Not many people know this, but during the days of the Ottoman Empire, Salonika, one of the most important ports, was more than half populated by Jews. Most of these Jews were Sephardi Jews: that is, they were living in Spain until the beginning of the inquisition, when they were forced out and began wandering around the world. Many of them emigrated to the Balkans, which at the time was wild and untamed, where Greek Bandits and Turkish Janissaries were constantly fighting and where they thought they could leave in peace. Salonika was a small Thracian port to which Spanish-speaking Jews came in droves, and where they finally built a port. It was one of the most exotic ports in the Balkans, filled with Greeks, Turks, Jews and Armenians, and where little white houses in the Greek style decorated with Spanish flourishes were built right up to the docks. The girls would go out in the evening when the boats were coming, wearing their most feminine gowns, and they would flirt with the sailors drinking yeni raki on the pubs lining the shore. The most famous song of the Jews of Salonika is the Morenica, which means "little black girl". The melody is haunting; it needs to be sung by a woman preferably with a low voice...and she sings...


Morenica they call me...

Morenica they call me...all the sailors call me by that name

But I am not born black. O' I am born white

But the sun and hard work in the port has blackened me

and still the sailors call me every day, oh how they call,

Morenica, they sing; come away with us they sing

and the next time they sing to me I promise, I will go away with them...

(Source is my grandmother, who used to sing me the song in the evenings. Translation, my own. There are probably other versions out there, just as authentic, but I have yet to hear this song on any CD)

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