Text by Richard Bennett
George Barba Yiorgi first appeared on the New York music scene as co-leader of the wildly successful Greek-rock band Annabouboula. When the group disbanded in 1994, he mysteriously disappeared for around twenty years. Rumours abounded; the most credible being that he was working as a merchant marine based out of Piraeus Greece. Barba Yiorgi reappeared in NYC in 2014, leading two groups, The ByzanTones (surf-rock) and Dervisi, a rembetika trio in which he sings and plays the tzouras, which is a thin string instrument related to the bouzouki.
Dervisi on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/barba-yiorgi/sets/dervisi-live-2014-3-songs
I finally tracked him down and the notoriously reclusive Barba Yiorgi agreed to a short interview. We met in a smoky underground bar in Astoria. There were four cats lounging towards the back where he sat at a table in the dark. The slightly built yet vaguely menacing Barba Yiorgi obsessively fingered his kompoloi and covered his mouth while he talked. Here is a transcription of our interview:
RB: Do you mind if we switch to English?
RB: Why Rembetica?
GBY: Because it’s the sweetest music in the world that nobody knows about outside of Greece.
RB: Why do you play the tzouras?
GBY: I got this tzouras from a guy who thought he knew how to play it. I said, “Sell that to me and I’ll play it for real”.
RB: How do drugs affect your music?
GBY: Very much. This music was banned because it was considered to be about nothing but drugs, but that’s a lie. It’s only about 65% about drugs. The rest is about the stuff that really matters: sex and how much we hate cops.
RB: Would you like to see a revolution in Greece?
GBY: There’s one every year so what’s the difference.
RB: If anyone (dead or alive) could bring you a tray of food right now, who would you choose?
GBY: My paternal grandmother, who lived her entire life in a little village that was 15 kilometers from a medieval castle that was probably too far for her to go to.
RB: Would you rather meet Manolis Hiotis or Jimi Hendrix?
GBY: I’d rather meet Hendrix because I’ve already met Hiotis.
RB: Why do Greeks like cats?
GBY: Why do you like rocks? They are just there, all over the place
And with that, George Barba Yiorgi made it clear that this interview was over.
DERVISI Exotic Greek Gangsta Blues and PunkRembetika will appear next Thursday, May 21st, at 8:30pm at Espresso 77
(35-57 77th Street (just off of 37th Avenue,
Jackson Heights, NY)