Why does Greece produce such amazing music?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-07 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Modern Greek, Music

Given the amount of Greek songs that I’ve written about over at Hellenica, of course Greece has produced amazing music. The notion that it hasn’t, which Konstantinos Konstantinides’ answer gives, is to me as strange as the question itself seems to be to him.

Of course, there’s a catch with the presumption behind this question. All cultures produce amazing music, because all cultures are cultures born of the human spirit, and the human spirit is capable of amazing things. All cultures’ musics have resonances and histories and tropes and subtleties and transcendence. It’s just that any given observer will have more familiarity with one culture’s inventory than others, and accordingly will find it easier or harder to read another culture’s music.

There are specific circumstances which make the Greek musical tradition rich, but I don’t enumerate them to say it is superior in any way to its neighbours, or to yours. Just that they are part of what makes it distinctive.

  • A cross-roads of major musical traditions. Most places are, of course. Specifically, the complex of Byzantine, Arabic, Turkish and Persian music, and the complex of Western musics. This has resulted in several waves of fusion; rebetiko has proven to be the most fertile, siring its own range of musics.
  • A wide range of folk music practice, reflecting the interaction of major musical traditions, different geographical and historical influences, and separate local developments. The folk music of Macedonia sounds nothing like the folk music of Cyprus. The folk music of Cretan Christians sounds different from the folk music of Cretan Muslims (although similar enough that Christians could appropriate the music of the departing Muslims.)
  • Strong extra-musical associations for Greek music, with political or historical movements and events. Particularly in the 60s and 70s, there was much ideological investment in music. (Of course Greece is hardly unique in that.)
  • Perhaps more controversially: in some strands of modern popular music, ongoing belief in the transcendental power of song, and in the distinct vocation of the lyricist. (Separate lyricists and composers remains the norm.) There always has been disposable Greek pop music, but for every lyric that reaches Leonard Cohen levels of art in English, there are 10 in Greek: not because Greeks are inherently more poetic, bus because there is a much greater cultural expectation for that kind of thing. Arguably, Better Poetry in lyrics inspires Better Music. Certainly, better poetry in lyrics leaves audiences with the impression that the music is better.

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