M&A CD Reviews

  • Mousiki Thisavri tis Kritis (Musical Treasures of Crete),
    No. 9, 75 Years, Yiorgos Tzimakis

    Yiorgos Tzimakis and various artists. 1997 (?). Produced by Stelios Lainakis and Kostas Fragkakis. Cretaphon 01409. One compact disc. Booklet with photos and biography in Greek.
  • Vocal Music in Crete.
    International Institute for Traditional Music, The World’s Musical Traditions 11. Various artists. 2000. Produced by Tullia Magrini. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings SFW CD 40437. One compact disc. Booklet in English with photos, music transcriptions, bibliography, song texts in Greek with English translation.

Nearly a quarter century ago, in a review of recordings of Greek rural and urban music for the Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology, I bemoaned the state of ethnomusicology in Greece (Kaloyanides 1978). The only significant, somewhat public, archive of research and recordings was the small Folk Music Collection section of the Greek Folklore Research Center at the Academy of Athens.

The extant literature, including the Academy’s authoritative multivolume Greek Folk Songs (Ellinika Dhimotika Traghoudhia) by G. K. Spyridakis, S. D. Peristeris and others, was primarily limited to transcriptions of song texts and skeletal melodies.

Ethnomusicological analysis was limited and often colored by the dogmatic belief that true Greek music was descended purely from ancient and Byzantine Greek traditions. Influences from other traditions were considered contaminations, so scholars often resorted to creating twisted and strangely grafted musical family trees to show the supposedly pure ancestry of modern rural and urban Greek music. I must acknowledge Sotirios (Sam) Chianis who, beginning in the late 1950s, introduced a more expansive and deep ethnomusicological methodology to studying Greek music and influenced a generation of scholars.

Sound recording resources of the time were also frustratingly inadequate. Archival recordings were fragile, rare, and inaccessible. Commercial recordings were either 78 or 45 rpm discs including one to several musical pieces or LP samplers that were too often the musical equivalent of a Greek mezedhakia appetizer platter. Two events, however, changed the mindset of the Greek recording industry which, in the 1970s, became an active collaborator with Greek ethnomusicologists.

In 1972 the Society for the Dissemination of National Music (SDNM), under the visionary direction of Simon Karas and his brilliant assistant Mary Vouras, began releasing a comprehensive and well-documented series of LPs of field and studio recordings of ecclesiastical and secular urban and rural music from all over Greece. Karas and Vouras revolutionized recording in Greece when they created the SDNM series as a commercial archive for the preservation and documentation of Greek music.

At the same time during the rule of the Greek junta (1967–1974), rebetika (sing. rebetiko), the music of the oppressed urban subculture during the first half of the twentieth century, suddenly experienced a revival as music of the anti-junta resistance. Rebetika had played a similar role as the music of the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Greece in the 1940s. With the fall of the junta, Greek record companies, aware of the demand for historical recordings of rebetika , increasingly cognizant of the loss of diversity in Greek music as rural and urban traditions were becoming extinct, and now willing to engage in documentation and preservation, undertook a methodical process of remastering, assembling, and releasing LP album series of historical recordings of rebetika. In 1975 the Margo label initiated its The Greats of Rebetiko (I Megali tou Rebetikou) series and EMI Greece its Rebetic History (Rebetiki Istoria). Both were edited by Kostas Hatzidoulis. Though they sadly lacked accompanying documentation and recording data, the Margo and EMI series were seminal as commercial documentary record collections. The Margo series was particularly noteworthy in that Hatzidoulis designed the albums to serve as representative collections of historical recordings by individual musicians. Hatzidoulis treated important musicians of the past as musical auteurs who were influential stylists in their traditions.

Over the past twenty five years, more Greek musical traditions have become extinct or are endangered. In the summer of 2000, I visited the island of Lesbos (Mytilene) and observed the fragile state of demotic music. The night clubs of the town of Mytilene and the resort village Skala Eressou pound out Greek and European pop, while the traditional music of the island, played by only a few elderly musicians, fades into the background. Thankfully, ethnomusicologists like Nikos Dionysopoulos have carefully preserved performances on well-documented recording collections.

In contrast to the frailty of music traditions in Lesbos and other rural and urban areas of Greece, musical life on the Greek island of Crete is diverse, deep, and exuberantly vital. When I first visited the island in 1971, I was thrilled by how vibrant the musical scene was. In the cities, dinner clubs devoted to Cretan music and dance thrived. In villages and towns, rites of passage and other celebratory events were enriched with music and dance. There were many active musicians, young and old, learning and performing the many traditional styles as well as creating new pieces and genres. Fortunately, during the past thirty years Crete has remained a dynamic musical culture.

The two recordings under consideration here document musical life in Crete and are welcome additions to Greek ethnomusicological scholarship. These are recordings whose producers in varying ways follow the missions and methodologies of Hatzidoulis, Karas and Vouras. Lainakis and Fragkakis, producers of the Cretaphon release and Magrini, producer for the Smithsonian CD, reject the dogma that established pure and contaminated forms of Greek music. They accept and often revel in the cross-fertilization that occurs in musical activity in the Mediterranean and the syncretic nature of Greek music. The producers’ preparation of the recordings and accompanying booklets also show that they understand the important role commercial sound recordings play in preserving and documenting the diverse forms of human musical expression.

The Cretaphon offering is one of a series of discs the Irakleion, Crete-based company has produced presenting the recordings of noted Cretan musicians including Skordalos, Melessanakis, Skevakis, Stamatoyiannakis, Markoyiannakis, Manias, Kaklis, Papadakis, Karpoutzakis, Pasparakis, Alefantinos and Stavroulakis. This disc focuses on the life and music of Yiorgos Tzimakis and is a study in musical cross-fertilization. Born in 1913 in the town of Rethymnon located on the northern shore of west central Crete, Tzimakis first learned the mandolin, introduced to the island presumably from Italy. He began his professional career as a musician in his early teens learning musical practice from a local outi player and playing solo or as an accompanist to a lira player at weddings and paneyiria (festivals often honoring saints; sing. paneyiri). Tzimakis also became proficient on violin, guitar, his primary instrument, the Cretan lira, and as vocalist. In 1936 he moved to Athens and began performing at the Cretan music and clubs there, eventually opening his own establishment in Piraeus.

Tzimakis was heavily influenced musically by the rebetiko tradition centered in Piraeus. In 1949 he recorded four songs as a vocalist accompanied by guitar and boulgari, a plucked long-necked lute similar to the baglama of the Turkish saz family of instruments. It is also called a baghlamas in Crete and rarely found in Greece today. Three of the songs were tabahianiotika, (sing. tabahaniotiko), Cretan urban songs that, like the rebetika, meld Greek and Turkish characteristics. As a child, Tzimakis heard coachmen singing them in the Rethymnon harbor. In the 1950s he had popular success with a number of recordings and, beginning in 1968, traveled to the United States to perform in Greek nightclubs. He returned to Crete in 1980 where he began teaching music and continued to perform and, occasionally, record.

The 19 selections on this disc are a fascinating, representative collection of Tzimakis’s recordings and repertoire. The CD opens with a Cretan sirtos (pl. sirta) Tzimakis recorded during the 1949 sessions. All four pieces recorded during those early sessions appear on this disc but are seemingly arbitrarily scattered throughout the CD as tracks 1, 3, 9 and 12. With the overwhelming majority of the pieces being sirta, I assume the producers wanted to give some variety to the listening experience. But I would have found the presentation of the recordings in chronological order much more interesting and useful. The 1949 recordings feature Tzimakis as vocalist, Stelios Foustalierakis playing boulgari, and Stelios Hrisinis on guitar. They appear to be very clean remasters from original 78s as do most of the other cuts on this CD.

Sirtos Foustalieraki (mp3 file, 153 kb, 0.51 min)
Yiorgos Tzimakis (voice), Stelios Foustalierakis (boulgari),
Stelios Hrisinis (guitar).

The sirtos on track one is quite traditional in its attributes. It employs typical scales, has a time signature of 4/4, uses the characteristic melodic rhythm which accents or begins phrases on the second half of beat one and presents the lyrical distichs in the traditional manner. But what I find most interesting about this piece is the very subtle use of a tsifte-telli rhythm in the guitar accompaniment. This is not particularly orthodox, but makes sense in the context of the other pieces recorded during these 1949 sessions. They are all tabahaniotika with tsifte-telli-like rhythmic accompaniments and show the classic traits of the Greco-Turkish syncretic genres like the amanes and rebetika:

  1. The complex, makam-like dhromos (pl. dhromi) modal system.
  2. The introductory, improvised, solo instrumental, free meter taksimi (pl. taksimia) that explores the nature of the dhromos.
  3. The repeated rhythm in the accompaniment that defines the song type or dance-song type.
  4. The combination of melodic heterophony with chordal accompaniment.
  5. A melismatic vocal style.
  6. The use of melodic harmony when a "Western" dhromos similar in scale to major or minor is employed.

The ensemble of Yiorgos Tzimakis, lira and voice; Yioryia, voice; and Stelios Mavrodimitrakis, laouto, appears on tracks 2, 5, 6 and 18 and I infer that all four pieces were recorded contemporaneously. Tracks 2, 6, and 18 are representative performances of sirta and include some well known sirtos melodies that are part of most Cretan instrumentalists’ repertoire. They begin with short taksimia and use the traditional rhythm in accompaniment and the typical heterophonic melodic relationship between lira and laouto found in sirta.

Kondhilies (mp3 file, 183 kb, 1.01 min)
Yiorgos Tzimakis (lira and voice), Yioryia (voice),
Stelios Mavrodimitrakis (

Track 5 is a performance of common kondhilies melodies and mantinadhes (Cretan distichs) which accompany the sighanos dance of Crete. Towards the conclusion, the tempo picks up and the performance begins the common transition to the pentozalis dance-song form. The transition is never completely realized, probably due to the length limitations of the 78 rpm format of the era. Particularly endearing is the lovely vocal interchange between Tzimakis and Yioryia.

Tracks 4 and 7 are performed by Tzimakis, voice and lira; and Dimitris Galanis, laouto. Both begin with very short taksimia on lira and laouto but are otherwise unremarkable sirta.

The largest number of pieces on the disc are performed by Tzimakis, voice and lira; and Yiorgos Daoudakis, laouto. Selections 10, 11, 14, and 19 are traditional sirta from various areas of western and west-central Crete and show subtle regional distinctions. Track 13 is a performance of kondhilies and mantinadhes and, again, begins a transition to the pentozalis before concluding. Unique on this CD is track 15 on which Tzimakis performs an askomandoura (Cretan bagpipe) imitation on lira of traditional askomandoura dance-song melodies.

Askomandoura (Cretan bagpipe) imitation on lira. (mp3 file, 187 kb, 1.03 min)
Yiorgos Tzimakis (lira)

Tracks 8 and 17 are from a 1952 recording session with the following personnel: Tzimakis, voice and lira; Yiorgos Koutsourelis, laouto; and Stelios Hrisinis, guitar. These performances are the most intriguing on the CD. Though they are identified as sirta, they are true syntheses of different genres. They both begin with very Greco-Turkish melodies and dhromi and a tsifte-telli rhythm accompaniment, giving the impression that the pieces are tabahaniotika with a superimposed sirtos-style lyrical presentation. However they evolve into somewhat traditional sirta with typical melodies and melodic rhythms, though they maintain the tsifte-telli rhythm. Tzimakis is really pushing the genre envelope in these recordings and they testify to the vitality and creativity of Cretan music.

Track 16 is a fairly recent recording with a field recording intimacy and informality. Tzimakis sings and talks to the other musicians, boulgari player Stelios S. Lainakis and guitarist Nikos Koukoulitakis. It is a wonderfully enjoyable performance of a tabahaniotiko and Tzimakis’ straining vocals are warm and stirring.

In addition to wanting a more methodical ordering of the selections, I would like better documentation for these performances. Identification of recording dates, locations, studios, labels,and recordists is, for the most part, absent. And who is the singer Yioryia? But these are minor quibbles with a valuable recording of the work of a noteworthy Cretan musician.

With Vocal Music in Crete, producer and editor Tullia Magrini takes a different tack in preserving and documenting Cretan music. Rather than focusing on the works of one musician or on one genre, she examines one aspect , vocal performance, across several rural and urban genres of Cretan music.

This Smithsonian Folkways Recordings CD is the last in a series of 11 CD albums of musics from South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe produced by the now closed International Institute for Traditional Music. It is a collection of 11 field recordings made between 1977 and 1982 by Magrini and Roberto Leydi with the collaboration of Cretan musician Stelios Lainakis in eight villages, towns, and cities in western and west-central Crete. Though information on recording equipment is not provided, these are fine analog recordings of excellent quality.

The value of this CD is enhanced by the contemporaneous release of Professor Magrini’s article Manhood and Music in Western Crete: Contemplating Death in the Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology (Magrini 2000). Examining the same vocal traditions presented on the CD, the article both informs and is informed by the recording.

The accompanying booklet is one of the most thorough, detailed, expansive and, consequently, informative and useful I have found for Greek music recordings. It presents comprehensive textual, musical, and performance analyses of rizitika, mantinadhes, and tabahaniotika, the three most prevalent vocal traditions of Crete. We learn of the various subcategories of rizitika that are distinguished by textual and ritual context; the contrasting "goat" and "sheep" singing styles are explained. We are presented with three transcriptions of the same rizitiko (though not of the same performance) by three different scholars in an effort to explain the differences and commonalities found in differing performances of the same piece.

Most interesting and thought-provoking is the discussion of the complex and ritualized text fragmentation and repetition technique called apoghaermata or andighaermata used in rizitika and, less intricately, in mantinadhes. Magrini posits that these pieces may represent a musica reservata, accessible only to cultural insiders, an idea that leads us to consider Cretan society as a warrior culture which honors and inspires both creative individualism and community loyalty and protects its identity. And as a reaction to centuries of foreign occupation which threatened its geographic and cultural boundaries, Cretan tribalism has attempted to reinforce these borders through various means including artistic expression. Thus we find responsorial performances of rizitika and mantinadhes that alternate between idiosyncratic solos and prescribed choral responses and whose rules of performance practice are known only by insiders.

In the section on mantinadhes, Magrini presents a wonderful anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, dating the development of the sirtos dance to a specific time–1750; place–the village of Lousakies; and event–a wedding. Such tales reinforce the cultural context of the music and dance for emic and etic observers alike.

The discussion on tabahaniotika successfully explains that this is a distinctly urban tradition in Crete and part of the Greco-Turkish repertoire in Greece that includes rebetika and amanes. Also included in the booklet is a piece by Roberto Leydi on the history of song collections and recordings of Cretan vocal music.

The booklet concludes with documentation for each of the eleven recordings including texts in Greek with English translations, locations and dates of the recordings, and identification of the artists and recordists. Errors in the booklet are few and far between. Selection 2 is said to include violin and laouto, but it is strictly a vocal performance. Leydi misspells the title of the rizitiko "Se psilo vouno". I also have very minor disagreements with Magrini on her descriptions of rizitiko performance practice. She describes the choral style as homophonic, but since it is not chordal I think homorhythmic is a more precise description. This choral style is also quite often heterophonic, as she points out.

The CD begins with six recordings of rizitika, some followed in the same cut by mantinadhes. The performances are of high quality and are quite representative of the varied styles of rizitiko performance.

M' omorfonios psikhomakhi (rizitiko song) (mp3 file, 203 kb, 1.08 min)
Vassilis Kartsonakis (solo voice), Grigoris Mathioudakis (violin) and
Manolis Kartsonakis (laouto)

Selection 1 (M' omorfonios psikhomakhi) starts with a solo vocal performance and is followed by three mantinadhes accompanied by violin and laouto. Though not mentioned in the text, the instruments are performing a sirtos as a vehicle for the mantinadhes. The rizitiko in selection 2 is sung in the traditional parlando-rubato manner, but tantalizingly hints at a regular metrical structure in places, including a passage in 7/8 reinforced by the clapping of the soloist. Selections 3 and 4 are also noteworthy in the responsory between a vocal duet and the choir and in the heterophony used by the duet. Selection 5 features a rizitiko followed by a sirtos and mantinadhes. The sirtos dance-song music is performed on laouto and highlights the use of the laouto as a melodic instrument, common in Crete but not so elsewhere in Greece, where it is primarily used for chordal or tonal center accompaniment. Selection 6 is a solo performance of a rizitiko whose form Magrini examines in the booklet.

Selection 7 is a very interesting audio documentation of performances at a wedding in the village of Polyrinia. It begins with what Magrini identifies as mantinadhes sung by a soloist and a choir of guests. Though textually the piece conforms to mantinadha models, the Greco-Turkish melody, scale, and vocal style suggest that this represents a synthesis of different genres. Selection 8 is a selection of mantinadhes sung to the kondhilies melodies of a sighanos dance-song. The singer accompanies himself on laouto, often employing double-stopped melodic harmony. It is a quite remarkable solo performance.

Mandinadhes on kondilies (mp3 file, 197 kb, 1.06 min)
Georgios Koutsourelis (voice and laouto)

Selection 9 is also a distinctive piece, a Karagioules sirtos quite dissimilar from the more commonly performed Haniotikos sirtos in its use of a drone string on the lira, a faster tempo, a choppier, tenser, less lyrical melodic style on the lira. The sirtos is followed by mantinadhes sung to the kondhilies of a sighanos dance-song.Given the "jumpiness" of the performance, I am led to wonder what dancing might accompany it. The sirtos, by definition, is a shuffling dance of primarily horizontal movement, but this music seems more suited to a pidhiktos or leaping dance style.

Selections 10, 11, and 12 are all well-known and often-performed tabahaniotika. Dourou dourou, the song in selection 10, is frequently performed using chordal accompaniment and a strong harmonic sense like many of the pieces in the Greco-Turkish repertory. But here the performance is decidedly heterophonic with little harmonic implication. Selection 11 (Ta vasana mou kherome) begins with a traditional taksimi performed on boulgari.

Ta vasana mou kherome (mp3 file, 175 kb, 0.59 min)
Stelios Phoustalierakis (voice and boulgari)

The disc concludes with selection 12, a medley of two tabahaniotika preceded by a taksimi performed on the rebetika instruments, bouzouki and baghlamas.

These two collections are very significant contributions to the resources available to scholars investigating the music of Crete and Greece, and the editors are to be commended for the excellence of the recordings and documentation.



Kaloyanides, Michael G. 1978. Reviews of Songs of Amorgos, Kythnos and Sifnos (SDNM 105); Songs of Mytilene and Chios (SDNM 110); Songs of the Ionian Islands (SDNM 115). Ethnomusicology 22(3):549-550.

Magrini, Tullia. 2000. "Manhood and Music in Western Crete: Contemplating Death." Ethnomusicology 44(3):429-459.


Michael G. Kaloyanides
Professor of Music
Chairman of Visual & Performing Arts
The University of New Haven

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(updated 30 Jan 2002)