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Since I first heard this music (in Karpathos in 1976, then in Crete in 1978, and again in Karpathos in 1980), I was never able to hear musicians in such festivals playing without amplification: high quality contact pick-ups are now used, though the overall sound is usually saturated, due to the excessive load for the small Italian PA systems, pushed ‘to the red’.


(mp3 file)

Sta marmara tou Galata,

a song from Karpathos, performed by group from Olympos, Karpathos, without amplification

excerpt from recording by Giuliano d’Angiolini, 1994-1995, Grčce: musique de l’île de Karpathos, Buda Records 92644-2

(mp3 file)

Sta marmara tou galata,

as performed by group from Kassos




Panagía Polítissa festival, August 22nd, 1999,

recording by the author



Laouto player with pickup and Fender amplifier at Panagía Polítissa festival, 1998

Wedding in Karpathos, 1980. The lyra player is singing into the microphone of a portable PA system





Violin player at Panagía Polítissa festival, 2002, with microphone, mixer, minidisc recorder

Bass player with Montarbo PA system and electrified lyra at Panagía Polítissa festival, 1999




However, I have the impression that some harsh, distorted quality in the vocal and lyra sounds are the result of an aesthetic choice, rather than just a technical limit. Though my knowledge of the repertory of these bands is far from being acceptable by ethnomusicological standards, year after year I was able to recognise many of the most common pieces or dances. One permanent request (specially at Livadia’s festival) is for michanikós, the dance of sponge divers from Kalimnos.

For many decades divers using diving suits were exposed to risks of decompression disease (‘bends’) by bringing them back to surface without any precaution. Many died, others had their articulations stiffened, coordination problems, nausea, numbness (Warn 2000). In the dance, the leader of the line leans on a stick, and moves as if he had ‘bends’, almost falling to the floor, held by his neighbours. This is a dramatic point in the whole night (usually the announcement of the michanikós causes murmured comments in the crowd), released and transformed as soon as the music changes pace, allowing the acting diver and the whole line of dancers to get into a much merrier mood.


(mp3 file)

Michanikós Announcement


Banleader announces michanikós:

comments by the audience

Panagía Polítissa festival, August 22nd, 1999,

recording by the author


(mp3 file)



Group from Kassos performs michanikós.

 Panagía Polítissa festival, August 22nd, 1999,

recording by the author


Dances that all participants seem to know perfectly are sirtós, sousta, kritikós, hasapikós servikós. The composition of each dance line varies according to those who requested the piece, and some numbers (like Marmara) are clearly better ‘floor fillers’ than others, but after many years of visits to Tilos and reviewing my older photographs I’d say that the whole community is there. The young put on their smartest outfits, like going to a disco, and show pride for their ability to dance. Everyone pays respect to the oldest dancers. Though age, gender and class power structures show all their relations, it is amazing to see how they administered in such an organic way. It is the historical role of such events, of course.

Expert dancers at Agios

Pandeleímonas festival, 2004




Young dancers at Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 2004


It is even more amazing, then, to notice that exactly the same attitudes, in exactly the same community, are shown at the other major musical events in Tilos, pop concerts. In 1999, a new open-air theatre (in the classical form) was inaugurated close to the cave where the fossil dwarf

elephants were discovered. Leaning onto a hill, the theatre is oriented so that the audience can see, behind the stage, Megalo Horió, dominated by the Castle of the Knights of St. John. The opening concert (the 21st of August) was by the singer-songwriter Pandelis Thalassinós, who included the date in his tour that was later documented in a double cd. The cd is titled Ap’ tin Tilo os ti Thraki, ‘From Tilos to Thrace’, and the reference to Tilos can be seen as a tribute, but also as an emphatic


Pandelis Thalassinós and group

at the Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre, 1999

and ironic reminder of the ubiquity of that tour. Thalassinós was accompanied – as usual with singer-songwriters in the éndechno genre – by a number of virtuoso professional performers of various instruments, including drums, bass, keyboards, accordion, violin, electric guitar, but also bouzouki, laouto, outi, lyra, kanonaki, nei, sandouri, doubeleki.



Audience dancing at Pandelis Thalassinós concert, 1999


That was the second chance for me that year (after a concert in a combined tour by Eleni Tsaligopoulou and Melina Kaná, in Rhodes) to discover the quality and wide popularity of a genre (or closely related genres) that in my country would have a quite different audience. After years of traditional groups performing at festivals with distorted sounds, it was also a chance to listen to Greek, Ottoman, and Central Asian instruments in concert with a ‘clean’ sound, that came into the middle of my thoughts on the contradictory sound aesthetics of world music (and various folk revivals) on one hand, and of what seemed to be the existing traditional musics on the other (see Fabbri 1998, 2001).

(mp3 file)

Ta Smyrneika traghoudia


Kanonaki player performing taximi to introduce Pandelis Thalassinós


Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre,

August 21st, 1999,

recording by the author


All concerts at the Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre are organised by the mayor, and are of course a political counterpart of the religious festivals. The mayor’s office kindly sent me a list of all the concerts since 1999, but the fax came out blurred and I was never able to get another copy, so the list below is not complete. When an exact date appears, it is because I attended and recorded the concert:

  • August 21st, 1999 – Pandelis Thalassinós

  • 2000 – Vassilis Papacostandinou

  • August 8th, 2000  – Sokrátis Málamas (for me, one of the world’s best singer-songwriters, no exaggeration)

  • 2001 – Nikos Papázoglou

  • August 18th, 2001 – Melina Kaná (one of the finest voices in Europe, working with singer-songwriters, for world music projects [Lafyra, with Ashkabad, a group from Turkmenistan], and classical composers [Nikos Mamangákis wrote his Tragoudhia ghia tin Melina])

  • August 11th, 2002 – Milthiádis Paschalidis

  • August 11th, 2003 – Yorgos Zervakis

  • August 20 th, 2003 (attended, but not recorded) – Nikos Portokáloglou


Sokrátis Málamas

at the Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre, 2000


(mp3 file)

Petáo petres

by Sokrátis Málamas


Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre, August 8th, 2000, recording by the author


(mp3 file)

Opios agápise dhen xeri na to pi

by Melina Kaná


Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre, August 18th, 2001, recording by the author



(mp3 file)

Che Guevara

by Milthiádis Paschalidis

and audience singing along


Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre, August 11th, 2002, recording by the author


Though it took place in the neighbouring island of Nissiros, I should also mention the concert held on August 16th, 2000 by Nikos Papázoglou, not just for its extraordinary location, the volcano’s crater, but because the Tilians organised a special ship to move in mass to Nissiros (in the middle of the season, some bars and tavernas were closed). Moreover, the


Nikos Papázoglou in the volcano, 2000

concert had the same character of most of the ones at the Elephant Cave: very mixed participation, people of all ages singing along, and the band playing traditional dances in the last thirty minutes of the concert.

(mp3 file)


by Nikos Papázoglou


Volcano, Nissiros, August 16th, 2000, recording by the author


I do not mean that in these occasions distinctions become blurred: it is very clear even for me, an Italian, though a popular music scholar, that things are different and are perceived differently. But there are also signs of overlaps, of cloudy intersections (to recall a brilliant definition of ‘musics’ by Iannis Xenakis) between categories – the traditional and the popular – that shouldn’t be accepted as separate without thinking. There were many memorable moments during these concerts, and it would really take hours just to go through them. Maybe the latest I recorded would deserve a longer excerpt, because here the blur between categories becomes dramatic: the ‘star’ is Yorgos Zervákis, from Crete. He is a great virtuoso of the lyra, playing electrified violin

as well. He plays both, with Jimi Hendrix probably at the back of his mind. But he isn’t a rockstar: he is one of the best known followers of the tradition of the mandinades, improvised poetry (likely of Venetian origin). His performance lasts over four hours, and he makes people dance, but everyone follows the rhymes, and there is applause when (probably using formulas or rehearsed tricks, but with apparently inexhaustible energy) Zervákis gets to the end of an improvised verse with a wit, or a sentence with moral or religious significance.


(mp3 file)


by Yorgos Zervakis


Dwarf Elephant Cave Theatre,

August 11th, 2003, recording by the author


It’s a lively recording, one of the main differences from attending the real concert being the fact that, at the end, it wouldn’t be possible to finish the night at Mikró Chorió Bar.

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