and the bar, in the mid­dle of the anar­chist dis­trict in Greece, had an air of human­ism and rev­o­lu­tion. The atmos­phere felt like a Tro­va bar in Chile, with the lyrics of poets sung so heart­ful­ly that all that mat­ters is what they meant, not how they sound­ed. Husein and Sal­im were almost able to sing along; the east­ern scale was so much like the one they were accus­tomed to in music. We left feel­ing like we were all part of some­thing big­ger than ourselves.