“Calgary’s Rembetika Hipsters adapt a passionate, plaintive and complex music without losing the dirt under its fingernails. Soulful and accomplished? You bet.” - Penguin Eggs
“The Rembetika Hipsters sure know how to play the Greek blues…they play with soul” – Exclaim
“Got back to Calgary in time to see the amazing Rembetika Hipsters holding forth at their regular Wednesday night gig at the Pegasus. Sitting around a table, supping on a mezz and downing Metaxa brandy, they played the old school Greek-Oriental music like I’ve never seen live before. Bouzouki, guitar, baglamas, fiddles and clarinet. Mark gives highest recommendation.” - Mark Rubin, Musician (Rubinchik’s Yiddishe Orkestar, Bad Livers), Austin, Tx.
“What can I say? The Rembetikas are a perfect festival band and the sessions they led were stellar.” - Kerry Clarke (Calgary Folk Festival)
|Nick Diochnos||Allen Baekeland||Lincoln Frey||Jonathan Lewis||George Iosifelis|
|Bouzouki, Vocals||Guitar, Vocals||Clarinet, Melodeon||Violin, Baglama, Vocals||Bass, Vocals|
Meet the Rembetika Hipsters: a group of Calgary-based musicians, only one of whom is Greek-born, who over the past decade have toured across Canada spreading the word about the underground music they love – rembetika, which some have called the “Greek blues” with its songs of poverty, dislocation, heartache and hashish. Rembetika’s origins are in the former Greek communities scattered across Asia Minor and the shanty towns that emerged around port towns such as Pireias and Thessaloniki in the early years of the last century. The music is characterized by its use of swirling Middle Eastern rhythms and modalities, and in the use of unusual stringed instruments such as the bouzouki and the tiny baglama.
The band was started as a duo in 1996 by Nick Diochnos (bouzouki, vocals) and Allen Baekeland (guitar,vocals), longtime musical pals who were looking for a departure from their rock and country backgrounds. Nick had taken up the bouzouki under the teaching of master Toronto musician Kostas Apostolakis, who introduced him to the incredible and somewhat forgotten catalogue of pre-WW II rembetika songs. Nick and Allen began performing these songs in Calgary Greek eateries, where they met and added multi-instrumentalist Ben Johnson (percussion, santour and tzoura, similar to the bouzouki). Soon Lincoln Frey (clarinet, saxophone and accordion) was added from Calgary’s jazz scene and Brigitte Dajczer (violin) completed the quintet. This lineup began writing and recording original songs in the rembetika tradition, coloured by their backgrounds in jazz, rock and experimental music. The band released two acclaimed CDs, Architects of Narghile (2001) and Dinner In Polidroso (2004) and toured festivals, clubs and concert halls from the Maritimes to the Yukon. In 2004, Network Records in Germany licensed a track from Architects for their brilliant compilation of modern rembetika music, The Diaspora of Rembetiko.
With the departure of Dajczer for Montreal, the Hipsters were joined in 2004 by another superb multi-instrumentalist, Jonathan Lewis (from Calgary’s infamous Plaid Tongued Devils) on violin, baglama and accordion. Lewis has a strong passion for many demotic Greek violin styles, particularly the folk music of northwestern Greece known as Epirotika. He has travelled to Greece to study with master violinist Aurel Qirjo . In 2008, following the departure of Ben Johnson, the Hipsters recruited Athenian native Giorgos Iosifelis to play bass and sing, and more recently, percussionist Jon May has joined the ensemble.
The Rembetika Hipsters have twice visited and performed in Greece, most recently in June 2006, where they met and played with outstanding Greek musicians such as clarinet maestro Petroloukas Halkias and rembetika revivalists Giorgos Xindaris and Manolis Dimitrianakis. In December 2006 they celebrated their 10th anniversary with a sold-old concert at Calgary’s Center For the Performing Arts featuring an eight-piece lineup. In 2010, The band released its third CD, Kafeneion, a mix of classic rembetika songs, explorations of other Greek folk music styles such as nisiotika and epirotika, and new original compositions in those genres. And for the past decade, on a bi-weekly basis, the Hipsters have returned rembetika to its intimate and natural element, sitting around the table singing and playing at the well-loved Calgary Greek restaurant, Pegasus.
Born to a satyr and a nymph in the mountains of Greece, Nikos Diochnos emigrated to the great metropolis of Canada at the tender age of 5, where his name reverted to Nick.
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, this led him to a rediscovery of his musical roots on a trip to Greece where he acquired a bouzouki and an ever increasing array of middle eastern modes. With narghile in his right and bouzouki in his left, he began the cannonization 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. Allen’s solid rhythmic feel and strong vocals really give backbone to the Hipsters’ songs. He also plays western swing music with the Hackamores, rock with The Now Feeling, and country with Tom Phillips.
A well-known musician and composer in the Calgary jazz scene, Lincoln Frey is an extremely versatile player. As 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 (squeezebox) and baglama as well. Lincoln and his wife live in High River, AB. Linc is also the hipsters’ resident gourmet.
Jonathan Lewis is a violinist and composer with Calgary’s well-loved Plaid Tongued Devils. Having discovered a passion for Greek music and a taste for Metaxa, he quickly delved into the styles of such great Greek violists as Giorgos Koros. Just for fun, he also quickly mastered the baglama and occasionaly tickles the ivories Mangas-style on the piano accordion. Jonathan is also a highly-regarded recording engineer and sound tech, and produced our 2010 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.