Article by Maria Broadley
Whatever the time of year, traditional songs – dhimotiká – can be heard in the countryside of Skopelos, either from the radio or from people just enjoying ‘kefi’ (good mood). Greece is one of the few places in Europe where the day-to-day role of folk dance is sustained. Rather than functioning as a museum piece preserved only for performances and special events, it is a vivid expression of everyday life. Occasions for dance are usually weddings, family celebrations, and paneyeria (Patron Saints’ name days). Dance also has its place in ceremonial customs that are still preserved in Greek villages, such as dancing the bride during a wedding and dancing the trousseau of the bride during the wedding preparations.
Of course, the best-known Greek musical instrument is the bouzouki, which is actually a Turkish name. However, the instrument is in fact of Greek rather than Turkish origin. It derives from the ancient Greek lute known as the pandoura, a kind of guitar, which is clearly visible in ancient statues, especially in the female figurines of the Tanagraies playing chord instruments.
The typical music style on Skopelos is called ‘Rebétiko’ or ‘Rembetika’, and its roots are found in the Greek music of the middle 19th century on the West coast of Asia Minor and Constantinople. It developed in the underworld of Greek cities like Athens or Siros, after the catastrophe in Asia Minor and the expelling of the Greeks from these places resulted in the concentration of people in areas ill-equipped to provide homes or jobs.
The name of this music style has to do with the under-privileged of the diaspora, many of whom had little choice but to become part of the underworld of petty crime and drug taking. The word Rembetika itself refers to those ‘low-class men living in the cities’ suburbs’. Its popularity has given credence to the concept that it is in fact the Greek version of the American blues.
‘Rembetika’ is considered to be distinctive to Skopelos and many famous Greek singers today, such as Charis Alexiou, Eleni Tsaligopoulou and Eleutheria Arvanitaki came out of the island’s Rembetika clubs. One of the last remaining icons of Rembetik, the Skopeliti Giorgios Xintaris can usually be seen performing in his open air restaurant Anatoli at the top of the Kastro in Skopelos Chora or in Rembetika clubs with his son, or other musician friends. Tavernas that do not offer live performances, play Giorgios Xintaris records, along with other Rembetika music, in the late evening. The cadence of this beautiful music sounding in the taverns at night usually communicates ‘vibes’ that makes a very special atmosphere.
Kostas Kalafatis is another famous musician of Skopelos. Born in Thessaloniki, he was taught Byzantine music by his father and has been a singer since a young boy, when he would sing in the Orthodox Church. At fourteen years of age he bought his first guitar and at the age of 16 started playing and singing in bands. For the next 35 years he has shared his knowledge of the Rembetika, working mostly in Thessaloniki, Patras and the island of Skopelos where he has lived for the last 30 years. He expertly interprets Smyrneiko, Rembetiko and popular Greek song, plays guitar and also a variety of stringed instruments of the Eastern Mediterranean such as the bouzouki, lute, oud and baglama. He is also a composer: his latest CD entitled “Thessaloniki Patra Skopelos” includes a remake of old songs and some contemporary compositions of his own and other composers.
Every summer, in Glossa village, on the northern side of Skopelos, there takes place the Loiza Festival, dedicated to one of the most famous and beloved music composers in Greece, Manos Loizos. It usually takes place at the end of July and the beginning of August and includes various cultural events such as musical concerts, photograph exhibitions, theatrical performances, fairy tale reading, traditional dancing performances and exhibitions of local or international organizations.
The Loizia Festival has been organized by the Cultural Association of Glossa Skopelos since 1983, one year after the death of the composer. Manos Loizos (1937-1982) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and died in a hospital in Moscow. He lived and made his career in Athens. He cooperated with famous singers, while his songs had a political view. He was part of the Greek Communist Party and fought for the rights of the working class. His songs were beloved by the Greek people and they are sung till today.
Music has always been an integral feature of Greek life, an essential ingredient of all public religious occasions and social gatherings. For Greeks, it is more than the passive reception of the source of pleasure; it has an expressive, dramatic, and emotional power. Our aesthetic response to music is more than, since it involves elements of understanding and anticipation. Traditional music is an indispensable component of the ceremonial, spiritual, and social life of Greek culture, keeping tradition alive and appreciated by locals and foreigners alike .
Although Skopelos island does not have the reputation of offering many night activities, there are available several options in the night clubs of Skopelos and Glossa, which party through until five or six in the morning. This is a great experience, as the music that is on offer is Greek, not mainstream European. Why not try it?
Article by Maria Broadley