Lesvos - General data

The music of Lesvos was greatly influenced by musical practices that developed in the major urban centres of Asia Minor. From the 18th century onwards, Lesvos developed close ties with these centres, and especially Smyrna and (to a lesser degree) Constantinople, both with regards to economic activities and social practices. These ties were strengthened when Lesvos joined a Mediterranean and wider European product-trading network, which promoted the mono-cultivation of olives on the island, and the production and trade of olive oil and related products, such as soap. Under these circumstances, the influence and effect of the major urban centres and culture of Asia Minor upon Lesvos was significant. The precise details of the extent of mutual exchanges and influences upon musical culture before the late 19th century are not known, but common features are manifest in a series of amateur musical practices pertaining to vocal “seasonal” songs (carols, asemna and skoptika – traditional satirical or “teasing” songs, often with irreverent lyrics – and narrative Carnival songs, Laments for the Mother of God, chelidonismata – “swallow songs” to welcome spring, etc), as well as in “circle of life” songs (lullabies, children’s songs, traditional wedding songs praising the bride and groom, laments, etc). What is certain is that, from the late 19th century onwards, the musical culture of Lesvos was transformed according to the contemporary standards of Asia Minor: records show that bands were formed, made up of professional or semi-professional musicians who were (usually) specialised in terms of the instruments they played, and had practical or theoretical musical knowledge, which they had gained after a period of official or unofficial studies. These bands started out quite large, as they included musicians who played the violin, the santouri (dulcimer), percussion instruments (initially, in most cases, the davouli –a double-headed drum – and, later, after the 1950’s, the drums), the bass viol or contrabass, and the clarinet, as well as brass wind instruments, such as the trumpet (cornet), the trombone, the euphonium, and (in certain cases, even) the saxophone. The oud was also known in Lesvos, at least from the early 20th century, but it was generally only used by individual professional or semi-professional musicians, and it was rarely included in bands. After the 40s, the socioeconomic effects of national disunion and the civil war led, gradually, to the creation of more flexible, smaller bands, which included a violin, a santouri (in certain cases), a guitar, percussion instruments, and a clarinet; the accordion was also added after the 50s. The bouzouki was subsequently introduced, and quickly claimed the leading role in the musical performances of every band; it was later joined (around the 60s) by the harmonium. The core of most local bands now consisted of a bouzouki, a guitar, a harmonium and drums, sometimes supported by a clarinet and/or a violin and, in rare cases, a santouri. The bands’ musical repertoire included a series of amanedes, “sarkia” (Eastern melodies of varying tempos), syrta, ballous, karsilamades, zeibekika, fast-paced chasaposervika (also known as rousika – Russian), and “European” pieces, which, in the local dialect, was a collective term for opera and operetta excerpts, waltz, tango, and fox trot pieces, etc. Their repertoire gradually shrunk, in terms of the range of tunes and songs played: after the 50s, “sarkia” were no longer performed, demand for amanedes was limited to a specialised audience of “meraklides” (devotees), and there was barely any demand for “European” tunes after the 60s. The performance of syrta, balloi, karsilamades and zeibekika became largely standardised, and many variations were forgotten, while the number of well-known tunes and songs in general was severely limited. From the 50s onwards, the repertoire of Lesvos bands began to be enriched with laika (fold songs) that were popular all over Greece, and has been more or less consistent with nationwide trends since the 90s. Nevertheless, the (relatively) few remaining bands that still perform during the festivals of Lesvos continue to play quite a few “Asia Minor” tunes and songs, which have, by now, been incorporated into the preferences of younger audiences, as well as those of the old “meraklides”.