Greek Folk Music derives from the music and sounds produced and played by the ancient Greeks. This genre is actually extremely diverse, as it includes a variety of styles played all over Greece. There are several different types and distinct differences among them, depending on the region; mainland Folk music is much more different than the one played and created on the Greek Islands.
The common characteristic of Folk Music everywhere in Greece is that it reflects the history and the taste of the particular place.
Types of Folk Songs
According to historians and musicians, there are two main musical movements regarding Greek Folk Music: the Akritic and the Kleftic songs.
Akritic music took its name by the “akrites” the guards of the borders during the Byzantine Empire, while kleftic songs refer to “kleftes” a particular type of warriors – rebels fighting against the Turkish occupation. The epic ballad of Digenis Akritas is probably the most known akritic song.
Folk Songs in Peloponnese, Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace
The sound is either monophonic or with harmonic accompanying, depending on the region; in the Peloponnese peninsula and in Thessaly, the songs are accompanied by clarinets and tambourines giving the tone for particular folk dances, such as syrto, tsamiko, kalamatiano and hasaposerviko.
In many cases though, you can still hear kleftic songs which are mostly monophonic and vocal.
In Epirus and Thrace, as well as in Macedonia, the same kinds of folk music can be found; their base is clarinet and violin, although in Thrace there are influences from the rest of Balkan countries, therefore you can hear Thracian music played by brass.
Folk Songs in Greek Islands and Crete
The Greek islands feature their own type of folk music, known as “nisiotika” (meaning “of the islands”). Nisiotika use clarinets, oud, lyra and violin, as well as guitars.
The folk songs played at the Cycladic Islands are again different than the ones played and created in Crete, or the islands of the Eastern Aegean where the influences of Asia Minor are much more evident.
In Crete, lyra is the predominant musical instrument. It is associated to the Byzantine Lyra and the sound is very melodious and distinct. Cretan music is accompanied by lute, an instrument between oud and mandolin.
Greek Folk Music Today
The most interesting part about Greek folk music is that the creators and composers are predominantly unknown. The sound and the lyrics – where they exist – were born at some time during the past centuries and stayed as a part of local tradition, as a mouth to mouth music.
The actual creators are obviously unknown, as the folk songs stayed in the hearts of the people as something traditional and familiar, something belonging to them, regardless of the creator. In most cases, the creator is not just one person, but entire settlements, villages and communities.
Greek Folk songs are indispensably connected with Greek celebrations, fairs and festivals. During all major celebrations, Greek gather around the main plazas in villages or towns and sing, dance and celebrate under the sounds of traditional Folk songs and music.
In this video you can hear some folk songs from Thrace and see a typical example of Thracian folk dance.