Sophia Bilides sings and plays santouri (Greek hammered dulcimer) and zilia (finger cymbals). Smyrneika songs arose out an urban population where the music of Greeks, Turks, Jews, and Armenians influenced each other in the early decades of the 20th century. This vibrant cultural scene was shattered when conflicts led to the 1922 Asia-Minor Catastrophe. The destruction of the port city of Smyrna (Izmir) led to the expulsion of two million Greeks from their homeland. Fortunately, highly skilled refugee musicians managed to keep alive their urban musical traditions by bringing their cosmopolitan talents to the Greek mainland and to America.
Speaker Biography: Sophia Bilides has been called the foremost practitioner of Smyrneika, a cabaret tradition that originated among Greek refugees in Asia Minor. A second-generation Greek-Italian American, Sophia was raised in New Haven, Connecticut, where the refugees of the village of Permata, including her grandparents, had resettled. She grew up absorbing the songs of their generation, heard at weddings, dances, church events, and family gatherings. Despite many other musical influences vying for her attention, Sophia was drawn to the hearfelt and highly ornamented singing style of her Greek Asia-Minor roots. With many of the elders gone by the early 1980s, source material came primarily from her mentor, Dino Pappas, an important collector of early Greek recordings. She also collected songs from community members willing to sing into her tape recorder.