Crete music and songs

Songs and music of Crete

The influences on traditional Cretan music are varied and reflect its chequered historical roots. Like most traditional Greek music it is a product of ancient Byzantine but following the Crusades when the island was dominated by the Franks, Venetians and Genoese new instruments and styles of music were introduced. As a consequence there are some types of music and singing that are quite unique to the island of Crete.

The most well known Cretan songs are known as "mantinades" which is a poetic style of song constructed from rhyming couplets of fifteen syllables and sung in the Cretan dialect. This genre of singing was first recorded in Crete at the end of the C14th/early C15th and seems to have been influenced by Venetian and European poetry of the time. It is still popular today and is widespread throughout Crete. Traditionally it is accompanied by the lyre and the lute, and the singer improvises the lyrics to express the whole gamut of human emotions. Mostly they are not written down, with the best being learnt by heart and passed on over the generations. Some are short, complete poems sung in a similar way to a limerick whereas another version is where the singers compete with each other, answering each others lines in complementary ways.

A second genre of singing, typical of Crete, is the rebel song, the "rizitika" which is sung in western Crete without instrumental accompaniment. This type of folk song narrates the disorderly history of the island and celebrates the heroism and willingness to fight of the Cretan. It is believed that they originated in the Byzantine era and developed during the domination by the Venetians, the Ottomans and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Unlike the mantinades, rizitika are not improvised having instead symbolic coded messages of liberation. They divide into two types: tragoudia tis tavlas, sung at festivals and parties and without instruments and tragoudia tis stratas, sung by travelling minstrels.

The dominant musical instrument in Cretan folk music is the lyre, either three or four stringed and closely related to the medieval Byzantine lyra. Unlike much of Greece where the lyre is accompanied by the violin, in Crete the traditional instrumental accompaniment is the Cretan lute, which is longer than usual as it is tuned one fourth lower than the normal lute. Other typical instruments in Cretan music are the habioli, which is a wind instruments traditionally played by shepherds either solo or with the accompaniment of a goatskin bagpipe, the askomandoura. Finally, the mandolin, popular all around the Mediterranean coast is played throughout Crete and reflects the Venetian influences of the past. .