“Kouna, Bebi” – homosexual rebetiko song from the prisons

Το «Κούνα, Μπέμπη» – πούστικο ρεμπέτικο της φυλακής

“Kouna, Bebi” – homosexual rebetiko song from the prisons

On 17/7/1973, folklorist and rebetika historian Elias Petropoulos (1928-2003) collected two couplets from a prisoner and hash-dealer named Kostas Andonakos. The verses were eventually translated and published by Katherine Butterworth and Sara Schneider in their 1975 book “Rebetika: Songs from the Old Greek Underworld.” The song, entitled “Swing, Baby” [Κούνα Μπέμπη] is noted as “an old unpublished song from the jails. It is the only homosexual song that has surfaced.”

Swing, Baby

Swing your butt, baby,
To please your lover.

Swing your farter, baby
to please your heart.

Κούνα, Μπέμπη

Κούνα, μπέμπη, τον κεφτέ σου
Να φχαριστηθεί ο τζές σου.

Κούνα, μπέμπη, τον κλανιά σου.
Να φχαριστηθεί η καρδιά σου.

The Greek lyrics were published again in the second-edition of Petropoulos’s “Rebetika Songs” in 1979, where it is anthologised under the category of “prison songs” and is spuriously dated to 1900. According to Petropoulos the word for “lover” (tzesτζές) in this context refers to a “top” or “active” homosexual erastis. He also notes that there were more lyrics to this song.

I have set these verses to music and recorded a rough and ragged demo accompanied by baglama, which can be seen and heard here:

For more on the subject of queerness and homosexuality in rebetika, check out the forthcoming publication “Queerbetika – queering rebetika: a zine” (2019) by Michael Alexandratos. Published by Cycladic Press.

Now available to purchase through Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/michael-alexandratos/queerbetika-queering-rebetika-a-zine/paperback/product-24065103.html

-Michael Alexandratos, 
Sydney, April 24. 

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