Repertories and identities of a musician from Crete (Magrini)

Introduction


 

Life histories of musicians

Ethnomusicological research has begun focussing on case studies of musicians (1), pointing out the role played by individual men and women in the process of transmission and transformation of oral repertories and musical style. We are becoming more aware that what we are used to studying as a "genre" or "repertory" is the cumulative outcome of musicians' interacting accomplishments, framed in personal life-histories, having specific social and historical backgrounds.

The study of musicians is particularly important to appreciate their role not only as music makers (see in this regard the article of Amnon Shiloah in this issue of Ethnomusicology Online, who stresses "the extreme importance of [...] individual musicians in determining the character and dimension of all musical production"), but also as those who receive and elaborate on the inputs coming from their social environment and retransmit them through their musical behavior. This aspect becomes crucial when dealing with musical cultures strongly characterized by processes such as change, syncretism, remodelling, which may be connected to a wide range of causes. Among these causes are foreign political domination, state and/or mass media interference in musical life (see the interesting case dealt with by Svanibor Pettan), and mobility of people, which may reach the dimension of a true diaspora (a topic widely examined by Philip Bohlmann in this issue, where also an interesting documentation on Mediterranean musicians emigrated to the U.S. is offered by Karl Signell).

 

Greece and the "Sacred" Roots of European Culture

Mediterranean musical cultures are ideal for dealing with these kinds of problems, given their complex socio-political and historical background. Greece is a particularly challenging region of the Mediterranean in this regard:

In terms of the ideology of Eurocentrism, at once the source and foe of modern anthropology, Greece is symbolically both holy and polluted. It is holy in that it is the mythic ancestor of all European culture; and it is polluted by the taint of Turkish culture--the taint that late medieval and Renaissance Europe viewed as the embodiment of barbarism and evil (Herzfeld 1987: 7).

The history of European culture is permeated by references to its sacred roots in ancient Greece. Yet, what happened in Greece after the collapse of the Byzantine empire, that is, under the long dominion of Ottoman Empire, has been generally overlooked, as if the "contamination" undergone placed Greece outside "our" world.

The dualism remarked by Herzfeld deeply concerns also Greek music and is clearly revealed in the history of the folk and popular genres practiced in Greece from the end of the nineteenth century until today. In some cases, scholars, state and mass media dealt with and manipulated these genres to re-establish the purity of Greek folk tradition, and reconnect it to its supposed roots in the culture of ancient Greece. This is a good example of the approach directed toward pointing out the continuity between the present and the "holy" past of Greece, yet the concrete history of what happened in the musics considered in this article gives evidence of forms of syncretism or "pollution," as Herzfeld would say, which were more embarrassing for the Úlites of Greek society than folk and popular musicians and their audiences.

The acceptance of elements such as instruments or aspects of the musical language coming from foreign musical traditions seem to have been common in Greece for centuries (Petrides 1989). The stories told by the music-makers we meet during fieldwork can help us in understanding how processes of "contamination" may easily arise in societies highly involved in cultural contacts, like Mediterranean ones. A musician's life history may also show that even the negotiation of their own repertories and instruments may become necessary for those who make a living as professional players. This may be seen in the biography of a professional violin player from Crete, Kostas Papadakis.

Kostas Papadakis

The life history of Papadakis shows how this kind of negotiation may also be connected to deep changes in the identity and social status of the musician in agreement with the change of the social context within which he is active. The identity and status of the musician depend on this context, which establishes the roles played by the music maker as representative of the particular values and beliefs belonging to specific groups of people and their culture or sub-culture.

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