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Samos - General data

Samos, in contrast to other islands of the Eastern Aegean, broke free from the Ottoman Empire during the early 19th century, and remained under a semi-independent regime from 1834 and up to the time of its incorporation into the Greek State in 1912. Nevertheless, it still benefited from tax relief on the products it exported to the coast of Asia Minor, while broadening the networks of communication that connected it to Athens, the rest of Greece, and Europe at large. Samos produced, among other things, olives and olive oil, tobacco, wine and other agricultural products, leather goods processed in the local tanneries, and timber. There were also shipyards for small and medium-sized sailing boats of various types, built by local shipbuilders. Of course, the island’s inadequate road network that connected the villages and urban centres of Samos (i.e. Vathi and Karlovasi), and the relative social, economic, production and cultural autonomy of certain villages and areas (which is attributed to settlers from a number of areas in the Ottoman Empire, probably around the 15th-16th century, when the island was largely abandoned due to pirate attacks) did not favour the development of mono-cultivation or encourage the locals to focus exclusively on particular types of industrial or agricultural products, as was the case in Lesvos, with olive oil and its by-products, or Southern Chios, with mastic products. (The exception was the island’s leather-processing industry, which survived until well into the 20th century.)

Given the above, the musical culture of Samos is characterised by a general lack of traces of an older tradition, dating back any further than the late 19th or early 20th century. Records from that period show musicians joining bands that came under the wider trend of Asia Minor influences. The instruments they used were the santouri (dulcimer), the violin, the clarinet, brass wind instruments (usually trumpets or cornets), and percussion instruments, while the repertoire of the bands of that time consisted mainly of zeibekika, karsilamades, and syrta, in keeping (in the most part) with Asia Minor standards. The guitar was also used in Samos (mainly as accompaniment) before World War II, while a remarkable feature of the island’s musical culture in the 20th century was the early (in terms, at least, of the remaining Eastern Aegean islands) introduction of the bouzouki into Samos’s musical life, references to which begin to appear during the Greek interwar period.

In that context, certain virtuoso musicians found acclaim, with many of them also regularly performing abroad (and especially within the Greek community in the United States) for a number of years. Samos also produced a number of talented signers, notably Roukounas, also known as “Samiotaki”, and Kaiti Grey (Angeliki Kalaitzi), to whom the musical culture of Samos owes its nationwide reputation. After World War II, the dominance of the bouzouki defined the island’s music scene, while musical practices connected to the traditions of Asia Minor were adopted by new musical patterns that followed (in the most part) the development of rebetika and laika. In that sense, Samos is recognised as one of the centres of development of Greek post-war folk music, and great bouzouki virtuosos, such as the infamous Iordanis (Tsomidis) performed regularly at the island’s live music clubs, especially during the 50s, 60s and 70s. These days (2007), the “bouzouki tradition” is carried on by both new and veteran folk musicians, while a revival of the musical practices connected to the “Asia Minor tradition” is also observed, especially during events organised by various cultural organisations and associations. Finally, there are a number of musicians who still play the tsabouna, and who usually perform at events organised during the Carnival season (Apokreies) in certain areas of Samos; these musicians kept the tsabouna alive by (gradually) adapting their repertoire to the contemporary demands of the music scene, enriching it with both old “Asia Minor” and “neo-traditional” tunes and songs (in keeping with the Konitopoulos family musicians, who draw upon the old musical traditions of Naxos and the Cycladic islands, in general, to create musical forms that respond to contemporary aesthetic standards).