Traditional Songs of Crete

The Cretan musical tradition is considered to be the most ‘alive’ of those in Greece: not only does it continue to evolve by absorbing creative contemporary musical elements, but at the same time manages to express and comment upon contemporary realities in a life-like manner.


The partridges- Nikos Xylouris

The traditional music of Crete sometimes incorporates dance tunes, sometimes sticks to that of the song itself. Mantinades are the commonest form of song: each line has fifteen syllables and the pair rhyme. Their chief theme is to do with love: they are the most frequent means of expressing feelings and emotional situations – such as love, separation, pain, serenades etc.

Frequently made up on the spot, they draw on their own particular vocabulary with an especial virtuosity.


Agrimia ki Agrimakia mou (wild goats) - Psarantonis

A second and contemporary category of song is the rizitika, which is sung in the main around the foothills (rizes) of the White Mountains in the Chania region. Depending on the subject of the verse, they can be divided into groups – those to do with Akritas (frontier guards), others heroic, historical, revolutionary, allegorical, of exile and of love. Though their homeland is in West Crete, they are popular enough in the centre too.

They have a fifteen-syllable beat, but do not need to rhyme. They do not accompany dance, but are usually sung by either a group (with a lead singer) or by a single person who utters a half-line as a sort of chorus. Two of the most famous rizitika are ‘When will the starry skies come?’ and “You wild goats and kids’ .. the last an allegorical reference to the freedom fighters living in the mountains – alongside the agrimia or wild goats; the first has been adapted from a Byzantine song and is to do with visiting slaughter on one’s enemies.


Staphidianos skopos - Andreas Rodinos

An important part of Cretan urban music is the so-called ‘tampachaniotika’ songs or amanedes. These have come to the fore in the 19th and 20th centuries, in the urban centres of West Crete. Essentially they are a fusion of native urban music with that of Asia Minor – a sort of Cretan rembetika. They are not dance music.

They take their name from the word for a tannery, or possibly hashish. Their most important exponent was Stelios Foustalieris – a virtuoso bulgari player (a stringed instrument, plucked). Some of the best known are ‘Staphidianos skopos’, ‘As these irons weigh’ and ‘As if you had another in your heart’.

Funeral lamentations

Marmaromeno se thoro Polio mou - Loudovikos of Anogia

Cretan funeral lamentations deserve mention as another category of island song. They speak of death and loss – sometimes addressed to the deceased, sometimes to Death himself. Their roots lie in the very distant past – perhaps even in Homeric times. There exist the well-known standard responses and verses, but also more spontaneous and improvised dirges composed at the moment by a sorrowing relative.

Generally they take the form of rhyming, 15-syllable lines, though 11 and 12-syllable versions are known too.

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