Sunday, 3 May 2009

Cretan Music and Dance

by Sandra Iedema

A Cretan’s life is drenched to the bone with rhythm and rhyme; not just today, but for as long as they remember, in times of peace and in times of war and oppression. All events, be them happy or sad, concerning love or fate, heroic deeds or hymns to nature are expressed by music and song. Everything that touches the soul has to be bared and soothed with music and songs that tell the tortured soul what to do.
Known all over the Aegean are the mandinádhes, 15 syllable two-verse rhymes that tell of sweet or bitter love, tricks of fate, advise someone or even give a sarcastic opinion of some recent event. At feasts, a mandinádhes-singer is not only supposed never to repeat the same verse twice, but he is also expected to compose new verses instantly, in answer to, or as continuation of those sung previously. This improvisation often takes the shape of a poetic contest between singer(s) and lýra player, thus keeping up the party’s cheerful atmosphere. Even today this form of rhyming is immensely popular with Cretan youth, to a point that they store the mandinádhes on their mobile phones!
Myrolóia, on the other hand, are chanted in times of grief and sorrow; they are not accompanied by music, often during the night wake after having lost a beloved one.

Authentic Cretan songs are the rizítika, discerned in songs of the table (távla) that are sung among friends during or after dinner – usually without music – and the songs of the walk that accompany a groom and his musician friends on their way to the bride’s house. Many of the rizítika tell of historical or heroic deeds or report events of contemporary society.

Ross Daly in concert (Malia, archaeological site, August 2008)

Very little is known about the origins of Cretan music, but with all the invaders that have made their appearance on the island over the centuries, it cannot but have been influenced. Cretan music belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean family of musical tradition, with discernable foreign traits from other regions of Greece as well as from the Middle East and Turkey.

The 2 basic Cretan instruments today are the lýra, a 3-stringed pear-shaped fiddle, resting on the knee and bowed with a bow, and the láouto, a large lute that is played like a guitar to accompany the lýra player. Other accompanying instruments are the askomandoúra, a small bagpipe made of goatskin, the thiaboli, a small flute and the daouláki, a little double-faced barrel drum. The mandolin is often used to accompany mantinádhes, while in eastern Crete in particular the viololýra, a combination of violin and lýra, is played. Most of Crete’s music is dance music, played at weddings, baptisms and local festivals and the like.
Some of the greatest Cretan musicians of the past include Andreas Rodhinós, one of Crete’s most important lýra players who died in 1936, aged only 23; Kostas Moudákis, lýra player and singer and Athanásios Askordhalós, a very gifted lýra player. Today’s most renowned musicians of Cretan music are without doubt Ross Daly, Thanássis Skoulás and Psarandónis, brother of Nikos Xiloúris.

Born in Anóyia in 1936, Nikos Xiloúris was a shepherd in his younger years. From the moment he got his first lýra at the age of 12, he played the instrument with an amazing feel, constantly perfecting his skill.
After endless performances at local feasts and celebrations, where he became highly popular, he made his first record in 1958; in 1966 he won the first prize at the San Remo festival, after which he started to pursue a national career by moving to Athens in 1970.
An extremely gifted lýra player with a golden voice, Nikos Xiloúris held Greece’s spirits up and inspired hope as a leading protest singer during the years of the military Junta. He became a national star in the late 1970s, interpreting the unforgettable songs of Greek composers. Sadly, at the peak of his career he died of cancer in 1980, aged 44. Many believe that if he were alive today, he’d have the world at his feet.

ROSS DALY – An Irish Lýra Player in Crete
Ross Daly, born in England, travelled all over the world during his childhood years with his Irish parents. There he came into contact with different cultures and their music. Daly is a unique composer of his music of the world, as well as a virtuoso on instruments like the Cretan lýra, the Turkish sazi, the outi, the Indian sitar and the Afghan rabab. He has been living in Crete for the last 25 years and is giving concerts all over Greece and abroad.

In Houdetsi, Ross Daly’s base some 20km south of Iraklio, Daly has created a musical workshop, the Labyrinth, where he yearly organizes seminars of the traditional music of Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa and North India (summer and winter seminars). Besides the seminars there are regularly held concerts during the summer months and there is a museum of musical instruments.

Panagiotis, Maria, Themis and Kalia showing off the 'real' Cretan spirit.

While the mantinádhes express a Cretan’s thoughtful and philosophical side, the Cretan dances display a Cretan's ‘levendiá’ or 'manliness', where he shows off his physical fitness and well-shaped body. There are 5 Cretan dances, all of which are danced by men and women alike today:

Syrtós is a slow, 12-step dance, even and imposing, where men and women line up circularly, holding each other’s hands and make small steps with sharp, straight-out footwork. The first dancer in line performs figures.
Sighanós is an easy, slow, circular 5-step dance, performed by men and women, with arms outstretched and hands resting on their neighbours’ shoulders.
Pendozális is based on the 5 steps of the sighanó and a continuation of this dance, which is completed with 5 more steps. Formerly this was a man’s dance only, as the vivid and jumpy movements on an increased rhythm were ‘not done’ for women. Nowadays the pendozális is danced by men and women alike and has a wide variety of movements.
Malevisiótis is one of the fastest and most energetic Cretan dances, danced in a circle and of a jumpy type, where men and women take each other by the hands that are kept at shoulder height and perform 8 small fast steps forward and 8 steps back. The impressive, acrobatic personal figures of the first dancer in line give the dance a strong, intense character.
Soústa is a jumpy, 3-step couple’s dance in two-quarter beat. Initially a war dance, the soústa was performed by a male couple, symbolizing the two warring opponents. Later it acquired an erotic character, as it is danced by a man and a woman, the man performing imposing and challenging movements that are received by the woman with dignity and modesty and to which she answers with graceful movements.

In this context, I would like to refer to
Aviva Gabriel's notes
Instruments of Turkish Sufi and Folk Music
Persian / Iranian Music
and Rowan Storm's note
14 Feb 09 ~ Silk Road Music and Dance Ensemble ~ Mingei International Museum

1 comment:

Elif said...

Thanks for this very good article...