Featured Artist: Psarantonis – epitome of deep-rooted tradition and genuine innovation

Psarantonis embodies the true essence of traditional musicianship: being deeply rooted in local culture while pushing traditional music forward with innovation at all scales. Psarantonis’ music is of great depth while delivering with words and textures his vision of a world diverse, self-determined and animated.

One of the most lively and active parts of traditional Greek music and culture, is the island of Crete. Antonis Xylouris, also called Psarantonis, is a well known representative of Cretan music, and although he was born in 1942, he claims he is a hundred years old!

Born and raised in Anogia of Rethymno, he started playing the lyra (the most famous cretan traditional music instrument) at the age of 9! He and his brother (Nikos Xylouris, also a worldwide renowned musician) were both shepherds on mount Psiloritis, so they had plenty of time playing and studying together. At the age of 13 he gave his first ‘concert’, at a wedding near his village.

Psarantonis’ son, Giorgos Xylouris – Psarogiorgis, musician, says in one of his interview: “The lesson with my father took place during the festivals and the weddings, he just looked at me, and I understood what he meant and how he wanted me to play the lute”.

Psarantonis’ first album was released in 1973 and since then he recorded or took part in more than 30 albums of Cretan music. In the year 1980 he started being invited by famous festivals through the world (WDR Festival in Germany, Journee des cinq Continents in Zurich and Amsterdam, All Tomorrow’s Parties in Sidney etc.)  During these concerts he cooperated with famous musicians such as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

But still, the most important part of Psarantonis’ work is not the past…it’s the present!  His music seems to combine new sounds and techniques and at the same time you feel that’s it is coming straight from ancient Cretan mythology. He manages to create feelings of awe and shivering while he is mixing the lyra with African percussion and oriental strings  and singing about ancient Gods, wild animals, the power of nature and Love! This great musician gives life to ancient legends, not only with his craftsmanship, but also with his belief in their modern existence and energy.

Psarantonis – O Dias (Δίας = Zeus)

Psarantonis is a true innovator of Greek tradition. “Tradition is above all. It exists, it resists, it is the poetry and the art of the people! It is the root, and without the root neither the leaves, nor the fruits exist. I love tradition and I love Nature. Nature, the trees, the rivers, everything has it’s harmony, and being able to see them, we can strengthen and live. Nature is above man, it gives us birth, it eats us, it punishes us! Nature is God! ” he says in one of his interviews.

Antonis Xylouris believes that music cannot be taught. He learned the notes but they never seemed useful to him. “There are no schools that can teach music”, he says.”Everyone can go to a music teacher to learn the notes, and become a musician. But not everyone can become an artist! One is born an artist. He has feelings and creates music from them!”

I never play a song exactly in the same way.  If I play it again one time, it will not be the same. I decorate it, different each time. Every time I bring it further. Music is very long, it’s kilometers. Don’t listen to them who draw dots on a paper or to others who read them!”

When Psarantonis was asked why he sings and plays music with his eyes shut, he says:

I’ve got my landscapes. I travel to places that I like, in order to make the music sound better. How to explain it…Man has nothing! Nature has everything! It is God, it gives us music. I was standing once staring at the mount Psiloritis for hours. Then I thought of some lyrics. I was looking at the mountain and it gave me the music!

“Στου Ψηλορείτη την κορφή το χιόνι δεν τελειώνει,

ώσπου να λιώσει το παλιό καινούργιο το πλακώνει ” 

“At Psiloritis’ peak the snow never ends, until the old one melts, it is covered with new”

Nature plays a very important role in Psarantonis’ music. Even the rocks have their energy and pulse, the pulse of stillness and of silence. “Sometimes”, he says,”life grows on rocks. Haven’t you seen the small trees and grass growing on cliffs? Don’t you see Erotas?” [Erotas, Diktamos  – origanum dikatmnus: medicinal, aromatic herb that is endemic of Crete]

Such is his love for nature, that he sometimes plays music to the animals.

Of course I do! To the sheep, the birds…and if you play in a beautiful way, silently, they don’t go away! I know a tree in the mountain, which has a big hole in it. Birds gather there at nights. Many birds. When I enter the hole, they get scared an fly away. And then I start playing the lyra and they come back. They sit on the branches, listen, turn their little heads from time to time…and suddenly they start singing! And the dog may bark, the sheep bleat, the goats…and then we make music all together.






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