Greek folk music

Greek folk music (Greek: παραδοσιακή μουσική) includes a variety of Greek styles played by ethnic Greeks in Greece, Cyprus, Australia, the United States and elsewhere. Apart from the common music found all-around Greece, there are distinct types of folk music, sometimes related to the history or simply the taste of the specific places.

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National anthem"Hymn to Liberty"
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Related areasCyprus, Pontus, Constantinople, South Italy
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The Greek folk music, in Greek Demotiko or Paradosiako, refers to the traditional Greek popular songs and music of mainland Greece and islands dated to the Byzantine times. It was the sole popular musical genre of the Greek people until the spread of rebetiko and laiko in the early 20th century, spread by the Greek refugees from Asia Minor. This kind of music evolved from the ancient and the medieval Greek era and was established until the present day.[1][2]

The lyrics are based on Demotiki (folk) poetry (usually by anonymous lyricist) and popular themes are love, marriage, humor, death, nature, water, sea, religious, about klephts, armatoloi, various war fighters or battles etc

The songs are played mainly in the following tempos: Syrtos (various versions), Tsamiko, Ballos and Pentozali (Crete).

Some notable folk songs include "Itia", "Milo mou kokkino", "Kontoula lemonia", "Mou parigile to aidoni", "Enas aetos", "Kira Vangelio", "Gerakina", "Saranta palikaria" and from nisiotika "Ikariotikos", "Samiotisa", "Thalassaki", "Armenaki", "Amorgos Sousta", "Dirlada", "Lygaria", "Psaropoula", such as "Tilirkiotissa" and "Psintri Vasilitsia mou" (Cyprus).


Cretan dancers.
Different types of laouto.

The Greek islands of Kárpathos, Khálki, Kássos and Crete form an arc where the Cretan lyra is the dominant instrument. Kostas Mountakis is probably the most widely respected master of the lyra, which is often accompanied by the laouto which resembles a mandolin. Bagpipes are often played on Kárpathos. Crete has a well known folk dance tradition, which comes from ancient Greece and includes swift dances like pentozalis and other like sousta, syrtos, trizali, katsabadianos, chaniotikos, siganos, pidichtos Lasithou, maleviziotikos, tsiniaris, ierapetrikos and laziotikos.

Aegean islands: Cyclades and Dodecanese

The Aegean islands of Greece are known for Nisiótika (means from islands) songs; Greek characteristics vary widely. Although the basis of the sound is characteristically secular-Byzantine, the relative isolation of the islands allowed the separate development of island-specific Greek music. Most of the nisiótika songs are accompanied by lyra, clarinet, guitar and violin.

Notable singers include Yiannis Parios and the Konitopouloi; Mariza Koch is credited with reviving the field in the 1970s. Folk dances include the ballos, syrtos, sousta, chiotikos, kalymniotikos, stavrotos, lerikos, kamara, michanikos, trata, panagia and ikariotikos.

In the Aegean Cyclades, the violin is more popular than Cretan lyra, and has produced several respected musicians, including Nikos Oikonomidis, Leonidas Klados and Stathis Koukoularis. Folk dances in Cyclades include lerikos, syrtos, syrtos Serifou, syrtos Naxou, syrtos Kythnou, Amorgos dance and ballos. One of the most famous singers of cycladic music is Domna Samiou.

In Dodacanese there are prominent elements of Cretan music. Dodecanese folk dances include the trata, ballos, syrtos, kremasti, issos, syrtos Rodou, michanikos and kalymnikos, with origin from the island of Kalymnos.

Central Greece

In central Greece many folk songs make references to the klephts and their role during the Greek war of independence. Folk dances in central Greece include: antikrystos, hasapiko, kalamatianos, kamilierikos choros, koulouriotikos, syrtos, tsamiko, choros tis tratas, chatzichristos and syrtokalamatianos. The musical tradition of the region is also influenced by the Arvanites.


In Epirus, folk songs are pentatonic and polyphonic, sung by both male and female singers. Distinctive songs include mirolóyia (mournful tunes), vocals with skáros accompaniment and tis távlas (drinking songs). The clarinet is the most prominent folk instrument in Epirus, used to accompany dances, mostly slow and heavy, like the tsamikos, koftos, menousis, fisouni, podia, sta dio, sta tria, zagorisios, kentimeni, metsovitikos and iatros.


Folk dances from the Peloponnese include the kalamatianos, kariatidon, monodiplos, tsakonikos, syrtos, Ai Georgis, maniatikos and diplos horos. In the songs there are also references to the klephts. In Mani there is also the tradition of the "μοιρολόγια" mirolóyia (laments), sung by the old women of Mani.

Ionian Islands

Neapolitan mandolin 001
Mandolin, dominant instrument of the Heptanesian music.
Vrakoforos Tabouras
A Greek of the 18th century playing tambouras.

The Ionian Islands were never under Ottoman control and their songs and kantadhes (καντάδες) are based a lot on the western European style. Greek kantadhes are performed by three male singers accompanied by mandolin or guitar. These romantic songs developed mainly in Kefalonia in the early 19th century but spread throughout Greece after the liberation of Greece.

An Athenian form of kantadhes arose later, accompanied by violin, clarinet and laouto. However the style is accepted as uniquely Heptanesean. The island of Zakynthos has a diverse musical history with influences also from Crete. Folk dances include the tsirigotikos (Cythera), leukaditikos, ballos, syrtos, Ai Georgis, Kerkyraikos (Corfu).

Notable songs are "Kato sto yialo", "S'ena paporo mesa", "Apopse tin kithara mou".

The Church music (Byzantine) of the islands is also different from the rest of Greece, with a lot of western and Catholic influences on the Orthodox rite. The region is also notable for the birth of the first School of modern Greek classical music (Heptanesean or Ionian School, Επτανησιακή Σχολή), established in 1815.


Folk dances in Macedonia include Makedonia (dance), hasapiko, leventikos, zonaradiko, endeka Kozanis, samarinas, stankena, akritikos, baidouska, Macedonikos antikristos, mikri Eleni, partalos, kleftikos Makedonikos, bougatsas, kastorianos, tromakton, o Nikolos, antikrystos, sirtos Macedonias and Kapitan Louka. There are also folk songs which make references to the Macedonian Struggle (Greek Struggle for Macedonia), while it is notable the use of trumpets and koudounia ("chàlkina" in local idioma).


Folk songs from Thessaly are slow and stately, and include dances like the kalamatianos (popular allover Greece), thessalikos, koftos, tsamikos, kleistos, kangeli, gaitanaki, pilioritikos, svarniara, sta tria, karagouna and galanogalani.

Dionysiakos, take place especially every year, before Easter, in Tyrnavos, where occurs the famous Phallus Festival; a pagan fertility festival in honour of the ancient God Dionysus, with food and drink.


Instruments used in ancient Thracian music such as Bagpipes (gaida) and Byzantine lyra are still the ordinary instruments of folk music in Thrace. Folk dances include the tapeinos horos, tripati, tromakton, sfarlis, souflioutouda, zonaradiko, kastrinos, syngathistos, sousta, mantilatos, baintouska and apadiasteite sto choro. Traditional Thracian dances are usually swift in tempo and are mostly circle dances in which the men dance at the front of the line. The gaida, a kind of bagpipe, is the most characteristic instrument, but clarinets and toubeleki are also used. The Thracian gaida, also called avlos, is different from the Macedonian or other Bulgarian bagpipes. It is more high in pitch than the Macedonian gaida but less so than the Bulgarian gaida (or Dura). The Thracian gaida is also still widely used throughout Thrace in northeastern Greece.


A Pontic lyra (Kemenche).

Pontic music retains elements of the musical traditions of ancient Greece, Byzantine music and the tradition of Caucasus.

The prime instruments in Pontic music are the Pontic lyra (Kemenche), which has origins in Byzantine times and it is related closely with the Byzantine lyra and Cretan lyra. They are used also other bowed musical instrument from the West, like the Kit violin and Rebec. Other instruments include drums, lute, askomandoura (a type of bagpipe), davul and aulos. Folk dances from Pontus include the atsiapat, dipat, tik, tik diplon, tromakton, Pontiaki serra, ikosiena, trygona and tsestos.


The most known Greek dance and rhythm is hasapikos. It is originated in the Middle Ages as a battle mime with swords, adopted by the Byzantine military. In Greek it was called μακελλάριος χορός (makellarios horos). Hasapiko served as one of the bases for the sirtaki and it is danced all over Greece, today also with the use of bouzouki.


Cyprus is an independent country, currently contested between the Republic of Cyprus and the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Cyprus includes a variety of classical, folk and popular genres. Cypriot folk music is similar to the folk music of Greece and includes dances like sirtaki, syrtos, tatsia, antikristos and mainly the use of laouto.

See also


  1. ^ "Greek Traditional Music": Ινστιτούτο έρευνας μουσικής και ακουστικής - Institute for research on music and acoustics.
  2. ^ Samuel Baud-Bovy, Δοκίμιο για το Ελληνικό Δημοτικό Τραγούδι, 3rd edition, Πελοποννησιακό Λαογραφικό Ίδρυμα, Ναύπλιο: 1966, pp. 1–13. (Υπάρχει μια συνεχής εξέλιξη από την αρχαία Ελληνική μουσική έως και το δημοτικό τραγούδι, η οποία μαρτυρείται, εκτός από τη γλώσσα, στο ρυθμό, τη δομή και τη μελωδία).
Agapios Tomboulis

Agapios Tomboulis (Hagop Stambulyan) (Greek: Αγάπιος Τομπούλης; 1891–1965) was a famous Armenian and Greek oud player of rebetiko and Greek folk music, Armenian folk music, Turkish folk music, Jewish folk music born in Constantinople, he is known for being a well known associate of Roza Eskenazi.

Burlap to Cashmere

Burlap to Cashmere is a contemporary Christian world music band formed in the 1990s by John Philippidis and Steven Delopoulos. Their music draws heavily on folk and world music influences, especially Greek folk music.


The Chochilia (Greek: κοχύλια), are a kind of a Greek traditional auxiliary percussion instrument. They are shells from the sea, which become auxiliary musical instruments with the appropriate processing. Each chochilia, has its own musical tone. Those small shells called also, ostraka (Greek: όστρακα) and they are plenty in Greek islands.

Domna Samiou

Domna Samiou (Greek: Δόμνα Σαμίου; 12 October 1928 – 10 March 2012) was a prominent Greek researcher and performer of Greek folk music. She received her first formal musical training from Simon Karas. For over half a century she collected, recorded, and performed traditional songs of Greece (demotika), around the world, appealing not only to the Greek diaspora, but also introducing non-Greek audiences to traditional Greek folk music.

Dora Stratou

Dora Stratou (born Dorothea Stratou; Greek: Δωροθέα (Δόρα) Στράτου; 1903–1988) was a significant contributor to Greek Folk Dancing and Greek Folk Music. She issued one of the largest series of folk music in the world with 50 records and is the founder of the Greek Dances-Dora Stratou Society.

Her parents Maria Koromila and Nikolaos Stratos brought her up in the upper class urban environment of Athens at the beginning of the twentieth century, along with her brother Andreas Stratos.

Dora Stratou wrote the book Greek Traditional Dances in 1979. It was printed by the Greek Educational Books Organisation in Athens 1979. She worked with Simon Karras and other ethnomusicologists. She maintained a record of traditions, recorded music, filmed dancers, interviewed villagers on dance topics, costumes, folklore, etc.

In her book she begins with the quote: I write what my eyes have seen, what went through my mind and what my soul fell in love with... Her true passion for Greek Dance led her to establish one of the most unusual living museums in the world, The Greek Dances Theatre in Athens. This theatre group dances the regional dances in Greece, the same way as they were done hundreds of years ago and the dancers still wear the authentic costumes of yesteryear. It is one of the finest living museums in Greece and unique in the world.

The Greek Dances theater is nowadays a host for other folkloric groups both within Greece and Internationally. The President's office of the International Dance Council CID UNESCO is also run from the main offices of the Dora Stratou Theatre in Plaka.


The floghera (Greek: φλογέρα, pronounced [floˈʝeɾa]) is a type of flute used in Greek folk music. It is a simple end-blown bamboo flute without a fipple, which is played by directing a narrow air stream against its sharp, open upper end. It typically has seven finger holes.

Giannis Aggelakas

Giannis Aggelakas (Greek: Γιάννης Αγγελάκας) is a Greek singer, songwriter, and poet. Best known as the former lead singer of the Greek rock band Trypes, he maintains a productive solo career since 2000 having experimented with Greek folk music and collaborated with artists like Thanassis Papakonstantinou and Psarantonis. From 2004 onwards, he maintains his own record label, All together Now releasing his personal albums from there.


Kalamatianó (Greek: καλαματιανό) is a type of Greek folk music associated with a dance sharing its name. Originating in the southern Greek port city of Kalamata, its most recognizable feature is its asymmetrical time signature of 78 time, meaning that there are seven beats per measure, generally subdivided into two groups of 3 and 4 beats respectively.

Although this rhythmic structure is unfamiliar to westerners, it is thoroughly at home in Greece, Cyprus and the surrounding countries. The kalamatiano is a traditional line dance admitting of varying speeds. Probably the best known folk song in this genre is Mandili Kalamatiano (Μαντήλι Καλαματιανό).

An especially haunting example of the kalamatiano, M'ekapses geitonissa (Μ'έκαψες γειτόνισσα), was recorded for the National Geographic Society's groundbreaking Music of Greece album, released in 1968.


The karamuza (Greek: καραμούζα), is a type of Greek reed instrument, likely having descended from the aulos, a common instrument of ancient Greece and Rome. It is made from wood, with a typical length of about 60 cm. The karamuza was extant in Greek music long before the import of the klarino, and its usage is ubiquitous in Greek folk music, particularly in Thessalia, the Peloponnese, and Macedonia.


The karantouzeni (Greek: καραντουζένι) is a stringed instrument of the lute family resembling the tambouras, although larger and possessing four strings. It is typically used in the "rebetiko" revival movement of Greek folk music, a synthesis of the disparate remnants of urban Byzantine culture that was in many places subsumed by the predominant Turkish culture of the Ottoman Empire. It is usually tuned in the Ntouzeni (Greek: ντουζένι) style, much like the bouzouki, another pre-Ottoman revival instrument associated with the rebetiko movement..

Koza Mostra

Koza Mostra is a Greek rock band founded by Ilias Kozas in 2011. It consists of Ilias Kozas (vocals / classical, electric guitars), Stelios Tsompanidis (drums / backing vocs), Tasos Korkovelos (keyboards / backing vocs), Dimitris Christonis (bass guitar), Tasos Gentzis (Saxopphone / backing vocs) and Petros Lagontzos (elec. guitar / backing vocs). The band fuses ska, punk, and rock music together with the style of traditional greek folk music such as Macedonian Greek music and rebetiko. They are also known for performing in kilts or fustanella.They represented Greece in the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 with Agathonas Iakovidis and the song "Alcohol Is Free", coming 6th in the final.Their maiden album "Keep Up The Rhythm", that was released on 2013, reached triple Platinum certification from Greek music industry authority IFPI.

In late 2017 they released their second album entitled "Corrida".


The lalitsa (Greek: λαλίτσα) is a wind-blown musical instrument of Greece, widely used in Greek folk music. The flute it is Vessel flute, much like the floghera, though lalitses themselves have no finger holes.


Laïkó (Greek: λαϊκό τραγούδι, pronounced [laiˈko traˈɣuði], "song of the people"; "popular song", pl: laïká [tragoudia]), is a Greek music genre composed in Greek language in accordance with the tradition of the Greek people. Also called folk song or urban folk music (Gr: αστική λαϊκή μουσική or λαϊκά τραγούδια laïká tragoudia), in its plural form is a Greek music genre which has taken many forms over the years. Laïkó followed after the commercialization of Rebetiko music. It is strongly dominated by Greek folk music and it is used to describe Greek popular music as a whole. When used in context, it refers mostly to the form it took in the period from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Mariza Koch

Mariza Koch (Greek: Μαρίζα Κωχ; born March 14, 1944) is a Greek folk music singer who has recorded many albums since starting her career in 1971. On the wider stage she is best remembered for representing her homeland at the Eurovision Song Contest 1976 with the song Panayia Mou, Panayia Mou.

Music of Greece

The music of Greece is as diverse and celebrated as its history. Greek music separates into two parts: Greek traditional music and Byzantine music, with more eastern sounds. These compositions have existed for millennia: they originated in the Byzantine period and Greek antiquity; there is a continuous development which appears in the language, the rhythm, the structure and the melody. Music is a significant aspect of Hellenic culture, both within Greece and in the diaspora.

Spoon (musical instrument)

Spoons can be played as a makeshift percussion instrument, or more specifically, an idiophone related to the castanets. They are played by hitting one spoon against the other.


The tambourine is a musical instrument in the percussion family consisting of a frame, often of wood or plastic, with pairs of small metal jingles, called "zills". Classically the term tambourine denotes an instrument with a drumhead, though some variants may not have a head at all. Tambourines are often used with regular percussion sets. They can be mounted, for example on a stand as part of a drum kit (and played with drum sticks), or they can be held in the hands and played by tapping or hitting the instrument.

Tambourines come in many shapes with the most common being circular. It is found in many forms of music: Turkish folk music, Greek folk music, Italian folk music, classical music, Persian music, samba, gospel music, pop music, country music, and rock music.


The waltz (from German Walzer [ˈvalt͡sɐ̯]) is a ballroom and folk dance, normally in triple time, performed primarily in closed position.


Zeybeks or sometimes Zeibeks (Ottoman Turkish: زیبك‎, romanized: zeybek), were irregular militia and guerrilla fighters living in the Aegean Region of the Ottoman Empire from late 17th to early 20th centuries.

Τhe population in its constitution consisted of islamized Greeks. Before the Treaty of Lausanne and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, larger concentrations of Zeybeks could be found on the Aegean coast of western Anatolia, near the city of Smyrna. After the Greek invasion of Smyrna they fought against the Greek occupation of western Turkey. Following the formation of a Turkish national army, during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, most of them joined the regular forces and continued their resistance.

They also acted, traditionally, as protectors of village people against landlords, bandits and tax collectors. A leader of a Zeybek gang was called Efe and his soldiers were known as either Zeybeks or Kızan. Kızan was generally used for newly recruited or inexperienced Zeybeks. There was generally a tribe democracy in group. Decisions were made in a democratic way and after the decision was made, Efe had an uncontroversial authority. They followed definite rituals for all actions; for example, the promotion of a kızan to zeybek was very similar to Ahi rituals.

Zeybeks had a dance called Zeibekiko in which performers simulated hawks. Romantic songs about their bravery are still popular in Turkish and Greek folk music. The yatagan sword was their primary weapon, but most of them carried firearms as well.

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Regional scenes
String Instruments
Percussion instruments
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Traditional music of Europe
Sovereign states
States with limited
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