Giannis Manolis | Ikaria | Biographical data
• Place of birth

Aghios Panteleimon/Aghios Kirykos, Ikaria
• Year of birth

• Short biography

Giannis Manolis (know as «Zacharogiannis»), is an amateur musician and lyre-maker. He comes from a family of sailors from Frandato and worked as a sailor for a time, but earned his pension working as a taxi driver in Aghios Kirykos: «I was born in a village on the northern side, Frandato [...]. My father was a captain, he had boats, a sailor […]. Before the war he had a big ship, 150 tonnes. It was big business at the time […], she ship was named ‘Aghios Georgios […]. But this was in 1936 […], when he got the ship, and with the Germans […], the Germans took it [commandeered it] and then he lost it […]. They he had another ship made, they built it here in Nikaria, in Kambos, in the North […]. [I worked as] as sailor, a sailor, crew. […]. [My family were] all sailors. I went to the military – I’m a sailor, too – and I went to do my service and I trained as a driver. In those years, knowing how to drive a car was a big deal […]. And business wasn’t good with the ship and we wanted to sell it and a friend of mine –a local, from Aghios Kirykos – says to me […], ‘Why don’t you to Nikaria and get a car – he knew I was a driver – get a car and go to Nikaria?’ […]. I went in 1953, I went to the Ministry and asked […]. To cut a long story short, I got the licence, then came here [and] got a taxi, a taxi cab, as they used to call it. I came here […]. There were only three passenger cars in Aghios Kirykos, and I was the fourth […]. That [happened] in 1953 […], since 1953 I’ve been […], I got my pension from that».

He began playing music at a young age, while living in Frandato: «With music, when I was a kid […], I had a neighbour, a violinist, Stamatis Vatougios was his name, and I wanted to be one too [...], to learn the violin […]. And I’d watch him play the violin and admire him […]. But how would I learn to play I knew that all of them, the violinists of that time, started with the lyre. They’d take up the lyre, and learn. Then they’d take up the violin and begin, little by little, to learn, and they’d become [violinists]. I’d see […], Stamatis had his lyre […], he kept it up on a shelf in his house, like an ornament […]. And one day I built up the course to ask him […]. I said ‘I want you to give me the lyre’ […]. ‘I want to learn to play, I said’. ‘Well, if you want to learn, I’ll give it to you’ […]. So I got the lyre, in the end, and played it […]. All the children had […], we all had lyres, but few of them learned, they’d start and then stop».

After he retired, he began making lyres: «I gave up the lyre [stopped playing] in the forties [...], around 1948, 1947-1948, something like that. I haven’t played an instrument since […]. But I’d go […], in Piraeus, where we used to go, I’d look, I’d search for an instrument-maker that sold instruments, wherever I went on the ship […]. And I used to say when I had some time I’d sit down and make a lyre […], then the years passed, I drove the taxi, I had the car. I retired and one day I was driving down this road […], one day, they had cut the trees in some schoolyard, sycamores, mulberries, and stacked them up against the wall. As I drove down in the taxi, I saw the trees, the wood there, and I thought I’d have a look and see if there was any wood to make a lyre out of […], I took the wood. I looked for others that made instruments […]. I started making it, and I had a neighbour from Andros. Vaggelis Trandafyllakis was his name […], he was a lighthouse-keeper […], he came from a musical family […], he played the dulcimer. He played the dulcimer well, and made them, too […], and I knew that he knew about those things and I went and asked him […]. Well, he said ‘How will you start?’. ‘Well, I’ve got a picture in my head, I said, like this […], to make it. I’ll draw it, I said, on paper […] and then I’ll start making it’. And he said ‘No, it won’t work, you need measurements, or it won’t work […]. The instrument won’t have a voice’. And I said: ‘Where am I supposed to get measurements?’. He said: ‘I’ll give you my Cretan lyre, you can look at it and build your own’. And I took it [and] I started it and I made all Cretan lyres from that one […]. Later, I read about the Museum of Musical Instruments in the paper, and I went to Athens, I went [and] found that book by Anogeianakis, I took the measurements from there – just a rough idea, of course – and I made the lyre […], the lyre of Ikaria […]. Then I went to this Cretan man, and, well, he showed me a lot of things, this man from Crete, who’s a musician […]. From then on I made lyres. He told me about measurements, he told me many things. And I started making lyres. And the musicians who’ve seen them, those who play them, they tell me they’re good […]. I think I’ve sold about 30 or so».

On the way lyres are made, he said: « The good [wood] [...], those who make them, the Cretans who do that, they say it’s ivy. In the books I’ve seen, ivy is first, then wild pear and then mulberry […]. [For the rear (skafos) and the sound board (kapaki)] the Cretans use katrani, from the East. Well, that’s what I use too, katrani […]. The strings I buy from Piraeus, where the Cretans buy them. I tell him for a lyre, and he gives me [strings] for a lyre, and he says these are for a lyre […]. The bow is made from wild wood. Oak wood, I think, from oaks, from old furniture, you know […]. The horsehair, we get that in Piraeus».

Translator’s Note: katrani – a type of aged cedar wood