5. Dialogical singing and the mandinadha


By “dialogical singing” I mean literally “a dialogue in singing.” The form of dialogical singing that interests us here is a cultural phenomenon that could be defined as a particular social activity whereby individuals sing to one another short lyric songs. The songs are rhymed couplets, each consisting of two fifteen-syllable lines. Although the fifteen-syllable rhymed couplet is widely known and used in the Greek speaking part of the eastern Mediterranean, it is referred to locally by different names. One such name is mandinadha, pl. mandinadhes. The term is mainly associated with certain islands of the Aegean Sea, most notably Crete and Karpathos. Elsewhere, the couplet is called tsattisma (Cyprus), kotsaki (Naxos) or bears other local names. I shall use the term mandinadha to refer to the couplet form of dialogical singing. I have two reasons for doing so. The first is particular and ethnographic. A major part of my anthropological research in Greece concerns dialogical singing in Karpathos. The other reason is more general and cultural. Among the various local names used to express the dialogical couplet, mandinadha stands out rather as a generic term for it and is better known than the other names in contemporary Greek discourse.


The poetic register of mandinadha covers the entire range of human experience. There is nothing pertaining to an experience that cannot be expressed by a mandinadha. The list of what is poetically expressed is endless: sentiments and emotions, perceptions and reflections, assessments and associations; in fact, any ideas and practices that stem from actually lived experiences and cultural expressions of imagination. The tradition of mandinadha is so widely spread in the Greek part of the eastern Mediterranean that Samuel Baud-Bovy (1984) used it as a distinguishing element in his study of Greek folk music, dividing it into mainland (whereby the mandinadha is absent) and coastal or insular (where the mandinadha is a dominant form of poetic expression).

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