Greece Traditional Folk Music (World Music Library)

Greek Traditional Village Music and Dance

Greek Traditional Village Music and Dance

The music of Greece is the whole world of sunny and joyful. This is music woven from thousands of patches of the southern musical tradition of Europe, the countries of the Balkan Peninsula, the Mediterranean, Gypsy music and the East. All these influences found their amazing connection in Greek music. And a collection of folk, traditional village games and songs from Greece is proof of that. You will hear on this album: violins, bouzouki, kemenche, guitars, flute and many other unique Greek musical instruments, as well as songs in Greek style.


01. Monemvassia – Manolis Maltas/Nikos Maltas/Michael Mavroleon
02. Maritsa’s Tune – Manolis Maltas/Nikos Maltas/Michael Mavroleon
03. When I Remember The Old Times – Dimitris Skoulas/Drakos Sapoutzis/Vassilis Saloustros
04. I Don’t Speak To You – Dimitris Skoulas/Drakos Sapoutzis/Vassilis Saloustros
05. The Gardener – Nikos Economidis/Dimitris Nomicos
06. Balos – Panayotis Marcou/George Conitopoulos/Dimitris Tsakiris/Matheos Ventouris
07. Serenade Medley – The Singers From Corfou
08. Hassapikos – Alecos Tzoumas/Dimitris Tsakiris/Ermolaos Consolas
09. Shepherd’s Flute Tune – Dimitris Tsimbissis
10. Digenis – Costas Bouzamanis/Cyriacos Costoulas/Stavros Stavridis/Yorgos Gevgelis
11. Dirge – George Brachopoulos/Alexander Tzoumas/Dimitris Tsakiris/Ermolaos Consolas
12. Double Gaida – George Brachopoulos/Alexander Tzoumas/Dimitris Tsakiris/Ermolaos Consolas
13. Androutso’s Mother – Vassilis Colovos
14. I Am Withering Away – Vassilis Colovos
15. Today Is Easter Day – Vangelis Dascaloudis
16. If Mountains Could Lower Down – Vangelis Dasaloudis/Antonis Zoras/Panayotis Zoumbas/MAthios Ventouris/Vorgos Vergelis
17. Omal – Charis Kazantsidis/Vorgos Vergelis
18. Seranitsa – George Amarantidis
19. I Will Go To Arapia – Vangelis Dimoudis/Antonis Zoras/Vorgos Vevgelis
20. When You Go Abroad – Stergios Vlachoyanis
21. Koftos – Greek Traditional Village Music And Dance

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The chief melody instrument played at present on most Greek islands is the violin, which arrived in Greece by the late 1600’s and which gradually pushed out an older instrument called the lyra except on the islands of Crete and Karpathos and a few others where they are still played occasionally). There are several kinds of lyras but they are generically either pear-shaped or oblong, light-weight fiddles held upright and bowed with an underhand bow-grip (ie. the bowing hand held palm-up rather than palm-down). This family of instruments was played widely on most Greek islands, as well as in mainland northeastern Greece (Macedonia and Thrace). It was also played in what is now Turkey, in the regions of Kappadokia (often spelled Cappadocia) and the Black Sea region (Pontos) where Greeks lived for many centuries before they were evicted from the new Turkish state in 1922/3 in what is euphemistically called the ‘exchange of populations’.

The lyra played in Crete now is an alteration of the earlier Dodecanesian lyra played there up till the 1930s. Examples of the stages it passed through can be seen at the Plaka museum, as well as all the types of lyras played by Greeks. Violin is also played in Crete. There is an extremely resonant lyra called ‘Politiki’ lyra, which is named for the ‘Poli’ (city) which Greeks still call ‘Konstantinoupoli’ (Constantinople), most of them refusing to use its modern Turkish name (Istanbul). This very difficult lyra is played  in Turkish classical ensembles but was previously a folk instrument played in some of the very extradordinary music of Asia Minor Greeks in the ‘Poli’ and in Smyrni (now Izmir). It is enjoying a revival now in recordings of Greek music from Asia Minor.

Whereas the Smyrneika/Rembetika traditions were urban ones, the violin music of the Greek islands and of many regions of Greece was a village/rural one. First a word, though, about some other older instruments played on the islands: the tsambouna, or island bagpipe with its double chanter (ie. there are two reeds side by side set into a wooden base with varying numbers of holes to be stopped by the fingers, providing for the possibility of chords and /or a drone note without the presence of a separate drone pipe (as with the gaida of Thrace in the north-easternmost region of mainland Greece).

The various tsambounas (and related flutes and pipes) have been played on the islands of Greece for at least a millenium, some of them in what is now Turkey. There is purely instrumental music for this bagpipe, though it is also played in accompaniment to songs. On many islands a smallish two-headed drum held with a strap around one shoulder and struck with straight sticks (toumbaki) is played with the tsambouna. I have seen such sticks made of ram’s horn and ornately carved by the owner. The skins used for the bags of these pipes and for the drum heads are usually from the torsos of goats, and the pipe reeds are made of a kind of cane. These are shepherds’ instruments which were banned by the dictator Metaxas in l936 as being ‘backward’ as well as by the ‘junta’ (a military dictatorship backed by the CIA from 1967-1974). When presenting a concert of holiday music from all over Greece with musicians a few years ago, my partner and I were told that though the pipes could be played for pupils in the schools where we  also gave musical presentations, they could not be played in the large Orthodox church where the concert was to be held. ‘Why not?’ we asked, and were told that the tsambouna was considered a ‘street instrument’. One  can only wonder at the deeper reason, perhaps having more to do with the pagan times that preceded Christianity. Instruments so obviously made from animal skins suggest a connection with the earthly realm as no others do. The tsambouna (and, in some islands, tsambouna and toumbaki), though still played, are heard less often in recent times than the violin and laouto on most Greek islands. They are played especially at Apokries (the Greek version of carnival), where pre-Christian forms of revelry are still observed, including the wearing of animal skins and large belts of heavy goat-bells.

The laouto differs from the outi (oud) (an instrument played in Greece as well as in Turkey and North Africa) mainly in that though both have large rounded, gourd-like backs, the laouto has a long neck, metal (instead of gut or nylon) courses (pairs) of strings, four courses instead of six as on the oud, frets (moveable ones) and a different tuning.

On the islands (except for Crete with its larger, deeper-pitched laouto) the laouto is used mainly as a chordal instrument played with the violin. It is played with a long, narrow pick, traditionally made from the carved feather of large birds like vultures, but now most often made of plastic. The older style of playing (still practiced on islands such as Kythnos but which has died out in Naxos) was/is very percussive, very punchy. On most islands very few chords were/are played–the emphasis being on rhythm. This percussive use of a stringed instrument is something that I, as a violinist, have found most wonderful to play with because intense rhythm is combined with the fullness of chordal sound.

An older  recently -deceased  island player combined the percussive chordal sound with frequent melody notes, though most players now have gone in the direction of clipped, staccato chords (and incessant chord changes) as well as electronic distortion of their instruments’ basic sound as described above. The player whom I mention here was an anomaly both in his use of melody notes as well as in his playing of improvised solos known as taximia–more common to the music of mainland Greece, Crete, and Asia Minor.

The laouto is played in larger ensembles in northern Greece (mostly as a chordal instrument, though taximia (unmetered solos) are played on it as well) with such instruments as violin, clarinet, sometimes santouri (an instrument that resembles the hammer dulcimer and is played with cotton-tipped sticks) and either defi (tambourine) or the lap-drum known in Greece as toumbeleki (known also as dumbek or tarambouka). There is a laouto CD on the Greek Folk  Instruments series and several CDs with Christos Zotos (who comes from Epiros) and who teaches in Athens.  His style and repertoire are mostly from Epiros in northwest mainland Greece, though he is knowledgeable about all styles in Greece.  He has his own method for moving around easily on the instrument and is a true virtuoso. ).

The laouto is one of the instruments that has died out in many places, though it is sinse making a comeback. We attended a very large celebration one summer on a major holiday (15 August) on the island of Ikaria where the band included violin, bouzouki and guitar (a common combination in many present-day bands that put bouzouki and laouto together, partly so that they can play some rembetika or laika (latter-day boukouki music), but in such bands the bouzouki often plays along with the violin on many melodies. The combination is my least favorite, right up there along with electric bass and drum set (common now on many recordings of not only Greek island music but ANY Greek music by modern players).

Violin styles in Greece can vary radically between places only two or three hours distant from each other by boat or over the next mountain. They can, in fact, vary even in the same place (from village to village) which is one of the reasons that ‘tradition’ is so hard to pin down. Up until recently on most islands, the violin has been played with the laouto, as stated above, with one or both of the two musicians also singing. There are instrumental interludes (breaks) between verses of songs and also purely instrumental pieces. Both the latter and most songs are set in dance rhythms and hence danced to. Those listening may also join in the songs, even initiating verses. There are also slow songs sung with or without instruments and slow instrumental improvisations which require a high degree of proficiency on any instrument. All of the above applies as well to mainland Greek music. The mastery of Greek violin styles is extremely difficult, both for natives and for foreigners. Like most traditional music world-wide, the music is learned by ear instead of from notation and the notes are highly embellished, both by use of sylistic ornamentation and also by variations of the melody notes themselves.

The interplay between the laouto and violin is especially important in the older music, the laouto not simply ‘accompanying’ the violin, but locking in with it rhymically,(and melodically in some cases as stated above. I speak here of sophisticated players, of which there are many still (though many have also moved to Athens or elsewhere where they work as professional musicians only). One could travel to Greece and hear less adept players and decide that Greek traditional music is something rather primitive, but then–this sort of spectrum exists everywhere in all human endeavors. In general, the sound of the violin in all Greek music is radically different from the sound of the violin in western classical music (as is the sound of Greek clarinet, which is played mostly in mainland Greece).

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Silvia Morelli
I will share with you my collections of PUTUMAYO albums, KICC World Music Library, OCORA France, INEDIT series and other interesting music. Follow us and look up at the new posts.

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