In 2019, The Rembetika Hipsters will be marking 23 years of bringing the traditional urban and rural music of Greece to Calgary and across Canada. "Rembetika" refers to the urban part – this is the name given to the music which emerged out of the poorer quarters of Athens, and other cities in Greece and in Asia Minor, between the first and second World Wars. Rembetika introduced the stringed instrument known as the bouzouki to the world, a sound which epitomizes Greek music to this day. The lyrics often portray the poverty and squalour of a people driven from their homes by war. But coupled with the swirling, Middle Eastern modes of the uplifting melodies, a Greek equivalent of “the blues” was created, which has transformed popular Greek music to the present day.
The Rembetika Hipsters started as a duo of Nick Diochnos on bouzouki and Allen Baekeland on guitar. They have grown into a six-piece ensemble, that also features Jonathan Lewis on violin and baglama, Giorgos Iosifelis on bass, Lincoln Frey on clarinets and Robin Tufts on percussion. All the band members sing. Over the years the band has toured extensively and released three CDs and a digital EP. "Architects of Narghile" emerged first in 2001, "Dinner In Polidroso" in 2004, "Kafeneion" in 2011 and "Tzivaeri/Sergiani" in 2017. They have expanded their repertoire to incorporate rural folk music forms from all areas of Greece and have a strong catalogue of original compositions that reflect these styles. In 2019, the band released a Greek-style cover version of Chris Isaak's song "Wicked Game" for an album entitled "Cover Art" celebrating the Calgary Folk Music Festival's 40th anniversary.
Born to a satyr and a nymph in the mountains of Greece, Nikos Diochnos emigrated to Canada at the age of 5.
Having played in rock bands in Calgary and Toronto, the forever mercurial Nick reached a point of musical inertia in the endless merry-go-round of blues riffing and rock sludge. Re-energized through a chance aural experience of the Hijaz scale, he rediscovered his musical roots on a trip to Greece where he acquired a bouzouki and an ever increasing array of middle eastern modes. With Metaxa in his right and bouzouki in his left, he began the canonization of the Hipsters-to-be.
Allen Baekeland is a longtime rock and country musician, formerly of the Toronto band Lost and Profound, which released two albums on the Polygram label in the early 90’s. He has also played western swing music with the Hackamores, rock with The Now Feeling, and country with Tom Phillips. Allen met Nick at the University of Calgary, where they began playing music together in the early '80s. In 1996 they first performed under the name Rembetika Hipsters as a duo, starting out entertaining at Calgary area Greek restaurants.
A well-known musician and composer in the Calgary jazz scene, Lincoln Frey is an extremely versatile player. A clarinetist and sax player steeped in the tradition of Lester Young, he is equally at home improvising with the Eastern modes in 7/8 time. Another multi-instrumentalist, Lincoln plays melodeon and occasional baglama as well.
Jonathan Lewis is a violinist and composer who has worked with many Alberta-based acts (Crystal Plamondon, The Fedora Club, The Northern Beauties, The Hackamores and many more) . Having discovered a passion for Greek music and a taste for Metaxa, he has studied the styles of such great Greek violinists as Giorgos Koros and travelled to Epirus to learn Epirotean music. He also quickly mastered the baglama. Jonathan is a highly-regarded recording engineer and sound tech, and produced our 2011 album Kafeneion.
George Iosifelis is a bass player with a great understanding of the low end. Born and raised in Greece he came to Canada in 1998. Greek music is in his blood, as he feels at home playing in 7, 9 and 11/8. He started his music experience at 5 years old learning the piano and later on guitar, drums and other instruments. At the age of 15 he “settled” for the bass. George is also playing bass with the Bownesians.
Jon May is one of the top percussionists in Western Canada, and works regularly with the Polyjesters, Sinistrio, Amy Thiessen and many other acts.