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Lemnos - General data

The social and economic infrastructure of Lemnos was based, from the 19th to the mid-20th century, on the autonomous domestic agricultural production of each household: representative of this production network, in socio-economic terms, were farmers – known as “kechagiades” – who owned or (more commonly) rented land from wealthy landowners, where their livestock grazed or where they cultivated the cereals and pulses they needed to sustain their families. Up to the early 20th century, most major landlords were Muslim landowners or Christians who managed the monastery-owned “vakoufia”, land that belonged to various monasteries, mainly those of Mount Athos. The population exchange in 1922, and the redistribution of cultivable land under the rule of Papanastasiou (1924), resulted in the creation of numerous independent properties, which passed into the possession of the farmers, many of who have kept their land to this day (2007). Nevertheless, since the late-19th century, large expanses of land were gradually bought by Lemnian émigrés abroad, in particular those of Egypt, and, as a result, the sub-letting regime continues, to a certain extent, to this very day.

Within this particular socioeconomic context, all musical activities in Lemnos before the late 19th century were tightly bound to the “culture of the kechagiades”, which had developed before the arrival of the refugees. The local community of musicians and singers was made up, exclusively, of amateurs, and the lyra was used to accompany group songs, as part of family celebrations or local holiday events, or to play dancing pieces. A few shepherds who lived in the animal pens (or “mandres”, as they are known in the local dialect) also played certain types of flute, known as “siliavria”.

From the early 20th century, influences from a musical tradition that had developed in Asia Minor during the mid-19th and early 20th century (before the Destruction in 1922, and the decline of the multi-cultural musical tradition that had developed in the major urban centres of the Ottoman empire) became apparent in Lemnos. The influences in question were primarily connected to the musical practices of first and second generation refugees, who settled permanently in Lemnos after the relocation of Christian populations from various areas of (contemporary) Turkey, such as Eastern Thrace, Imbros, Tenedos and the Christian communities of Asia Minor and the Sea of Marmara (Propontis), which took place between 1914 and 1922. Professional or semi-professional musicians gradually began to form bands, which generally consisted of a violin, a santouri (dulcimer), a clarinet and, in certain cases, wind instruments (usually the trumpet or cornet). Later, after World War II, musicians introduced percussion (drums), and subsequently the accordion, the harmonium and the bouzouki into the local music scene. The mandolin was often played by amateur musicians, as was the guitar, through the latter was introduced into professional or semi-professional bands relatively late, and usually as an accompaniment to the bouzouki. Overall, the bands of Limnos were never very large, as finances did not stretch as far as paying for several musicians at a time.

The tunes most commonly played by local bands, from the early 20th century and up to the 50s or 60s, were zeibekika, karsilamades, syrta and balloi and, on occasion, the waltz, the fox-trot and the tango, or period tunes and songs, with obvious influences from the musical tradition of Asia Minor. Older “lyra tunes”, such as “Kechagiadikos” or “Patima” were also incorporated into the repertoire of professional or semi-professional bands, in an effort to bring in older musical practices. After the late 50s, migration and economic decline severely limited the number of active musicians and bands. A revival of lyra practices was also recorded during that same period, particularly in connection to various folk events, both local and wider-ranging, based on a broadened repertoire that incorporated tunes of the “kechagiades tradition” and Asia Minor influences; a practice that continues to this day (2007). In any case, after the 70s, the local musical repertoire was gradually adapted to the nationwide folk (“laiki”) music standards, and its various expressions, both older and contemporary.