A Family Affair

Cretan music is one of most distinct and captivating musical traditions of the world. It belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean modal musical tradition and resembles Arabic and Turkish music.

(excerpt of article by musician Ross Daly)

Cretan music is one of most distinct and captivating musical traditions of the world. It belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean modal musical tradition and resembles Arabic and Turkish music.

The principal instruments used today are the lyra: a small three-stringed pear-shaped fiddle held upright on the left knee and bowed horizontally with a bow (which in earlier times had bells on it) held in the right hand, and the laouto: a large lute closely related to the Arabic oud with four courses of double strings made of steel, and movable frets made of nylon filament.

One of the interesting aspects of the lyra has to do with the fingering technique of the left hand. Unlike the violin and most other related instruments, the strings are not pressed by the fingertips of the left hand; rather they are merely touched lightly from the side by the back of the nails.

The Cretan lyra resembles other lyra types found in the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan regions such as the Turkish fasil kemence, the Bulgarian Gadulka, as well as the lyras of the Dodecanese islands, southwest Turkey, Thrace, Macedonia, certain regions of southern Italy, and much of former Yugoslavia.

Interestingly, this technique is also common to the bowed instruments of Rajasthan, such as the sarangi and kamaycha, as well as to some of the bowed instruments of Central Asia, such as the Tuvan igil and the Mongolian morin khuur.

In the far western as well as the eastern regions of Crete one would frequently encounter the violin.  In fact neither the violin nor the lyra are indigenous to Crete (the lyra appeared in Crete in the 18th century). 

In the mountainous areas of central Crete a small bagpipe known as askomandoura was at one time commonly found, and in the urban centers, a small long-necked lute similar to the saz called boulgari was prevalent. In the eastern regions around the Sitia area a small double-faced barrel-drum known as daoulaki was the main instrument accompanying the lyra. The askomandoura, boulgari, daoulaki, and sfyrohabiolo (a small flute) are all close to extinction, although some young musicians have, in recent years, taken them up.

In recent years, the mandolin has gained considerable popularity as an instrument to accompany the characteristic 15-syllable rhyming verses known as mantinades.

Most of the music performed in Crete today is dance music played at local festivals, weddings, and baptisms.  These dances are usually quite fast and require considerable skill on the part of the dancer. The main dances are the Malevyziotikos, the Pentozali, the Sousta, and the Syrtos.

The remaining Cretan repertoire consists of songs not intended to accompany dance. The most important are the rizitika. These songs were originally sung in western Crete, without the accompaniment of instruments, by a group of men sitting around a table.  For this reason they are known as traghoudia tis tavlas, ("table songs").  The rizitika are also the only Cretan songs that do not use rhyming verses.

Rhyming verses were introduced to the island during the Venetian occupation (1204-1670), and some researchers suggest that the unrhymed rizitiko lyrics perhaps reflect an older form. 

Cretan discography is quite extensive and recorded examples of Cretan music from the beginning of the 20th century up until today are readily available. If one listens to the older recordings, it is apparent that Cretan music has undergone major changes.

Read the entire article: http://www.rossdaly.gr/en/texts-recommendations/63-cretan-music-by-ross-daly-

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