Contemporary Cretan Music

After the departure of the Turks from the island, the Cretan people felt free once more – and full of drive and opportunities to push forward on all fronts – amongst them music. They were not starting from scratch, as the passing centuries had left a huge musical heritage.

The musical roots of the Minoans and the classical past, combined with the Byzantine and Venetian input, and finally the eastern one of the Turks, had created an enviable musical tradition on the island.

Cretan traditional musicThe high mountains of Crete and its impressive topographical relief, thanks to geology, had naturally made connections between this place and that none too easy: this assisted the growth of regional musical distinctiveness. Differences and specialties from region to region are the norm, even though the basics are everywhere held in common.

At the start of the 20th century, Crete was one of the first places in Greece to receive a wave of refugees from the coasts of Asia Minor and the City (Constantinople). These unfortunates brought with them their sounds and musics. In those areas where they settled, their influence is the more noticeable: melding with the local music they created new forms – which later are given the name rembetocretika (Cretan rembetika).

Oso varoun ta sidera - Stelios Foustalieris

At the same time, the young musicians who come to the fore in the Cretan musical scene are both numerous and of high repute – love of music ranking high amongst Cretans. True ‘professionals’ are few in number, but their passion and creative spirit far outweighs this apparent amateur involvement. The sounds and melodies given life at this time are as much old as new.

In this way a new generation of musicians arises – one that will change the flow and dynamics of Cretan music. Feasts and celebrations occur all over Crete – many of these musicians were already known in that setting, playing up and down the island, having their own ‘sound’ and absorbing that of every place they visited.

This musical exchanges became even more intense with the advent of radio. Psiloritis and Anogeia, Kissamos by Chania and several other places on the island became ‘capitals’ of Cretan music.

Cretan traditional music Into the first half of the last century, these so-called ‘pioneers’ of Cretan music were in full swing. Amongst those who have left their mark on the future generations are Andreas Rodinos, Iannis Baxevanis, Antonis Papadakis (aka Kareklas), Charilaos Piperakis, Stelios Foustalieris, Giorgos Koutsourelis and other less well-known but still important musicians.

The instrument basic to this music, the lyra, finally gets its pear-shape after the 2nd WW – at which time was formed the fundamental format of Cretan music as we know it today. The baton was passed to another generation of great artists – Kostas Papadakis (aka Naftis), Thanassis Skordalos, Kostas Mountakis, Leonidas Klados and others who became the inspiration of the generation after that – the one marked by the presence of Nikos Xylouris, the Archangel of Cretan music, who died at the very height of his powers.

Sirta of Rodinos - Ross Daly

Nikos’ brother, Antonis – aka Psarantonis – continues the tremendous musical legacy of this family with another brother Iannis and through the children Giorgos (Psarogiorgis), Lambis and Niki.

Today a host of great musicians exist – many now known outside the island. It is an important development that nowadays the continuing strand of traditional island music has a strong appetite for creative links with the comparable music of the east Mediterranean.

A number of musical groups – amongst them ‘Chainides’ – express this contemporary side of the Cretan musical scene.

A catalyst for this development in Crete is the presence of the Irish musician Ross Daly, now a naturalized Cretan, who has created at Houdetsi, near Heraklion, a most important research centre for traditional Cretan music in combination with the study and performance of similar musics from all over the world, in particular from the East and Asia.

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