Living or dead, contemporary Cretan musicians have broadened the scope and wealth of this island’s considerable melodic tradition
Sometimes haunting and eerie, others exuberant, untamed and lively, Cretan music is like no other. Your first encounter with it might have been through cinema: Adapted from the novel of Nikos Kazantzakis, the famous Zorba the Greek depicts Cretan musicians in action, while its emblematic theme tune is based on Cretan syrtaki. Or you might have experienced -and never forgotten- Crete’s distinct melodies during a local festival or on an organized Greek night.
Performed by talented Cretan musicians, Cretan music remains consciously close to its folk routes. Yet as a staple of everyday life, it evolves in accordance with the spirit of the times.
The fact is that as late as the 1960s most of the island’s traditional music was considered pastoral and kind of graphic and still widely looked down upon in Cretan cities.
With the advance of modernization, however, a new generation of Cretan musicians came along. And with the help of technology, their work became popularized in the island’s towns and even beyond the Greek borders.
Like their predecessors, these 20th-century Cretan musicians were invariably affected by the events around them, the ongoing conflicts in their homeland and the world. Virtuoso performers of ancient instruments such as the Lyra, with distinct, proud voices that resonate to the hearts and souls of their listeners, have left their indelible mark on Crete’s time-honoured musical legacy. But they have also inspired celebrated international artists including the Irishman Ross Daly, who has been living and working on this island for over 35 years.
Though it is impossible to mention them all in a single feature, below, we take a closer look at some of the most important figures in the Cretan musical tradition.
Contemporary Cretan musicians
Dubbed the “Archangel of Cretan Music”, Nikos Xilouris was born in 1936 in Anogia -traditionally the hideout of Cretan freedom fighters. Beginning his life in a shepherds’ family on the slopes of Mount Psiloritis, Xilouris became one of the greatest, and most loved, musicians in the whole of the country. Reviving the older Cretan musical tradition, his soulful music touched the hearts of all Greeks. With his personality, ethos and interpretive genius he was likened to a “messenger from another way of life”. Despite his untimely death from cancer in 1980, he is still dearly missed.
Nicknamed Psarantonis, Antonis Xilouris was born in 1942, in Anogia. He was taught by his famous sibling Nikos Xilouris, but did not remain under his elder brother’s – weighty- shadow. From an early age, Psarantonis developed his own unique style and tone and for this, received worldwide acclaim, with invitations to major festivals in Europe, America and Australia. One of the most prominent figures in Crete’s musical scene, Psarantonis is a bold albeit respectful reviver of tradition, on whose music the ancient myths and legends of Crete live on.
Born in Belgium in 1969, Tzouganakis came to contact with different ethnicities and cultures from the onset. His parents though, made sure he was educated on the Cretan ways and traditions. They returned to their home country when Michalis was nine. He started performing at school with such passion and zest that he soon came to be regarded as a child prodigy: His first official recording was at the age of 13; while nowadays he continues to bring tears to the audiences’ eyes.
Haralambos GarganourakisBorn in 1946 in Agios Thomas, a mountainous village with more than 40 churches and a proud history of rebellion against oppressors, Garganourakis is a champion of traditional Cretan music. He plays the lyra with great skill and passion yet without overdoing it; while his voice is deep and resonant: Perfect for delivering his stirring mantinades. Mostly famous for his traditional work, he has also performed contemporary Greek songs, including those of Giannis Markopoulos.
Born in 1981, Charoulis is among the youngest of the lot. He first came to contact with music at the age of six when his sculptor father taught him how to play the mandoline. At 15 he was already making a living by performing in local feasts and fiestas. Indubitably gifted, over the years Charoulis has collaborated with a host of prominent Greek artists, including Mikis Theodorakis and has appeared in various local and international festivals. He is also engaging with the genres of rock and “artful music”.
At the Oscar Suites & Villages, we are certainly proud of our people and traditions. Stay tuned for more insights and tips on the real Crete. Or even better, come and visit us at our family-style, studios, suite and apartments in Chania, just steps from the sandy, blue flag awarded beach of Agia Marina -Platanias, for a hands-on authentic experience!