Karpathos, as well as nearby Kassos form a unit that is extremely aligned in all forms of life including geography, culture, and music. Karpathos and Kassos are the southernmost islands of the Dodecanese and the closest to Crete.
Exploring the music of Karpathos, one has to only experience the music from the village of Olymbos which is located in the northern part of the island. The village, until recently somewhat isolated, remains highly important for the wealth of its cultural traditions and contains a mountain community still preserving the characteristics of an agro-pastoral economy.
Nonetheless, the reality of emigration has caused-and is still causing-substantial modifications in the social balance of the community life which affects the area of music as well.
Musicians in Olymbos play a major role in the musical life of the village, and are the leaders in the islandís cultural life including those who live on the neighboring island of Rhodes. There is a great cultural continuity and integration between them, especially when time comes for all of them to perform together. This can be explained by the geographical proximity but also because the vast majority of the immigrants of Olymbos retain and exercise their traditions and cultural affairs anywhere they might live, and they return to the village for the holidays and the summer months.
Musicians have a status which could be defined as "semi-professional"; recognized for their musical talents, they are called upon to play in other villages on the island. This activity can be a source of considerable income in addition to what they earn from their everyday professions.
There are a number of players of the lyra, laouto, and tsambouna, the three main instruments of Karpathos, constructed by local craftsmen, most of the times the musicians themselves. The players span across all ages including young musicians which maintain a high level of interpretation and performance skills. From all the musicians, the tsambouna players, often specialized in the technique of this difficult instrument, are more rare, but still well represented. The kafeneio7, often constitutes the natural surroundings for the commencing of festive occasions and popular musical and cultural events. When in the kafeneio, the musicians will start playing in the early afternoon, and from there the singers, most of the times being very good composers of mantinades6 will start gathering and at the end, they will form a diversified group of meraklides, able of arousing the whole village into a celebration which will last until the next morning.
The content and form of mantinades is not specified in advance. Therefore, mantinades do not constitute a repertoire, but on the contrary, they vary and are generally conceived within the framework of a dialogue between several participants in certain tunes, or skopous, in clearly defined social functions and situations. In other words, the context of mantinades is generated by the situation at the moment and is incorporated within the music.
The music of Karpathos includes the use of three instruments: the tsambouna, the lyra, and the laouto. Yet, it must be pointed out that the modern violin has been introduced and used in the southern villages of Karpathos as well as other islands of the Dodecanese and the Aegean in general.
The tsambouna1 resembles a bagpipe with single reeds, consisting of two parallel cylindrical tubes (made out of carefully selected cane) inserted into a single block of wood through a horn-shaped opening. The bag is made out of kid2 which after a certain process well known to the players of tsambouna, is turned inside-out and made waterproof and leakproof. This process involves the use of chemicals as well as natural materials, such as honey, milk, and oil. This type of bagpipe is morphologically similar to the instrument found in Crete and others seen in the Balkans and the Middle East. However, the way in which the notes are produced is more unusual and, in fact, unique to the Dodecanese tsambouna.
As such, it cannot be classified among either bagpipes with a fixed drone nor those which are solely melodic. In fact, the right pipe completes the hexatonic scale and can, at the same time, find itself in unison with the second degree of the scale, thus covering both melodic and accompaniment functions. The tsampounaís tuning system possesses qualities which are completely particular, of which the most obvious is the tonal "ambiguity" of the third degree (in relation to the lowest note of the scale).
Given its restrictive characteristics, the tsambouna is a difficult instrument to master, requiring considerable skill to make it musically interesting. In particular, it is necessary to make the bitonal patterns created with the second pipe moving and interesting. These patterns, such as those produced by the trills obtained with the left first finger (index,,sixth degree), can create separate acoustic images and more complex rhythmic structures. A similar technique is employed with the lyra through use of trills and tremolos produced by the left fifth finger. Because of the difficulties entailed in playing, pitch and upkeep, the tsambouna is not a widespread instrument, and not even in Karpathos. It is so beautiful of an instrument to hear though, that it excites the listener and introduces a sense of enthusiasm and livelihood in a glendi.
Today, good performers are to be found mostly in Olymbos, but many are scattered around the globe also including the island of Rhodes, Athens, Piraeus, and the United States. Those performers are in great demand, invited to play in other villages for the most important festivities. In Olymbos, tsambouna continues to play a primordial role in cultural life.
The term lyra3 seems to correspond to the name given, during the Byzantine era, to the same instrument which is common today, in all its variations, throughout a vast area of the Mediterranean and the Balkans. The lyra is very similar to that made and played in Crete, except that in Crete, instrument-making has been influenced by that of the violin. The "primitive" lyra of Karpathos, and specifically that of Olymbos, is made from a single block of wood, sculpted into a pear-shaped body. The slightly rounded body of lyra is prolonged by a neck ending on the top in a block which is also pear-shaped or spherical. In that, are set the pegs facing and extending forward.
Currently, numerous models tend to integrate, for decorative reasons, the shape of the scroll, the finger board and other morphology of some secondary characteristics of the violin. However, one can still see that the lyra played in Olymbos maintains the "primitive" lyra design, playing, and sound characteristics. This version preserves the proportions of the box and a type of bow-making which give it a sound quite distinct from that of the Cretan lyra. From the organologic point of view, it is in fact an instrument belonging to the family of bowed lutes (like the rebab from the Middle east), but the designation lyra may constitute a terminological survival relating to the performing method of an ancient Greek instrument. An interesting detail concerns the playing technique: The strings are never pressed from above with the flesh of the finger such as in the violin but touched by the nails laterally.
The lyra is played held in vertical position with the base set on the left knee. The short bow, whose horsetail hair is somewhat slack, is covered with small bells which provide an additional rhythmic interest, particularly if the instrument is played alone. And that is the reason why bells were installed on the bow. The laouto accompanying in Karpathos didnít take place until the beginning of the century. Up to that time, lyra played alone or along with the tsambouna during the dancing portions of an event, therefore the lyra player provided some additional means of rhythm by adding those bells on the bow.
There are three strings which are tuned to the notes LA-RE-SOL (or A3-D3-G3), but the tuning is variable and generally higher. The central chord, serves mostly as a drone but not in all cases. The first is touched to produce the highest five notes, and the third is played empty, so as to complete the basic hexachord. Thus, along with the tsambouna, it shares a certain conceptual analogy, but in its case, it is possible to distinguish between three modal scales which alternate in accordance with different blocks of melodic phases. It suffices to note that with the lyra, the "neutral" third of the tsambouna subdivides into two distinct thirds (minor and major), and that, if the first two scales can be used in a concomitant way with the tsambouna, the last, which allows for the augmentation of the fourth degree excludes this possibility.
The performance of the dance Sousta, which is more complex, also includes the inversion of roles between strings in the playing of the drone and melodic line, as well as the addition of a melodic seventh degree of the scale, thus making it impossible to perform on the tsambouna.
Among the instruments to be found in Karpathos, the laouto4 is that whose use is most recent-if we exclude the violin as a substitute for the lyra in the southern part of the island. This goes back to the years around World War I. A large lute with a long, fretted neck, its strings plucked with a plectrum, the laouto is imported from Crete as it is more complicated to make and, as opposed to the other instruments, it is not constructed by local craftsmen mostly because this instrument was introduced to the cultural life of Olymbos later, compared to lyra and tsambouna
The laouto has four double metal strings. Its role, in the framework of music which is fundamentally melodic, is both rhythmic and harmonic. However, it occurs that the laouto may join in the playing of the lyraís melodic part. The rhythmic foundation (with all possible variants) of this accompaniment consists of a dactylic rhythm in binary time.
With the exception of the first of the three phases of Syrmatikos which responds to a ĺ rhythm, and that of Kalamatianos which is in 7/8 but not native to the island all of the music of Karpathos rests on binary rhythm. The basic rhythm figure is common to a part of Cretan music and especially to that of other islands. In this rhythmic role, the laouto seems to have replaced the drum, still present in Crete, although quite rare. Chords can be obtained, not solely by pressing the strings, but also by muffling those which are foreign to them. Very often, in the absence of the third, these chords are made up of fourths and fifths.
The younger musicians are virtuosos on this instrument and indeed specialized in the technique of playing it. Their style expresses an evolutionary trend in playing practices, more particularly oriented towards the creating of the melodic-style fioritura 5. The distribution of cassettes, radio listening, and in general the knowledge of other traditions (especially the Cretan) favor this trend.
Glendi is the heart and soul of the music of Olymbos and the area as a whole. Every festivity, entertainment, and private or public celebration begins with a glendi and the people involved in it. Although hard, we"ll try to define "glendi" so that we give someone without any previous knowledge about it a basic understanding and perspective.
Glendi is a musical and in many cases spiritual gathering of a company of men who converse using mantinades and musical accompaniment. Those mantinades are composed instantly, and on-the-spot. It is considered an insult and inability of the singer if a previously sang mantinada is used again. Mantinades are to be used only once in a glendi even though many of them survive for many-many years as examples of fine poetic skill and transfered through generations using the "word-of-mouth". Since it is a musical gathering, all instruments of Olymbos can be playing depending on the moment but mostly the lyra and laouto are used for the reason that a certain quietness is sought, needed, and achieved in this manner. This quietness is absolutely necessary because (as previously mentioned) mantinades are composed and sang instantly, and for that, a certain degree of concentration and tranquility for the composers/singers must prevail.
Below you can listen to an excerpt of a glendi. This glendi took place in the central square of Olymbos, namely "Sellai" (-ai as in "eye") on August 16th, 1995. Yiannis Katiniaris plays the lyra and Yiannis Prearis and later Yiannis Nikitas play the laouto (their same first names is a coincidence). We will not publish the names of the remaining participants here, though most natives will know who those people are. If you still want to know the names, send us an email.
In the background, you will hear a church bell ringing. This is the bell of the main cathedral of Olymbos, devoted to the Assumption of Virgin Mary. This bell acts as a "messenger" to inform the villagers of various events depending on the style of its rings. In this case, the ringing means that this glendi will most likely lead to a "dance", meaning a public celebration, that will last until the sun rises. That"s when the people will start preparing to arrive at the place of entertainment, in this case the central square, a romantic and historic outdoors establishment. A light breeze can be heard in the background of the recording at times. Also, you can hear that the participants repeat after the singer each part of a mantinada.
Later through the night, the tsambouna will enter the celebration and excitement will drive the dancers and most of the crowd into the steps of "Pano Horos", a remnant of an ancient war-dance. Literal translation of the words will give us "Up Dance", which implies its faster, more exciting rhythm and character. You can also listen to a sample of Pano Horos below. In this sample, observe how the music transitions from the slower glendi, to the faster Pano Horos rhythm. This transitioning part is called "Gonatistos Horos" which will be included in this page at a later stage.
4). Musical samples
You can listen to a glendi excerpt here in Real Audio format. If you don"t have the program, please download it (4,6 MB). Enjoy your listening.....
The songs of Syrmatiko contain lyrics of epic events that date back to the Byzantine Empire years. Many are taken from real life occurrences and have been transformed, using the influential song-making and -singing process, into lifelong lessons and knowledge. In this song, the folk tells us how a malicious and ill-willed third person can be devastating when wedged between the smooth relationship and familial love of two siblings. This recording came from the recent CD release of Mihalis Zografidis titled "Dakry kai Aroma" translated as "Tear and Fragrance". Hear it in Real Audio format. The lyrics will come soon.
III. Pano Horos
Here you can listen to the famous "Pano Horos" dance which gives you a decent sample of Olymbos music. All instruments are playing in this piece and it is available to you in two formats:
1) .WAV format, 3.1 MB in size.Click here to hear it.
2). Real Audio format, 1.4 MB in size. Click icon.
Its name (Kefallonitika) relates to the Island of Kefallonia. There are two versions of the story regarding this relation. a) The dance and its associated tune was imported from Keffalonia and b) it is a local dance that took its name from the "mantinada" that is often sung with its tune. This mantinada mentions the "ships from Kefallonia, which anchored in the port city of Pyrgos" in Pelloponese, and are awaiting the weather to calm down so that they can continue their journey.Listen to the sample here. Singers are: Yiannis Pavlidis, George Prearis, and Mihalis Zografidis. Transferred in digital format by my friend Andreas Fasakis, Piraeus, Greece.
The dance of Arkistis is a man dance. It is danced by pairs of men mostly outdoors and on dangerous locations such as cliff and house roof edges. It requires superb skill and balance to avoid an accidental fall which becomes a possiblity after the dance goes on for a few minutes and the dancers becomer tired. The dance symbolizes a competition between two men who fight to capture the heart of a woman. The movements are abrupt, vigorous, elaborate, and for the most part, identical between the two men. The "winner" is the person who stays in the dance the longer or causes the other person's fall. You can listen to the dance in Read Audio and MP3* note formats here. It was recorded in 1996 in the main Olymbos square of Sellai. Playing are: Tsambouna: Antonis Zografidis, Lyra: Mihalis Zografidis, Laouto: Yiorgos B. Yiorgakis.
1) tsa.mbou.na: n; a wind instrument consisting of a reed melody pipe and from two drones with air supplied continuously by a bag with valve-stopped mouth tube or by bellows; played in the island of Karpathos in Greece and similar to the Scottish bagpipeófrom the ancient Greek symphonia--n Picture 1 and Picture 2
2) kid: n; [ME kide, of Scandinavian origin; akin to ON kith kid] : 1) a young goat b: a young individual of various animals related to the goat 2a) the flesh, fur, or skin of a kid--
3) ly.ra: n; [ME lire, fr. OF, fr. L lyra, fr. Gk] 1): a stringed instrument of the harp class used by the ancient Greeks esp. to accompany singing and recitation 2) cap: lyra--
4) laouto (lute): n; [ME, fr. MF lut, fr. OProv laut, fr. Ar al-"ud, lit., the wood]: a stringed instrument having a large pear-shaped body, a vaulted back, a fretted fingerboard, and a head with tuning pegs which is often angled backward from the neck--See Picture
5) fio.ri.tu.ra: n; pl -tu.re; [It, lit., flowering, fr. fiorito, pp. of fiorire to flower, fr. (assumed) VL florire--more at flourish] (1841): ornament--
6) mantinada: n; [Plural=mantinades];a couplet, a sort of micro-poem which consists of four 15-syllable verses that rhyme. Each couplet forms an independent unit in most cases but a series of them can form a larger, more of a conventional-type of a poem or song. In Olymbos, they can be sung with more than 75 melodies or tunes and are used in many other parts of Greece--most notably in Crete. (The closest translation to English--from Latin--is the word "aubade").
7) kafeneio: n; The Greek-type of a coffee shop which many times is transformed into a taverna or bar at night--See Picture
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