Greek music has been influenced by the musical styles of the Romans, Eastern Europe, and others. It is generally divided into two sections: traditional music and Byzantine music.
In Ancient Greece, music was regarded as a critical part of the educational path. Both vocal music and instrumental music were included in their studies. They came up with their own theoretical advancements, such as the development of “enchiriadic notation,” that is, notation that dictates general pitches and the general flow of the song, but it doesn’t denote specific notes or rhythms or rests. This was especially true in chant notation.
Byzantine music took what was already established and built upon it with their own influences. It is very much tied to Early Christian music, and it utilized a variety of string instruments, a bagpipe-like instrument, and an organ. Another thing Byzantine music contributed is that distinct “eastern sound” that was characterized by part of its Persian and Turkish roots.
Folk music has changed many times over the centuries as the country changed hands and advancements in music reached Greek musicians. Different islands and areas of the mainland had their own special variations and styles. Besides vocal music, folk music was also highly instrumental; the main instruments used are guitars, clarinets, violins and other string instruments (like the oud – not to be confused with the Ood, a Dr. Who character), and tambourines. Cretan music – music from Crete – often incorporates the use of the lyre and the mandolin. “Zorba’s Dance” by Mikis Theodorakis (used in the movie Zorba the Greek ) is probably one of the most well-known Greek tunes in the world.
Greeks certainly made a name for themselves in classical music as well. Schools of music started popping up during the mid-late 1800s, and composers and performers began writing and performing their own classical music. Operas and operettas were also written; The Godson by Theophrastos Sakellaridis (1918) is still probably one of the most popular Greek operettas. After the 1930s, Greek composers began to incorporate more pan-European and American elements into their music, including jazz and Latin musical styles.
There were several styles of popular songs that emerged during the 20th century. Some of the more commonly known styles include Rebetiko (originally a lower-class style performed by poor urban musicians during the 1920s, singing about drug addiction and the struggles of being poor), Éntekhno (orchestral music that emerged in the 1950s, based on folk rhythms, melodies, and lyrical poems of classical Greek poets), Laïkó (popular during the 1960s and 1970s, often used in musicals, movies, and theatre), Skyládiko (in reference to nightclubs and described as a degradation of music, appealing to the masses).
There are about a million Greek dances. Ok, maybe not that much. But there are a lot. Nonetheless, the Greeks like to get down, I guess. Different areas and islands have their own styles and set of dances. The Aegean dances generally fast-paced couples dances. Dances of Crete are more or less fast-paced as well. The dances of Epirus, Thessaly, and Peloponnese are, in contrast, slower with much heavier steps. It takes much more muscle coordination for slower movements than quicker movements. They do have quicker dances, too, but are known for their slower ones. Thracian dances are generally lighter in nature and tend to be in a line form; however, only the men get to dance in the front. Sorry, ladies. (We’re used to this by now, unfortunately. Let’s have a collective eye-roll.) Pontic soldiers have their own dances that get them ready for battle, and there’s probably more battle dances out there.
Of the music that is popular today, there was a lot to choose from – and from a variety of genres more or less. I found Dionysis Savvopoulos, a group that performs modern classical music with a distinct Greek flair. I actually really like the pieces that I heard on the live album Savvorama. Some songs are instrumental, but there are some that have vocals as well. I think the thing that gets me, is that while there is a definite classical music feel to many of the songs, there is also a rock-opera feel at times. It’s almost amusing. Of course, I have no idea what they’re singing about; it’s – wait for it – it’s all Greek to me.
And of course, there’s one of the most well known Greek composers in the US during the 1980s and 1990s: Vangelis. The most famous song practically everyone knows is the theme from Chariots of Fire. I just realized that I’ve never seen this movie, although Vangelis did the entire soundtrack and won Best Original Score for it. I suppose this means I should probably add this to my Netflix queue. (Although I love in the video clip above, how he still has to get in his smoke before playing the piano. Geez, I hope playing the piano wasn't interrupting anything.)
Speaking of popular Greek composer/musicians of the 1980s and 1990s, a few of my friends and I were fairly interested in Yanni back in the day. We used to play some of his songs from the piano book my friend had. I think it was actually the hair that drew us to him. Skip forward several years later, another friend and I were in Chicago with her mom (who spent the entire time in boring banking meetings, but since the bank was paying for that posh hotel room, we at least brought her a piece of complementary cheesecake). We were told to try the Greek restaurant Pegasus, and as we were waiting for a table, there were framed photographs of various famous Greeks on the wall, all posing with the owner we assumed. We had no idea who any of these people were, but then we saw Yanni on the wall. At least we knew someone! We were not that ignorant of the world. Our 21-year-old selves finally made it to the worldly traveler stage.
Let’s move on to rock music. There were several fairly good choices to listen to this past couple of weeks. The first I listened to was Rallia Hristidou. I liked her, especially the song “Mia Zoi” and its subtle switches to a minor key for the chorus, and then back to major for the verses. The other songs ranked from “not bad” to “pretty good,” but I think this was the best song on the album Etimi.
Michaelis Hatzigiannis definitely draws more of traditional Greek rhythms and utilizes more traditional instruments in with his modern rock feel to his music. At times, it reminds me of a Greek Jon Secada, but then he would introduce a harmonica, which then makes me think he’s a Greek Carlos Vives or something.
Giorgos Perris is a little more subdued, definitely falls in the soft rock category. I’m not so much of a soft rock fan; it reminds me of being in a waiting room, department store, grocery store, or elevator. But… it wasn’t bad. I actually liked some of the songs.
I listened to Filippos Pliatsikas, and outside of a voice that makes me think he was the long-lost Greek brother of the guy from that Canadian band Crash Test Dummies, I kind of liked their music. It definitely has a 1990s sound to their music, but since I’m such a huge fan of 1990s rock, I gave them a pass.
And of course, there’s Helena Paparizou (also listed as Elena Paparizou). Although she was raised in Sweden, she won the 2005 Eurovision music contest representing Greece. Her music is typical pop and dance music, but I like several of the songs I heard.
Kore. Idro. is another band that fits this pop sound, except they tend to use more strings, at times giving the music a slight bit of Goth rock feel to it, but then they’ll quickly reel it back. They tend to stay on the safe side of rock, but I always think they’d do very well at branching out to the folk metal side of things. It’s probably outside of their comfort zone, but they need to think about it at least.
And of course, this brings me to one of my favorite genres: ska. I found the band Locomondo. They have another album that has more of a reggae sound. It’s pretty fun, because it still has Greek instruments in their music. But it meshes, so it’s all good.
And now onto Greek hip-hop. Because, yes, this is a thing. I listened to Imiskoubria’s album 30 Years of Hits, and it sooooooo sounded like most of these songs were handpicked straight from the late 1980s and early 1990s. I like that era, so it was pretty fun to listen to. With some jazz sounds here and there, a lone bass here and there, it sounds like they were influenced by the music of A Tribe Called Quest and Cypress Hill. Zontani Nekri is a little harder rap group; it seems their influences were the early 2000s styles from the US. Whatever they’re talking about, both of these albums had every song listed as “explicit” so they were certainly living the life at least. But then the group FF.C is slightly different. They use a lot of sampling in their music. I think their vocals are probably tighter than the previous two hip-hop groups mentioned.
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