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Music of Crete


  Lyra - Crete

The music of Crete (Greek: Κρητική μουσική) is a traditional form of Greek folk music, also called κρητικά (kritika). The lyra is the dominant folk instrument on the island; there are three-stringed and four-stringed versions of this bowed string instrument, closely related to the medieval Byzantine lyra. It is often accompanied by the askomandoura (a type of bagpipe) and the Cretan laouto (λαούτο). Thanassis Skordalos and Kostas Moundakis are the most renowned players of the lyra.
The earliest documented music on Crete comes from Ancient Greece. Cretan music like most traditional Greek, began as product of ancient, Byzantine and western inspirations. The first recorded reference to lyra was in the 9th century by the Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih (d. 911); in his lexicographical discussion of instruments, he cited the lyre (lūrā) as the typical instrument of the Byzantines along with the (organ), (a type of lyre).The lyra spread widely via the Byzantine trade routes that linked the three continents; in the 11th and 12th centuries European writers use the terms fiddle and lira interchangeably when referring to bowed instruments.Bowed instruments descendants of the Byzantine bowed lyra (lūrā) have continued to be played in post-Byzantine regions until the present day with few changes, for example the Calabrian Lira in Italy, the Cretan Lyra, the Gadulka in Bulgaria, and the Pontian lyra (Πολίτικη λύρα) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Following the Crusades, however, the Franks, Venetians and Genoese dominated the island and introduced new instruments and genres and in particular the three-stringed lira da braccio. By the end of the 14th century, a poetic form called mantinada became popular; it was a rhyming couplet of fifteen syllables. The introduction of the violin by the end of 17th century was especially important.
Common  lyra          Lyraki

Cretan musicians

Uploaded on Jan 13, 2008 by John Sooklaris
This clip contains some actual Nikos Xilouris Songs. Anthony Sooklaris so fortuitously happened to capture some footage of one of Greece's most celebrated musicians, Nikos Xylouris, before he made the "big time". He played for our group at a local Taverna in Heraklion.

NIkos Xylouris
Nikos Xylouris (Greek: Νίκος Ξυλούρης; 7 July 1936 – 8 February 1980), nicknamed Psaronikos (Greek: Ψαρονίκος), was a Greek composer and singer from the village of Anogeia in Crete and also the older brother of two other great musicians of Cretan music, Antonis Xylouris or Psarantonis (Greek: Ψαραντώνης) and Yiannis Xylouris or (Psaroyiannis) (Greek: Ψαρογιάννης). He was part of the movement that brought down the Greek military Junta of 1967.His songs and music captured and described the Greek psyche and demeanor, gaining himself the title the archangel of Crete.
Psaronikos is a nickname as it is customary for people in Anogeia to have. His grandfather was Psarantonis. His grandfather kept company with a group of five or six men who stole from the Turks. As he was the fastest runner in the group, when they met with Turks he was running very fast and he could catch all of them as if they were fish. So, first he was given the name Fishturk (Greek: 'Ψαρότουρκος') and then the nickname Psarantonis. That is how all family male members after him were nicknamed Psaronikos, Psarogiorgis, Psarantonis etc. (this is explained by Psarantonis, Nikos Xylouris' brother in an interview presented on his homepage).
He acquired his first lyra at the age of twelve and displayed potential to play local folk music. Xylouris was 17 years of age when he started performances at Kastro folk music-restaurant in Heraklion.
A turning point in Nikos Xylouris' career occurred with a recording in 1958. He first performed outside Greece in 1966 and won the first prize in the San Remo folk music festival. In 1967 he established the first Cretan Music Hall, Erotokritos, in Heraklion. The recording of Anyfantou in 1969 was a big success. Xylouris soon started performances in Athens, which became his new permanent residence, at the Konaki folk music hall.
During the early 1970s, Xylouris' voice becomes identified not only with Cretan music but also with the new kind of artistic popular music that emerged as well-known composers such as Giannis Markopoulos, Stavros Xarhakos, Christodoulos Halaris, and Christos Leontis wrote music on the verses of famous Greek poets among which stand out Nikos Gatsos, Yannis Ritsos, Giorgos Seferis, Kostas Varnalis, and Dionysios Solomos. In 1971, Xylouris is awarded by the Academy Charles Cross of France for his performance in the Cretan Rizitika songs album with G. Markopoulos.
He died in 1980 from a brain tumor, and is buried in the First Cemetery of Athens.
Thanassis Skordalos

Thanassis Skordalos (Greek: Θανάσης Σκορδαλός; born 10 December 1920 - 23 April 1998) was a musician from Crete, noted for playing the lyra, the bowed string instrument of Crete and most popular surviving form of the medieval Byzantine lyra.
Skordalos was born in the village Spili of Saint Basil in Rethymno Prefecture, Crete.
He finished grammar school in Spili. It was about the same time that he first started to play the lira. He gave his first performance in front of the Cretans in Athens - at the historical music hall “Vizantio” in Omonoia Square. His first recording was in 1946 with the famous “Spiliano Syrto” where Giannis Markogiannakis was playing the lute. In 1947 when he was 27 years old, he was positioned at the Security Services of the National Bank of Greece from where he later on retired.
During his long career, Skordalos performed in most of the countries where one can find Cretan immigrants like the United States, Australia, and Canada, in addition to many countries in Africa. He married Hrisoula Papadaki from Rethimnon and they had two sons and two daughters.
Skordalos along with Kostas Mountakis are considered those lyra players who offered the most to Cretan music. Skordalos' legacy lasted for sixty years and he died on 23 April 1998 at the age of 78.

Yannis Markopoulos

Yannis Markopoulos was born in 1939 in Heraklion, Crete. From one of the old families of the island—his father was an attorney and later the Prefect—he spent his childhood in the seaside town of Ierapetra.[2] The Byzantine liturgy heard regularly from the church opposite his family home, Cretan traditional music, with its rapid dances of repeated small motifs, played by local instruments at the town’s weekly festivities, but at the same time the sound of the waves, and the detonation of land-mines in the aftermath of World War II, all these formed part of the acoustic universe of the composer as a child. He took his first lessons in music theory and the violin at the local conservatory and played the clarinet in the municipal band. Meanwhile other musical experiences of decisive importance were classical music as well as the music of the wider Eastern Mediterranean and, most important of all, that of nearby Egypt, which he heard either over the radio or from musicians and travellers passing through his hometown. Thanks to his father’s extensive private library he had the opportunity to deepen his knowledge, beyond school education, in literature, philosophy, history and the arts. He began composing music during his adolescence and two melodies of this time would later become songs that have enjoyed great popularity throughout Greece.

By Henryk Kotowski (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Antonis Xylouris
(Greek: Αντώνης Ξυλούρης; born 1942), nicknamed Psarantonis (Greek: Ψαραντώνης), is a Greek composer, singer and performer of lyra, the bowed string instrument of Crete and most popular surviving form of the medieval Byzantine lyra. He comes from the mountainous village of Anogeia in Crete and is the younger brother of the late Nikos Xylouris, a notable Cretan singer/musician as well as the older brother of Yiannis Xylouris, an equally notable Cretan musician. Psarantonis is known for the special timbre of his voice and his lyra playing style. Apart from the lyra Psarantonis plays various traditional instruments.
He first played the lyre at the age of 13 and recorded his first single in 1964, titled "I Thought of Denying You" (Greek: Εσκέφτηκα να σ' αρνηθώ). He has released many recordings since then and has represented Greece many times in festivals abroad.
In May 2005, Psarantonis performed at the World Music Institute's 20th anniversary benefit concert at Town Hall, New York. In 2007 at the festival Rock "All tomorrow's Parties" in Minehead, UK. In January 2009, he gave memorable performances in the rock music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties hosted in Brisbane, Sydney and Mount Buller (in Victoria) and curated by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. In 2007 he worked with Daemonia Nymphe on their album Krataia Asterope doing the vocals and playing the lyra in the track Dios Astrapaiou
He has also worked with the Italian singer and songwriter Vinicio Capossela, similarly as his son Labis.



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Dikti or Dicte (Greek: Δίκτη) (also Lasithiotika Ori, Greek: Λασιθιώτικα Όρη) is a mountain range on the east of the island of Crete in the regional unit of Lasithi. On the west it extends to the regional unit of Heraklion. According to the Greek Mythology, Zeus was reared on this mountain in a cave called Dictaeon Andron (Psychro Cave). On the north of the main massif, the plateau of Lasithi is located. Read more

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