8. Dialogical singing in Plomari


Although the music culture of the Plomari district shares many ideas and practices with the rest of the music cultures on Lesbos, it is quite unique in regards with its singing tradition, especially the singing of a slow table tune that is generally known throughout the island as the plomaritikos, literally the tune of Plomari [19].

Singers of the plomaritikos; Plomari (Lesbos), 1994. (Dionysopoulos ibid: 139)

In the district of Plomari, however, this tune is known by various other names, each one referring to the name of a particular village or area, whereby the tune has a distinct local history of performance and perception. For example, when the tune is used by people who originate from Playia (a village in the Plomari district), it is not identified by its generic name, that is “plomaritikos,” but by its local one. They refer to the tune as the playiotikos. There is another generic term for plomaritikos that is used only locally, in the Plomari district, which connotes the tune’s emotive ethos: parapo(u)nikos, the song or tune of sorrow.

Like the mandinadha of Karpathos, the plomaritikos acquires a special value for the community of the performers when it is sung in the context of the ghlendi. And like the mandinadha, the lines of the plomaritikos usually express aspects of the community’s social experience of modernity. Yet, unlike the mandinadha, which can be both joyful and sorrowful, the plomaritikos is always sorrowful; hence, its other name, parapounikos (song of sorrow). This distinction helps to understand how the musical component modifies the poetic component in the performing course of the dialogical singing of a couplet in the ghlendi of Olymbos (Karpathos) and in the ghlendi of Plomari (Lesbos). The sorrowful ethos of the plomaritikos transforms musically the poetic lines of the song by homogenizing their meaning. It produces an emotive soundscape of sorrow whereby the verbal content of the couplet eventually acquires its actually performed oral meaning. Thus, regardless of the literal poetic meaning of the couplet --whether it relates feelings of joy or feelings of grief-- the performed reality is always the same: a sorrowful being-in-the world is made manifest through the singing of the plomaritikos. Associated with such a performed ethos of sorrowfulness is a sense of despair for the uncertainty of the morrow. This is a socially felt despair, the result of social inequality and misery. The despair expressed by the plomaritikos relates an unfortunate social experience: coping unsuccessfully with the hardships of living is stripping people of their own humanity [20]. By juxtaposing the two types of song, the mandinadha and the plomaritikos, one can see clearly how social experience foments musical practice and how cultural expression can be pregnant with political realization. A working class consciousness predominates in the poetics and the musical dynamics of the urban song of the plomaritikos. On the other hand, the social and cultural reality of the mandinadha is radically different from that of the plomaritikos. The economically diversified diasporic community of the ghlendi participants originating from Karpathos has maintained and intensified a spirit of nostalgia for its distinctive culture, beyond and above the hardships of life and the uncertainty of making a living. The mandinadha is a nostalgic expression of old cultural experience in the context of a growing alienation that is associated with living abroad for the sole purpose of making a living [21]. The nostalgic and often utopian ethos of the mandinadha (whether it is poetically joyful or sorrowful) is rhetorically justified by the fear of one’s losing his or her cultural identity. The case regarding the plomaritikos is quite different. What is involved here is the expression of a present experience of misery and devastation, not merely the fear for losing something dear, but the actual reality of a lost humanity. Yet despite their fundamental differences, the mandinadha and the plomaritikos converge in one significant respect. They are both social songs and they are both socially performed. It is in view of this socially symbolic convergence that the performative aesthetics of the Plomari ghlendi are parallel with the performative aesthetics of the Karpathos ghlendi, especially in regards with the singing component. It will suffice to mention here that, as it happens in Karpathos, a singer is considered to be a good meraklis in Plomari when he is good at being a Plomaritis. Therefore, a good singing of the plomaritikos is singing that is good both as a socially acceptable behavior and, at the same time, as a timely and accurate expression of social experience.
The communal and dialogical components of the plomaritikos can be witnessed in the actual performance of the tune. A head singer starts singing a whole fifteen-syllable line. One by one, the singers of the singing group join the head singer singing along with him the same line. This dialogical process produces a heterophonous effect. It is most important for the community of the singers to converge on the melodic changes, on the rhythmic stresses and on the ending, which is sung in unison. The performance of the plomaritikos makes manifest a feeling of “unity in multiplicity” [22].

Singing the plomaritikos at the village cafe; Palaiochori, 1994. (Dionysopoylos ibid: 49)

Such a symbolic space of being-in-the world is reminiscent of the paroussia, experienced in the context of the ghlendi in Karpathos, even though the modalities of these two kinds of dialogical performances and experiences of communality differ greatly both in generic and particular terms. The dialogical and communal character of the plomaritikos is also reflected in the insistence on the part of the community of the singers that the song be heard “in full”. This social practice suggests that the emphasis of dialogical singing as a symbolic process is placed not simply on singing a couplet, but instead on following closely its words in juxtaposition with its musical performance. The social complexity and cultural specificity of the plomaritikos are dialogical qualities that do not in any way converge with the expressive taste and living standards of modern Plomari society. As it happens also in Karpathos, few young people in Plomari nowadays compose and sing couplets and still fewer take part in the dialogical singing of the plomaritikos

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