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Chios - General data

There are quite a few differences, in terms of social and economic infrastructure, between the southern and northern parts of Chios.

The “Notiochora” (southern parts) developed – overall – as “closed” residential structures, consisting (in many cases) of houses in the shape, externally, of a semi-circle without any doors or windows, designed to protect against invaders, primarily pirates, who ravaged the islands of the Aegean from the Middle Ages until the 17th-18th century. Up until the mid-20th century, the residents were mainly involved in agricultural activities, notably the collection of mastic (the resin secreted by the indigenous mastic trees), for which Chios is known all over the world (and which continues to this day – 2007). Subsequent migration and tourist development caused certain changes in the area’s features, but age-old local traditions and customs, and especially the “old” musical idioms connected to both local practices and universal influences, survive, here and there, to this day.

In the “Voreiochora” (northern parts), numerous residents are still occupied in animal farming. From the 18th-19th century onwards, many turned to shipping, especially in north-eastern Chios, an activity centred on Kardamyla and the neighbouring island of Oinousses, which found fame as the place of origin of many major shipping families of the past and present.

Records from the early to the mid-20th century, such as those of Pachtikos, Lyntekes, the Greek Folklore Society, the Chronicles of Chios, etc, indicate that certain old narrative songs that were popular in contemporary Greece, Asia Minor and the Balkans, were also known in Chios. Among those are a song about an evil stepmother who slays her child (of which there are several versions), one that tells the story of a fight between two brothers who are unaware of their relation to each other (again, several different versions exist), another that tells of the return of an exile, whose “beau” recognises him by certain signs and marks on his body, or in their home, etc. There are also records of songs that refer to historical events, such as battles between the Russians and the Ottomans, the Chios Slaughter, etc, and even old “kleftika” from the Peloponnese (Morias) or other areas in Greece, which are thought to have brought to the island by returning refugees, who had fled to the Peloponnese during the Chios Slaughter.

Recent studies in Chios (during the decades of 1990 – 2000) confirm that historical memories survive through songs classed as “seasonal” (carols, skoptika – traditional satirical or “teasing” songs, often with irreverent lyrics – and narrative Carnival songs, etc) or “circle of life” (lullabies, couplets on love and marriage, traditional wedding songs praising the bride and groom, laments, etc).

Traces, however, of the musical culture of “Asia Minor”, which was influential in Chios, especially following the Destruction of Asia Minor in 1922, and of the refugees that settled permanently in the town of Chios and a number of other areas, are also discernible. A number of professional or semi-professional musicians dominated the island’s music scene in the 30s and 40s, and adopted a repertoire that included both instrumental pieces, such as zeibekika, aptalika zeibekika, syrta, chasapika (kasapika) and vocal songs, such as amanedes and tsiftetelia. The main instruments used by local musicians were the santouri (dulcimer), the clarinet, the violin, the oud (and, in rare cases, the lute, (usually) without the accompaniment of percussion instruments. In certain areas, like Agios Giorgis Sykousis, instruments like the tsabouna also survived, accompanied by a small percussion instrument (toubi). Most musicians did not join bands or perform regularly with other musicians, but they did work together, on occasion, in various festivals, weddings, and other musical events. The introduction of the bouzouki and the drums on the music scene of Chios after the 50s certainly had an impact on the local repertoire, but did not wipe out the musical practices that were established during the early to the mid-20th century. Nowadays, the old tunes, such as zeibekika, syrta and tsiftetelia (with the latter two often combined into “syrtotsiftetelia”, i.e. syrta that turn into tsiftetelia) are still played at the festivals, along with tunes and songs – both older and contemporary – that come under the umbrella of the Greek folk music culture (laika).