Music of Greece


Greek music is a mixture of influences from its own indigenous culture with Western and Middle Eastern cultures. Turkish and Ottoman elements can be most clearly heard in the traditional songs, dhimotiká, as well as the modern bluesy rembétika music.

Folk music

Traditional dhimotiká are accompanied by clarinets, guitars, tambourines and violins, and include dance music forms like syrtó, kalamatianó, tsámiko and hasaposérviko, as well as vocal music like kléftiko. Many of the earliest recordings were done by Arvanites (ethnic Albanian) like Yiorgia Mittaki and Yiorgios Papasidheris. Instrumentalists include clarinet virtuosos like Yiorgos Yevyelis, Vassilis Saleas and Yiannis Vassilopoulos, as well as oud and fiddle players like Nikos Saragoudas and Yiorgos Koros.

Regional folk music

Thrace. Thrace is known for its well-represented Turkish influence, owing from a wave of immigrants after 1923 Thracian music is often more traditionally Turkish than music found in Turkey.

Epirus. In Epirus, Albanian and Macedonian influences are common, and folk songs are polyphonic and sung by both male and female singers. Distinctive songs include mirolóyia (mournful tunes) vocals with skáros accompaniment and tis távlas (drinking songs).

The Islands The islands of Greece are known for nisiótika songs; characteristics vary widely, showing a range of mainland, Italian and Turkish influence. Modern stars include Effi Sarri and the Konitopoulous clan.

Crete The Greek islands of Kárpathos, Khálki, Kássos and Crete form an arc where the lýra is the dominant instrument. It is a three-stringed fiddle similar to the Turkish kemençe. Kosta Moundakis is probably the most widely-respected master of the lýra, which is often accompanied by the oudlike laoúto, which resembles a mandolin. Bagpipes are often played on Kárpathos.

Ionian islands The Ionian islands were never under Turkish control, and their kantádhes (traditional songs) are Italian in origin.

Cyclades In the Aegean Cyclades, the violí is more popular than the lýra, and has produced several respected musicians, including Nikos Ikonomidhes, Nikos Hatzopoulos and Stathis Koukoularis.

Lesbos Lesbos has a distinctive Turkish sound (and Greece's only brass bands), and acts as a melting pot for influences from all over Greece.


Rembétika evolved from traditions of the urban poor. Refugees and drug-users, criminals and the itinerant, the earliest rembétika musicians were scorned by mainstream society. They sang heartrending tales of drug abuse, prison and violence, usually accompanied by the boxoúki, a sort of lute derived from the Byzantine tambourás and related to the Turkish saz

By the beginning of the 20th century, music-cafés were popular in Istanbul and Smyrna, primarily owned by Greeks, alongside Jews and Armenians. The bands were led by a female vocalist, typically, and included a violin and a sandoúri. The improvised songs typically exclaimed aman aman, which led to the name amanédhes or café-aman. Musicians of this period included Marika Papagika, Agapios Tomboulis, Rosa Eskenazi and Rita Abatzi. In 1923, many ethnic Greeks from Asia Minor fled to Greece as a result of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922). They settled in poor neighborhoods in Pireás, Thessaloníki and Athens. Many of these immigrants were highly educated, and included songwriter Vangelis Papazoglou and Panayiotis Toundas, composer and leader of Odeon Records' Greek subsidiary. One Turkish tradition that came with the Greek migrants was the tekés, or hashish dens. Groups of men would sit in a circle and smoke hashish from a hookah, and improvised music of various kinds was common. Out of this music scene came two of the earliest legends of modern Greek history, Artemis and Markos Vamvakaris. They played in a quartet with Batis and Stratos Payioumtzis. Vamvakaris became perhaps the first star of Greek music after beginning a solo career.

With the coming of the Metaxas dictatorship, rembétika was repressed due to the uncompromising lyrics. Hashish dens and bouzoúkis were banned. Many songs from this period were composed in prison, where musicians made instruments out of scavenged equipment. After World War 2, rembétika had become a calmer form of music, and was soon popularized further by stars like Vassilis Tsitsanis. His "Synefiazmeni Kyriaki" became an anthem for the oppressed Greeks after it was composed in 1943, though it wasn't recorded until 1948. He was followed by female singers like Marika Ninou, Ioanna Yiorgakopoulou and Sotiria Bellou. In 1953, Manolis Khiotis added a fourth pair of strings to the bouzoúki, which allowed it be tuned tonally and set the stage for the electrification of rembétika. Rembétika was revived during the 1967-1974 coup, which banned the music. Ironically, the banning meant that the dispossessed of Greece were attracted to the music and its messages of subversion. Revival groups included Opisthodhromiki Kompania, Rembetiki Kompania, Agathonas Iakovidhis and Ta Pedhia apo tin Patra.




  • (cordofoni) Lýra - Laoúto - Violí - Guitars - Bouzoúki - Baglama

  • (aerofoni) Gaida - Clarinets

  • (ancia libera)

  • (membranofoni) Tambourines

  • (idiofoni)

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