Melisma in Nisiotika songs

In some of the most known Nisiotika songs, such as “Tzivaeri” or “Na s’agapo inta thela”, the pleasing melody pampers everyone ears and can definitely please the casual listener, but the lyrics demand more careful and educated ear.

The reason is “melisma”, a musical term that derives from the ancient language, referring to group of notes sung in a single syllable, opposite from the typical musical mode, in which each syllable feature its own note.Melisma proves and enhances the origins of Nisiotika from the byzantine music and their somewhat embellished style, as the repetition of the same note or a group of notes in the same syllable is typical characteristic.

What is Melisma in Nisiotika Songs

Melisma in Nisiotika is typically demonstrated with the singing of a syllable of texts while moving throughout different notes that succeed one another. Melisma was used in the byzantine and ancient Greek Music in order to induce a hypnotic trance to the audience, which would be useful to initiate mystical rites and participation in festivals. Today, melisma is found in Nisiotika music, the Arabic music and the Orthodox Chanting.

If listening to Greek songs or Arabic music, you are probably aware of the lyric techniques and poetry that make us to dwell on the repetition words and phrases. One of the most typical examples is found in the song Thalassaki which means little sea; when the repetitive theme is sung, the singer has to apply different notes in the same syllable, in order to be able to achieve the desired poetic result:

Sea, the sea-farers
My little sea, do not sea-scourge them
We have been sea-walloped by you
Because of you we sit up all night

The word sea is not only used in its typical form, but it’s also stretched into the use of noun-compounds in order to accentuate its influence and power.

The composer and singer of Nisiotika can demonstrate their virtuosity, but also their playful mood, improvising on new musical notes and modes, elaborating also the melisma and the musical arrangement. Melisma cannot be understood without knowing the language, because it is based on the repetition of the main theme of words, as well as on the tsakismata (interpolations), which are very common and typical in the Greek Folk Songs. It is not accidental that musicians and instrumentalists suggest that Nisiotika – as part of the Greek Folk Songs – are extremely interesting from a technical and musical point of view.

Example of Melisma

A characteristic example of melisma in Nisiotika songs can be found in the song “Mes stou Aigaiou ta nera” (In the Waters of the Aegean), in the lyrics

Mes stou Aigaiou – provale na deis – mes stou Aigaiou ta nera,
oh mes stou Aigaiou
ta nera, aggeloi fterougizoun

Also in Tzivaeri, however simpler than Thalassaki or Mes tou Aigaiou ta nera, the singer has to stretch the word Tzivaeri, applying different notes in the same syllables, while the word ksanaleo goes to over than 15 pitches, proving why not everyone can actually sing Nisiotika.

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