She was the voice of the Jewish blues


Next week, the British Greek-Cypriot folk singer Martha D Lewis releases a CD whose inspiration is one of the great, overlooked solo artists of the last century. Homage to Roza revives the music performed by the Istanbul-born Roza Eskanazi who carved a career singing Rembetiko music, a style also known as the Greek blues.

"There may be singers with a better voice or technique but there is something unique about the way she interprets a song," says Israeli film director Roy Sher, whose documentary about Eskanazi, My Sweet Canary, is also released this month. "You can put Rembetiko up there with American Blues, Portuguese Fado, Spanish Tango - all the music that came from people from the economically lower echelons of society. You can find equivalent music throughout the Middle East. It's the music of the people," explains Sher.

Eskanazi's career took her from Turkey, to Greece, the Maghreb countries, and America, where she was signed by Columbia records. "When she opens her mouth, you can actually hear her life story being realised," says Sher.

She survived the German occupation of Salonica and the genocide of its Jews because a Gestapo officer was in love with her. "All this was in the voice," says Sher. "Many great singers paid a high price for their art. And this was Rosa's secret. She was willing to give up things you and I would not. At 16, she put her son in an orphanage because she wanted to sing."

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