When you visit Crete, you will no doubt be entranced by the beauty of the landscape, enthralled by sunshine and delighted with the food and drink on offer; however the island has much more to offer. As with many other countries, the true character of Crete can be experienced through its traditions, and most of all through its music and through its dance.
The traditional music of Crete originates from Byzantine inspirations; their trade routes brought the lyra and other instruments to the Greek islands, where they were adopted and adapted for local forms of music.
Many traditional Cretan songs take the form of mantinades; their lyrics consist of rhyming couplets, sometimes written but often improvised and sung to the rhythm of accompanying music. Love is a frequent topic, as is satire. Each line is 15 syllables, and sometimes they are taken from existing poems like the epic Erotokritos. The song in the video below is in the form of a mantinada.
The main instrument used in traditional Cretan music is the lyra; this is a pear-shaped instrument with three strings, played with a bow. It’s a fairly direct descendant of the medieval Byzantine lyra, which is thought to have inspired all European stringed instruments.
There are three forms found today; the lyraki is a small model, the closest in design to the Byzantine lyra, the vrontolyra is a type which gives a very strong sound, usually used for accompaniment songs, and the common lyra is the popular form, which combines aspects of the lyraki with the modern violin.
Another common instrument you will see is the laouto, which resembles a lute and is played like an oud. Whilst you will see forms of the laouto played in many countries, you may, if you have sharp ears, notice that the kind played in Crete has a different tuning.
You can see a Cretan laouto being played in the following video.
“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”
Just as Crete has a long tradition of music, it also has a range of traditional dances, many of which you will see performed at festivals and gatherings by dancers in traditional dress.
As early as 16th century, there are reports of travellers visiting Crete and seeing wild dances performed late at night; many are said to be reflective of the island’s turbulent history.
Indeed, the pentozali dance shown above, which is performed only by male dancers, is a traditional war dance. The black kerchiefs traditionally worn on the dancers’ heads represent the sacrifices Cretans have made through history, and the dance symbolises bravery, heroism and hope.
Many traditional Cretan dances are performed in a line or a circle (depending upon the area in which the dance is to be performed and how many dancers there are). The dancers hold hands or link arms, and the dance is performed mainly with the feet.
Many Cretan dances are complex and lively – like the pentozali mentioned earlier and the maleviziotis in the video above – and if you should learn these dances you will find that they are a great way to work out!
However others are far simpler – the siganos uses very slow and measured steps, and is often performed as part of the pentozali – giving the dancers time to catch their breath!
When the dance is simple, you may be tempted to join in – it’s advised that you either wait for an invitation or ask politely if you may before a dance begins, rather than simply jumping up and joining in. In many villages, the order of the dancers is strictly decided by their position or age, so pushing in may cause offense.
These songs and dances – or variations of them – can be found in the villages and communities across Crete, at festivals, parties and more. Because the people of Crete are very hospitable, it’s quite possible that you will be invited to an event where you will see and hear them during your stay in one of our villas in Crete!