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Christopher C King compiles Epirotic folk songs

August 2018

The producer and musicologist shares tracks featured in his new book exploring Europe's oldest surviving folk music

These tracks of music are all mentioned in the book Lament From Epirus: An Odyssey Into Europe's Oldest Surviving Folk Music. These are either taken from the old 78 rpm discs that I acquired or from recordings that I made "in the field" while exploring North Western Greece. This music acted as incentive for the book. These songs and tunes prodded me along, driving my curiosity about this music. What purposes it serves, how it developed, why it retains its vitality. These tracks serve as an immersive soundtrack for the book.

Alexis Zoumbas “Epirotika Mirologi”
One of the deepest 78s that I own, the mirologi or lament is also the oldest form of music that still exists in Europe. It is heard at every paniyeri held in Epirus and is key to understanding the music of this region. This version was recorded in 1926 in New York City.

Blind Willie Johnson “Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground”
This instrument lament, recorded in Texas in 1927, is a spiritual and structural twin to Zoumbas's “Epirotiko Mirologi”. Like the mirologi, it is a pentatonic instrumental that is wholly improvised and possesses no fixed rhythm or meter. Like Zoumbas's lament, it is in the major key of D with three minor passages in the same keynote. And like the mirologi, it is a deeply spiritual piece of music, intended for mourning.

Kitsos Harisiadis “Skaros”
"Skaros" is also an instrumental contemplative piece like the mirologi but it is heptatonic, not pentatonic. Also a piece of free rhythm and improvisation, the two modalities used – nigriz and kartsgiar – are intended to pacify or caress the mind. The skaros, at least since the 18th century, has been based on the shepherding song of the nomads in the Balkans who used this tune to guide the movement of their sheep. This version was recorded in 1931 but the musical formulation of the skaros is likely primeval, ancient.

Takimi “Skaros Hora”
Here is a contemporary field recording that I made of one of the best groups from the central Zagori region of Epirus. This one was made in 2014 underneath a plane tree in the village of Vitsa.

Manthos Halkias & Folk Orchestra “Samantakas - Osman Taka”
This is the piece of music that I first danced to while being "played into" by the clarinetist. This is a very old dance piece commemorating the bravado and agility of an Albanian warrior before he was to be executed by Turkish troops.

Group from Northern Epirus “Stis Deropolis Ton Kampo - On The Deropolis Plain”
Vocal iso-polyphony is heard throughout the Balkans, especially in southern Albania and in Epirus. But this recording in 1958 is unusual with its instrumental accompaniment. You can still hear this style of playing in the Pogoni region of Epirus.

Kitsos Harisiadis “Stroto Pogonisio”
This was the first 78 disc that I discovered in Istanbul and the one that got me hooked on my maddening pursuit to understand this music from Epirus. It is a simple pentatonic tune with a languid meter intended for slow, hypnotic line-dancing. This was recorded in 1930.

Demetris Halkias “Selfos”
One of my favorite 78s from the region (and rare too), the Selfos is essentially an instrumental air mimicking the song of the nightingale, a bird central to the avian mythology of the region of Epirus and southern Albania. Demetris Halkias was one of the most gifted violinists to record from this region. This disc was made in 1929.

Nikos Tzaras & Sideris Andrianos “Kalokeraki - Summer”
This is an example of the fast tsamiko dance that developed in the urban center of Epirus, in and around the town of Ioannina. This gem was recorded in 1934.

Takimi “Genovefa”
My favorite dance when I'm in my village is Genovefa, a complex instrumental that suggests Venetian influences but is composed of three different Greek-Arabic scales. This is from a field recording that I made in 2014.

Manthos Halkias & Folk Orchestra “Merko Moirologi - A Lament For More Time”
Epirus is known for its intense music. But few understand why it is so intense - what purpose this music serves and how it is designed to deliver the goods. I try to explore these questions in the this book. This particular recording was made in 1929 in Athens.

Alexis Zoumbas “Tzamara Arvanitiko”
This is another shepherd's melody from the Balkans adapted to the violin of Alexis Zoumbas. Probably the saddest 78 that I own. Recorded in New York City in 1928.

Words by Christopher C King. Lament From Epirus is available now from W W Norton. The book was reviewed in The Wire 415. Subscribers can read it via the online archive.

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