Balteranos Alekos | Lemnos | Biographical data
• Place of birth

Kontias, Lemnos
• Short biography

Alekos Balteranos was born in 1934. He played the lyra and sang, while earning a living in agriculture and farming. He was a self-taught musician and tried to apply playing techniques developed by other [older and more experienced] lyra players. “So I started learning the lyra. When the old folks played – Lantouris’ dad, Kotsinadellis’ dad from Tsimandria – I’d go along and [while] they played, I’d go and sit next to them or stand bedside them and watch – either from the side, where I was sitting, or from above. I’d watch what they were doing, where they placed their fingers, and that’s how I started, on my own. I played the lyra […], I used up a litre of oil every night in the barn, that’s where I slept, I didn’t go home to sleep. I had the animals, and I slept over there. I’d sit there and sing and play on my own, nobody taught me how to fix it, how to tune it, nobody, I taught myself. So, within a year – but I did this every night, I practiced every night, I sang and played and I had a good ear, you can’t imagine – and within a year I learned how to play. I mean, I could play songs”.

His interest in music began at a young age. Originally, however, he had wanted to learn the violin or the clarinet: “Ever since I was young, I wanted to learn an instrument, I wanted to learn the violin. And when I told my old man, may he rest in peace – because I sang well, I had a good voice and it stood out, you know? – he wouldn’t let me […]. So I said to him, I want to learn the violin [and] I got a beating. There were two men in the village at that time, one played the santouri, the other the violin, and they wanted a third, to play the clarinet […]. And so we were in the garden [with my father] and I said: ‘Since you wouldn’t let me learn the violin, I’ll learn the clarinet.’ He made me dance with his stick [he beat him]. […]. But what could I do? I wanted an instrument. There was no money then, no bands, and people [only] had lyras at weddings, engagements, that sort of thing. I went to a craftsman […] and said: ‘Barba-Theofani, this and that, you’ll make me a lyra, but I have no money […]. I said: ‘I’ll work for you, I’ll plough a field and we’ll call it even […].”

He began to play the lyra around the late 40s or early 50s, with his father’s permission, who finally accepted his interest in music: “I spent New Year’s Eve with Charalambos Lantouris […]. We went round the houses and, you know how it is, when we went to a house, we didn’t stay for 5 minutes, we stayed for hours. We didn’t get home till dawn on New Year’s Eve. The old man was waiting up, my poor dad […]. We went, sat around because we’d been drinking, and that madman says: ‘Aleko, your lyra? Where’s your lyra?’ My old man hears this and says: ‘Lyra? Where’s the lyra?’ I said: ‘Hold on. I kept the lyra hidden, but it’s not my lyra.’ He says: ‘Go bring it to me’. I went, and brought it out, and played a couple of tunes. I played, and he went to the door, and banged his head. I said: ‘Don’t bang your head, it’s never too late’. He says: ‘The lyra’s no good’. It’s a little thing, barely an inch, and it’s too shallow, much too shallow. Anyway, he went and got me another lyra, for 150 drachmas”.

Alekos Balteranos performed mainly around Kontias, and regularly participated in musical events organised by the local hotel complex, ‘Elvetika’ [Swiss]. He collaborated, mainly, with Thanasis Kotsinadellis [lyra], with whom he played lyra at the Thessaloniki International Exhibition in 1967: “Nasos [Thanasis Kotsinadellis] and I played together at ‘Elvetika’. The Swiss wanted traditional songs and we’d go once a week, every Saturday […]. We had two lyras, [Thanasis Kotsinadellis] would often get up and dance to the ‘Patima’ [a local tune […]. We went to the exhibition in 1967, with the military coup. That’s when we went to the exhibition, they asked us over. I didn’t want to go, because I was busy, I was very busy at the time […]. We were invited by the Municipality of Myrina, I haven’t been anywhere else […]. [Of his performances on the island, he said:] I’ve played in Kontias, in Tsimandria, in Portianou. [In Moundros] over there, I haven’t played. […] I played at weddings, in Kontias. Even when I was married, I played. And when I was single, I played in parties, engagements, weddings, they hired me”.

In 1972, Alekos Balteranos and his family migrated to Germany, where he remained for 26 years. For the most part, both he and his wife earned a living as unskilled workers in factories. While in Germany, he only played music on an amateurs basis, but took part in local music events in the summers, when he visited Lemnos: “I spent 26.5 years in Germany, a good twenty-six years, I only got back recently, it’s three years now [2001]. I went on my own at first, for eight months, and then I came and took her [his wife] […]. When I was over there [in Germany], I didn’t play the lyra much. I’d sit at home and play by myself, I’d sit for hours, I didn’t care […]. I didn’t take it out [the lyra] to the cafes. Sometimes, if it was someone’s birthday, there was a club over there and I’d go, [they’d say] ‘Aleko, bring the lyra’, and I’d play there”.

On the local tunes and songs of Lemnos, A. Balteranos said: “There’s the ‘Kechagiad’kos’, the ‘Pat’ma’, there’s the ‘Brost’nopisinos’ [or ‘Bros’nopis’nos’], it’s three forwards and two back [steps], there’s the ‘Sybether’katos’, as they call it. Those are the songs, I mean, Lemnos doesn’t have that many songs, traditional songs.” Of local events, he said: “[At Apokries (Carnival), they sang] arsiz’ka songs [rude songs], with swearwords to the same tune [of ‘Sybether’katos’] […]. [At Fota (the Epiphany, on the 6th of January) they sang:] that one, the song ‘tou Fotos’ [of the Light]. In those years, they went out with the lyra [went round the houses], but now all that’s over, nobody goes out, nothing, no singing or anything […]. [On wedding songs and customs:] they play, let’s say, the ‘Gambrikios’, as they called it. They always played that, since the old days, [they played the ‘Gambrikios’] on the way to the church. So, what happened during the ceremony? They’d go to the church, and then the lyra played would leave the church, go to the house and wait. He’d eat something, because when the newlyweds arrived, he’d fed, and ready to play the lyra all through the night. Then they took the groom round the houses, the guests I mean, the whole village brought the groom to their home. They wouldn’t let him go to the bride. [In the houses] we played, and danced, and caused havoc […]. When we’d been to all the houses, two or three people who had it in them would go and guard the door. They wouldn’t let him [the groom] go inside, to the bride. They’d say: ‘Tell us, what will you give us?’ And he’d say: ‘I’ll treat you to dinner’. In eight days, we had to turn up, the whole group, and he’d treat us to dinner”.