Music and songs from Crete.
This is a post, different from those I have uploaded so far.
As I am leaving for Crete for a few days, where I have to be at the wedding of my nephew and where there will be a lot of parting, music and dance to the occasion, I will let you have an idea of what the music, the dancing and the songs from Crete are like.
The music is not like to that are you are used to hear so far. To some it might sound like some older, Byzantine or even older sounds. Sometimes it gets more vivid and exciting, other times more soft and relaxing. The traditional organs used in small groups and orchestras, is the “lyra” , a three string instrument, played like a violin, but held differently. Usually, the lyra player is holding it with his left hand in front of him, and adjusting the length of the strings by moving the tips of his fingers along them to produce the note he wants. The other organ used is the lute to accompany the lyra, played more or less like a guitar, only looking and sounding different.
The traditional songs of Crete, are called collectively “ριζίτικα” “rizitika”.
“Riza”, means the root. And “rizitika” means those coming or those you can meet at the roots of the mountains. The roots of the White Mountains of Western Crete. They are mostly old songs, some might be a few ages old, but they are still sung there by the people at every occasion. Usually, the initial source of the song is not known. They can be sung around a table after a few glasses of wine, the can be sung while a company of men is walking on the street, or even sung by someone when he feels lonely.
Most of the times, the first singer is singing each verse alone, and a chorus of the rest men is repeating it and so on.
The contents of those songs varies. They can be songs talking about achievements of men at the war or a battle, songs for a wedding praising the bride or the groom for their beauty, songs praising the landlord for his hospitality, etc. Some can be love songs and some others can be really naughty and sung only in the presence of adults, of course after the consumption of more than one glass of wine. Some of the songs might have some metaphorical meaning and are sung so only those initiated can understand what the meaning is. Those were used to deliver some message during the occupation of Crete by the Turks. For you, I will try to translate such a song:
Little birds you can sing
as only you know how
because I used to be a bird myself
and I was a nightingale like the others
and from all the hawks and falcons
I was a peregrine
I was a peregrine on the mountains.
This, can only have the following meaning: The singer is addressing a group of revolutionaries and is telling them that they can speak freely, because he used to be one of them, someone like them.
I have found for you a video from the archives of the Greek state television. It is dating back to 1977 and I think it was one of the best productions of the Greek television. The lady who was the producer of the series was really interested and loved the traditional Greek music and was traveling at all corners of Greece to find material at its sources.
This video is from western Crete. It lasts 40 minutes if you care to see it and I would suggest it to you. The quality of the video is not very good, and the sound is in mono. But after watching it, you will have an idea of what the music of Crete sounds like.
The video starts with a man singing an old song. He was from my village and a relative of mine. He is a short man and he knew many old songs and after a glass or two of wine when he had good company he would start singing them. His life story can fill a few books and it is not of interest here, but I can tell you that a few years after the video was recorded, he had a tragic end. Unfortunately it was not only him who was lost. With him were lost many of the old songs he knew.
This is the link to watch the video and listen to the music and songs:
(For better viewing of this video, I would suggest you right click on the link and select to open and watch it on a different window).
The video starts with him singing a song which I have heard in the recording for the first time. I will try to translate the words for you as he is singing them.
John and the Sun
John and the sun were competing with each other
who would be the first to reach the West
and the sun was jumping over hills and mountains
and John, the poor fellow, sad, over the low valleys.
Evening found the Sun at his dear mother's
and John, the poor fellow, sad,
at the low valleys.
Then he continues with another four verse little song:
I always like to sit at places
with a good all around view
because my heart is heavy
and I cant bear it.
The producer of the series is interviewing him about his life at the village and abroad (he had gone to Germany as a construction worker for a period), while some scenes from the village are shown, as it was at the time of the recording.
There is more music from Western Crete following, and scenes from the old town of Chania, the county capital.
The producer sings herself another four verse song :
The black clothes* are heavy
like the heavy irons
(I know)because I used to wear them
for a love I had.
(* Black shirts and dresses are worn in Crete for mourning someone dear. Everywhere you go you will see men in black shirts and women in black dresses. There is always someone dear missing.)
During the 40 minutes of the video, you will be able to listen to different kinds of music of Crete, listen to some songs, see some scenes of the life of the people at that period, over 30 years ago, and see some traditional dances by the locals and high school girls.
One of the experts on the traditional music of Crete still alive, is the Irishman Ross Daly. You will see him in this video playing the lyra at a coffee shop while some men are dancing to his music. He had come to Crete two years earlier, in 1975, as a young man and never left.
I am not going to try to translate for you all the songs you are hearing here. I will let you listen to the music and get an idea of how it sounds. I hope you will have the patience to watch it all and enjoy it.
I will leave this post for you to watch and listen, while I will be away for two weeks. And of course you know where I will be. The places shown at this video. The mountains of Western Crete , the place I was born and grew up. I will miss your company while I am away, but I promise I will be back with you, after two weeks, with more photographs from Crete.
PS. The photograph shown on my banner is a view of the old port of Chania, the county capital, with the Venetian lighthouse and the fortress at the left of the entrance to the port.