Misirlou

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"Misirlou" (Greek: Μισιρλού < Turkish: Mısırlı 'Egyptian'[1] < Arabic: مصرMiṣr 'Egypt') is a song dating back to 1927, originally as a Greek rebetiko composition influenced by Middle Eastern music. The song then gained popularity among Middle Eastern audiences through Arabic (belly dancing), Jewish (klezmer), Armenian and Turkish versions.

The song eventually gained worldwide popularity through Dick Dale's 1962 American surf rock version, which was responsible for popularizing the song in Western popular culture. Various versions have since been recorded, including other surf and rock versions by bands such as The Beach Boys and The Ventures as well as international orchestral easy listening (exotica) versions by musicians such as Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Dick Dale's surf rock version later gained renewed popularity through its use in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction and again through its sampling in The Black Eyed Peas song "Pump It" (2006) and Mad Men: "The Jet Set" (2008).

History[edit]

Name[edit]

Misirlou (Μισιρλού) is the feminine form of Misirlis (Μισιρλής) which comes from the Turkish word Mısırlı, which is formed by combining Mısır ("Egypt" in Turkish, borrowed from Arabic) with the Turkish -lı suffix, literally meaning "Egyptian".

Composition[edit]

While the exact folk origin of the song is not well established, it's somewhere in Asia Minor. The earliest known recording of the song was by the rebetiko musician, Tetos Demetriades, in 1927. Theodotos ("Tetos") Demetriades (Greek: Θεόδοτος ("Τέτος") Δημητριάδης), an Ottoman Greek, was born in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, in 1897, and he resided there until he moved to the United States in 1921,[2] toward the end of the Turkish–Greek conflict during the last phase of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and establishment of modern Turkey. It's likely that he was familiar with the song as a folk song before he moved to the United States. Later, in 1930, Michalis Patrinos, another Ottoman Greek from Izmir, Ottoman Empire, and his rebetiko band recorded a cover version in Athens, Greece.[3] As with almost all early rebetika songs (a style that originated with the Greek refugees from Asia Minor in Turkey), the song's actual composer has never been identified, and its ownership rested with the band leader. Demetriades, who lived in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, until he moved to the United States in 1921 at the age of 23,[2] named the song "Misirlou" in his original 1927 Columbia label, which is a regional pronunciation of "Egyptian" in Turkish ("Mısırlı"), as opposed to the corresponding word for "Egyptian" in Greek, which is Αιγύπτιοι (Aigyptioi).

Initially, the song was composed as a Greek tsifteteli dance, in the rebetiko style of music, at a slower tempo and a different key than the orientalized performances that most are familiar with today. This was the style of recording by Michalis Patrinos in Greece, circa 1930, which was circulated in the United States by the Orthophonic label; another recording was made by Patrinos in New York in 1931 as well.

The song's oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morocco to Iraq, claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, in the realm of Middle Eastern music, the song is a very simplistic one, since it is little more than going up and down the Hijaz Kar or double harmonic scale (E-F-G#-A-B-C-D#).

Later versions[edit]

In 1941, Nick Roubanis, a Greek-American music instructor, released a jazz instrumental arrangement of the song, crediting himself as the composer. Since his claim was never legally challenged, he is still officially credited as the composer today worldwide, except in Greece where credit is variably given to either Roubanis or Patrinos. Subsequently Bob Russell, Fred Wise and Milton Leeds wrote English lyrics to the song. Roubanis is also credited with fine-tuning the key and the melody, giving it the Oriental sound that it is associated with today. The song soon became an "exotica" standard among the light swing (lounge) bands of the day.

In 1943, Miriam Kressyn wrote Yiddish lyrics to the song. In 1944, Lebanese musician Clovis el-Hajj performed this song and called it "Amal". This is the only known Arabic language version of the song to date.

Dick Dale's "Misirlou" (1962), a surf rock cover version. It was responsible for popularizing the song in Western popular culture.

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The song was rearranged as a solo instrumental rock guitar piece by Dick Dale in 1962. During a performance, Dale was bet by a young fan that he could not play a song on only one string of his guitar. Dale's father and uncles were Lebanese-American musicians, and Dale remembered seeing his uncle play "Misirlou" on one string of the oud. He vastly increased the song's tempo to make it into rock and roll. It was Dale's surf rock version that introduced "Misirlou" to a wider audience in the United States.

The Beach Boys recorded a Dale-inspired "Miserlou" for the 1963 album Surfin' U.S.A., solidifying "Miserlou" as a staple of American pop culture. A wealth of surf and rock bands soon recorded versions of the song, including the Ventures, Astronauts, Surfaris, and Bobby Fuller Four. Hundreds of recordings have been made to date, by artists as diverse as Agent Orange and Connie Francis (1965).

"Missirlù" was a 1967 Italian single, sung by Gino (Cudsi) and Dorine.

The song was sung by the Turkish singer Zeki Müren in 1971 as "Yaralı Gönül" with lyrics by Suat Sayın, a Turkish singer and composer. The Russian dobro player Eugene Nemov recorded an instrumental version in Moscow 2006.

In 1972 Serbian singer Staniša Stošić recorded song Lela Vranjanka with different lyrics, it is most famous version of Misirlou in Serbia.

Phil Woods plays a clarinet on "Misirlou" on the album Into The Woods.

Dance[edit]

In 1945, a Pittsburgh women's musical organization asked Professor Brunhilde E. Dorsch to organize an international dance group at Duquesne University to honor America's World War II allies. She contacted Mercine Nesotas, who taught several Greek dances, including Syrtos Haniotikos (from Crete), which she called Kritikos, but for which they had no music. Because Pittsburgh's Greek-American community did not know Cretan music, Pat Mandros Kazalas, a music student, suggested the tune "Misirlou", although slower, might fit the dance.

The dance was first performed at a program to honor America's allies of World War II at Stephen Foster Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh on March 6, 1945. Thereafter, this new dance, which had been created by putting the Syrtos Kritikos to the slower "Misirlou" music, was known as Misirlou and spread among the Greek-American community, as well as among non-Greek U.S. folk-dance enthusiasts.

It has been a staple for decades of dances held at Serbian Orthodox churches across the U.S., performed as a kolo or circle dance. The dance is also performed to instrumental versions of "Never on Sunday" by Manos Hadjidakis – though in the Serbian-American community, "Never on Sunday" was popularly enjoyed as a couple's dance and actually sung in English. "Never on Sunday" was often one of only two songs performed in English at these dances, the other song being "Spanish Eyes" (formerly "Moon Over Naples") also internationally popular in its time.

The Misirlou dance also found its way into the Armenian-American community who, like the Greeks, were fond of line dancing, and occasionally adopted Greek dances. The first Armenian version of "Misirlou" was recorded by Reuben Sarkisian in Fresno the early 1950s. Sarkisian wrote the Armenian lyrics to "Misirlou" which are still sung today, however he wrote the song as "Akh, Anoushes" ("Ah, My Sweet") while later Armenian singers would change it to "Ah Anoush Yar" ("Ah, Sweet Lover"; Yar meaning sweetheart or lover, from Turkish).

Misirlou is also danced at summer camp "Walt Whitman", located in Piermont, NH. There is a tradition of having a BBQ and Square Dance every Saturday night for the seven weeks of the summer that the camp is open. As one becomes older within the camp, he or she stays later for more dances. However, only the oldest campers (Senior Campers), as well as alumni and staff members, stay until the very end. At this point, "Saturday Night" is concluded with the dance of Misirlou. First it is danced to Never on Sunday, and then it is danced to the traditional melody, as the lights are turned off, and everyone's eyes are closed holding hands, dancing, in the dark. This tradition of dancing Misirlou has been around since Camp Walt Whitman was founded in 1948.

Legacy[edit]

In 1994, Dale's version of "Miserlou" was used on the soundtrack of the motion picture Pulp Fiction.[4]

More recently, the song was selected by the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee as one of the most influential Greek songs of all time, and was heard in venues and at the closing ceremony – it was performed by Anna Vissi.

In March 2005, Q magazine placed Dale's version at number 89 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.

Lyrics[edit]

Greek Transliteration Translation

Μισιρλού μου, η γλυκιά σου η ματιά
Φλόγα μου 'χει ανάψει μες στην καρδιά.
Αχ, για χαμπίμπι, αχ, για λε-λέλι, αχ,
Τα δυο σου χείλη στάζουνε μέλι, αχ.

Αχ, Μισιρλού, μαγική, ξωτική ομορφιά.
Τρέλα θα μου 'ρθει, δεν υποφέρω πια.
Αχ, θα σε κλέψω μέσ' απ' την Αραπιά.

Μαυρομάτα Μισιρλού μου τρελή,
Η ζωή μου αλλάζει μ' ένα φιλί.
Αχ, για χαμπίμπι ενα φιλάκι, άχ
Απ' το γλυκό σου το στοματάκι, αχ.

Misirlú mu, i glikiá su i matiá
Flóga mu 'khi anápsi mes stin kardhiá.
Akh, ya khabíbi, akh ya le-léli, akh,
Ta dhio su khíli stázune méli, akh.

Akh, Misirlú, mayikí, ksotikí omorfiá.
Tréla tha mu 'rthi dhen ipoféro pia.
Akh, tha se klépso més' ap' tin Arapiá.

Mavromáta Misirloú mou trelí,
I zoí mu allázi m' éna filí.
Akh, ya khabíbi ena filáki, akh
Ap' to glikó su to stomatáki, akh.

My Misirlou (Egyptian girl/woman), your sweet glance
Has lit a flame in my heart.
Ah, ya habibi, ah, ya le-leli, ah (Arabic: Oh, my love, Oh, my night‎)[5]
Your two lips are dripping honey, ah.

Ah, Misirlou, magical, exotic beauty.
Madness will overcome me, I can't endure [this] any more.
Ah, I'll steal you away from the Arab land.

My crazy, black-eyed Misirlou,
My life changes with one kiss
Ah, ya habibi, one little kiss, ah
From your sweet little mouth, ah.




Other notable recordings[edit]

In soundtracks[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mısırlı". SesliSozluk Online Dictionary. Seslisozluk. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Theodotos ("Tetos") Demetriades". 
  3. ^ "Michalis Patrinos' "Misirlou" (1930) sample of Tetos Demetriades' "Misirlou" (1927)". WhoSampled. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  4. ^ "Surf Music and Seventies Soul: The Songs of 'Pulp Fiction'". Rolling Stone magazine. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  5. ^ The Arabic verse in the song is badly mispronounced – "ya leli" would be correct. This is probably because (a) Patrinos and his audience did not speak Arabic and/or (b) "ah ya leh-leli" has exactly the 5 syllables needed to fill the verse. The same sentence is very frequently used in Greek rebetiko songs (orientalism is a frequent theme).
  6. ^ "Korla Pandit – Miserlou". YouTube. 2007-06-06. Retrieved 2012-06-17. 
  7. ^ Liner notes, Marinella - Me Varka To Tragoudi, BMG Greece - RCA: 72383, 1999

External links[edit]