2. Music in Tilos, today


‘Mikró Horió Bar’ is the only ‘real’ discothèque in Tilos, opening every night (during the summer) at midnight. The dance floor and the dj’s equipment are located on a terrace with a great view over the hills, Livadia’s bay and the sea, and the starry sky. Due to the small tourist development both of Tilos and of the Knidos peninsula in front, this is one of the least light-polluted areas in the Mediterranean. The two powerful JBL acoustic systems fill the valley with sounds: often the dj starts with Greek music (singer-songwriters from the éndechno genre), or old rock classics, and then move to contemporary pop an dance, both Greek and international. Not too many foreign tourists, however, enjoy listening to Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky under a wonderfully detailed Milky Way, as a tourist’s life in Tilos is quite tiring, and after a day of walks and swims many do not make it to midnight. So Mikró Horió’s disco is mostly visited by Greeks, either young people who work during the day in Livadia, or expatriates back home on holiday from Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the USA, who consider other Europeans who spend their holidays in Tilos walking one or two hours to get to a solitary beach, under a fierce sun (and more hours to get back), rather mentally disturbed. Two other bars, Bozi in Livadia and Ilakathi in Megalo Horió, feature the same attendance. So, in Tilos there isn’t actually a discothèque that can be compared to the ones foreign tourists usually look for and find in most other Greek islands, and lovers of that kind of nightlife very quickly become disaffected to the island, and after a short stay move elsewhere. The lack of an airport also discourages packaged tourism: there aren’t big hotels on the island, and people wanting

an all-inclusive holiday are either clients of the British Laskarina travel agency (who can’t really be seen as a crowd, except from the reception meeting, where a gentleman looking like a British Army corporal instructs his compatriots about the very few island’s snakes, ‘totally harmless’), or of the Italian Tilos Mare residence. The Tilos Mare ‘tribe’ can be seen as a paradigm of Tilos’ uncommon tourist development.



Livadia beach



The beach in the bay of Livadia is about three km long, with tamarisks growing in the back. During a normal summer day, you will see a few tourists (about three or four) in the shade of each of the tamarisks, regularly spaced. But there is just one spot, about fifty meters long, where the population density becomes much higher, ghetto blasters play dance music, and muscled animateurs entertain a crowd that seems to have passed exams for a Berlusconi TV reality show. That’s Tilos Mare. Sometimes they are taken by boat to some of the remote beaches, where they find other tourists (Greek, Italian, British, French, German, Dutch, and recently also from Spain and Israel) who arrived there by foot, and they are surprised and a bit disappointed.


At the Agios Pandeleímonas festival

 None of them is usually seen at the island’s many musical events. This is true, in general, for most foreign tourists, for the opposite but converging reasons that ‘Greek music can only be understood by Greeks’, and that ‘the only real traditional music of Greece is sirtaki, and we know it already’. However, concerts and festivals are usually very crowded, the audience (and/or dancers) being formed by locals, Tilians that live in Rhodes or Athens, Greek tourists (students camping on Eristos beach), expatriates, and a few foreigners.

Every summer in Tilos there is a number of religious festivals: on July 25th to 27th at the monastery of Agios Pandeleímonas, an ancient but perfectly functioning monastery from the Middle Ages (there are no monks living there: just rooms for occasional pilgrims), located high on a cliff in the most Northern part of the island; on July 28th in Megalo Chorió, in the small square near the church; on August 14th in the little church in Mikró Chorió; on August 22nd in the sanctuary of the Holy Virgin (Panaghía Polítissa) on the hills SE of Livadia, and - in apparent competition - in the small monastery of Kamarianí, near the village of Agios Andonis; on August 23rd again in Megalo Horió.


Musicians play and have dinner at the

Megalo Horió festival, 2004






The very beginning of the Megalo Horió festival, 2004: musicians just left the table, went down to the small square, and plugged their instruments into the PA


Music has obviously a great social significance in these events. First, it is a matter of pride for the organising committees that the best musicians be invited (with perceivable competition amongst the festivals and related communities): most of the times, musicians come from islands in the Southern Dodecanese or Crete.





Group from Kassos

at the Panagía Polítissa festival, 1999



I have recordings from a group from Kassos and a few groups from Crete: one of them (for Agios Pandeleimonas festival in 1997) arrived by ferry escorted by an ‘official’ Mercedes with banners, with a hero of Cretan resistance (in traditional costume) who led the dances along with the island’s mayor, adding the sound of his Beretta pistol to the  lyra, laouto and doubeleki of the greatly competent music trio.


Tilos’ major (left) and Cretan hero dance at Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 1997

Group from Crete at

Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 1997

It is well known that in these events music not only keeps the community together, but helps administrate the subtle but powerful streams of social power. Usually, a prominent member of the community (a male) calls for a specific dance or tune, and when the band leader announces it, the person who asked for the dance or tune, and his family, and invited friends, form the line and start. Nobody – except for some adventurous child or foreigner – adds, until it’s clear that the



Hasapikos Servikos

(mp3 file)


Group performing hasapikos servikos “for the children”

Agios Pandeleímonas festival, July 26th, 2003,

recording by the author


proper hierarchy is respected. Kids learn to be last in the line, and sometimes bands dedicate ‘easy’ dances to the children.


Festivals usually last a whole night, from sunset to dawn; families sit around tables, and food (souvlaki or katziki) is provided, sometimes for free. Expatriates have their chance, here, to show their wealth and generosity by making offers to the local church or monastery or tipping the musicians. Bands are usually trios, with cretan lyra, laouto, doubeleki or electric bass, the band leader being the lyra player and singer.




Old and young at Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 2004



Lyra player and singer, from Rhodes,

at Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 2004



Another lyra player at Panagía

Polítissa festival, 1998


Doubleleki player, from Rhodes,

at Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 2004


Laouto player, from Rhodes,

at Agios Pandeleímonas festival, 2004


But I saw interesting variants, like a keyboard-based one-man-band, or a ‘traditional’ trio (From Halki) accompanied by a rhythm box (very well programmed).



One-man-band: a keyboardist from Rhodes at the festival in Mikró Horió, 1998


Group from Halki at Panagía Polítissa festival, 2003.

The black box on the mixer is a rhythm box.



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