tonytawaThe history of Greek music produced in the United States dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, accelerating in the post-WWI years as a number of independent labels were founded by Greek immigrants, such as Panhellenion, Olympus Hellas, Electrophone, and others. This early activity was based around New York City, where many famous names of Rembetiko were recorded, such as Rita Abatzi and Marika Papagika.

The result of this early establishment of a vibrant Greek (and, around the same period, greater Mediterranean) immigrant community in the United States led eventually to records like today’s offering in the 1950s and 1960s, which recast traditional melodies and songs in the popular styles of the day – including rock’n’roll.

The song “Arapina” (Greek for “Arab girl”) is certainly quite old. Popular singers like Marika Politissa and Roza Eskenazi recorded versions of it in the 1930s. Armenian musician Mike Sarkissian later recorded a very spirited version with his Café Baghdad Ensemble on their Grecian Holiday LP in 1958. However, the version on today’s featured single is definitely the most “rock” that I’ve heard, fitting in quite well with the 1960s Arab-rock (or “Amer-abic”) sound pioneered by its arranger , Lebanese-American violin virtuoso Fred Elias. While I could not find any specific information on either Tony Tawa or vocalist/guitarist George Manis, what I did find related to the Tawa name in the USA suggests Antiochian roots, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that Mr. Tawa is likewise probably of Syrian or Lebanese descent.

Tony Tawa and his Near East Caravan – Arapina (Georgette, date unknown)