Popular music in Greece today.
A member of this community recently requested to share what type of music Greek people usually listen to. That stood as an inspiration to create a video on the topic of Greek music.
Since the history of Greece spans thousands of years, Helinika’s video is focusing on the types of music modern Greeks listen to, with a brief mention to ancient and Byzantine music. This video also includes a general categorization of the different music styles that originate from the country of Greece and its people.
Keep in mind that, although it would be preferred to play some of the most iconic Greek songs in the background, Helinika would have to acquire the rights to include all of these songs in this video. However, relevant songs and albums will be mentioned for you to explore later. You can quickly grab a pen and a paper to remember which artists and songs you should research later.
What Music Do Greek People Listen To? | Popular Music in Greece Today
Although Greek songs are without a doubt some of the biggest hits in Greece, the popular music in Greece today varies greatly.
Greek people listen to different genres of music and in different languages. For example, in the latest top 20 hits of Greece, the song “As It Was” from Harry Styles is included. Therefore, the popular music in Greece today doesn’t necessarily revolve around Greek music.
From what we know from social media, a big trend among teenagers is trap music; the branch or rap that talks about how it is to live on the streets and survive through illegal activities. The trap songs Greek teens listen to may or may not be produced in Greece. Regardless of whether these songs are produced locally, this genre is foreign to Greeks. Trap music originates from Atlanta in the United States and does not reflect the local culture or the values of the Greek society.
Another big trend among Greek teens is Korean Pop (K-Pop), with the group BTS having many Greek fans on their social media accounts. As with all trends, these two music genres may not survive for long, while other foreign music genres are considered timeless. Rock, Jazz, and English-speaking pop music have passed the test of time and are still some of the most beloved foreign music genres among Greeks. But no matter how universally relevant they can be, international music categories cannot compete Greek genres.
It is safe to say that most Greeks prefer Greek lyrics, references to Greek cultural norms (such as kaimos, the bitter-sweet taste of emotional pain) and melodies created by traditional Greek musical instruments, such as the bouzouki, the Cretan lyra, the santouri, the kithara, and the harp. All stemming from Greece’s ancient or medieval past.
What Is the Music of Greece? | Greek Music
When talking about Greek music it is important to define what… Greek music actually is. One definition would be “the music that is produced by the Greek music industry”. But, what if some of the main record labels in Greece are currently focusing on releasing music that is inspired by foreign trends, such as trap music. Is trap part of Greek music? We all know that this is not the case. And let’s not forget that the music behind the “Dance of Zorba”, known as sirtaki, was composed by the great Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis but released by the 20th Century Fox Records from the United States. Based on that definition, the “most Greek melody” in the world is not… Greek.
Another definition would be “the music produced by Greeks” or “the music produced with the help of Greek instruments” or “songs with Greek-speaking lyrics”. But none of these can define Greek music precisely. For example, when Nana Mouskouri sang the “White Rose of Athens” in multiple languages, based on the above definitions, the song cannot be considered as part of Greek music. This conclusion seems illogical.
Helinika’s definition of Greek music is associated with the essence of the Greek culture, Hellenism. Any song or music composed by a Greek and/or with Greeks or Greece in mind can fall under the category of Greek music. If a song consists mostly of Greek melodies created with the use of widely used Greek musical instruments, can also be considered “Greek Music”.
Based on this definition, the song “Orpheus”, for example, a masterpiece that resulted from the collaboration of The New York Rock&Roll Ensemble and the great Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis in the 1970s, can be considered “Greek”. Its lyrics are English-speaking and Manos Chatzidakis composed it in New York, while it was recorded at the Atlantic Recording Studios of the same city. But the song is inspired by the tragic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and its dramatic composition and lyrics can only bring Greek drama into mind. The latter is emphasized by the so-called stichomythia between the members of the ensemble. The repetition of certain lines creates a form of choral response – how much more dramatic could this be? And for all these reasons, Orpheus is part of Greek music.
Greek music for Helinika is therefore analyzed based on its metaphysical sense. Beyond time, geography, and nationality. Greek music is Orpheus playing his lyre in the Underworld to convince Persephone to bring his lover back to life. Greek music are the melodic tunes of the laterna (Greek barrel piano), played somewhere in Plaka, Athens, by a street musician. It is the song of the sirens calling for Odysseus or the psalms of the monks on Hagio Oros. Greek music is the clapping sound of Greeks of Pontus dancing to their traditional rhythms. Or the ones of the kouretes dancing to the cries of Zeus, protecting him from Chronus. Greek music are the proud songs of the kleftes from a besieged castle in the Peloponnese. The voices of the chorus echoing from the ruins of Epidauros. Now, then, in the future.
Greek Music Genres | Different Types of Greek Music
Music is an art form and singers, and songwriters are creative people who can’t be thrown into boxes. Therefore, Greek musical categories are quite flexible.
The music of Greece today is usually separated into two main categories:
- Laiko Tragoudi (The Music of the People) – elafry vs. vary vs. skyladiko
- Entechno Tragoudi (The Artistic Music)
Although many artists and songs can fit into both categories, Laiko Tragoudi refers to the folk music of the cities. Many believe that it is the continuation of the older, traditional folk songs known as “dimotika tragoudia”. If you have watched the video on the cursed bridge of Arta, then you may know what a Greek traditional folk song is. These songs usually revolve around a story, perhaps an urban legend, which is brought into life with the help of the santouri, the violin, the lyre or the clarinet.
Just like the Homeric hymns were narrated orally and helped the adventures of Odysseus survive throughout the years, we now know of the beliefs of the Akrites, the protectors of the borders of the Byzantine Empires, or the stories of the Klephts, the mountain folk fighting against the Ottomans.
All thanks to these pre-modern Greek folk songs that often differed in style from place to place. A folk song from Crete would sound quite different from a folk song from Hepirus and so on and so forth. If you have ever attended any traditional festival (panigiri) in the Greek countryside, you may have heard or danced to the local folk music of that region; Ikariotikos is the dance of the island of Ikaria, while Pentozalis is a dance from the island of Crete.
Another influence for laiko tragoudi is the rebetiko musical movement. It started in the Greek working class neighborhoods of port cities such as Piraeus and Smyrna at the start of the 20th Century. The Greeks of Smyrna are especially attributed for developing this musical genre, which often talks about the struggles of poverty, addiction, grief, and unrequited love. It was also often associated with the sub-culture of “magkas”.
Magkas was the prideful man who liked to drink, smoke – different types of smoke-, gamble, pay for love, and prove his masculinity by getting into fights. Due to all the above, he often ended-up in prison, where he’d spend his time coming up with songs with other criminals. The magkes wore mustaches and their sub-cultural movement saw a peek before and during World War One.
As you can imagine, rebetiko was not favored by the lawful and well-respected families of Greece. It was the composer and singer Vasilis Tsitsanis who popularized the Greek musical genre, with other important artists of rebetiko being Soteria Bellou, Yorgos Zabetas, Grigoris Bithikotsis, and Markos Vamvakaris. Playing the traditional Greek instrument known as bouzouki was a big part of the rebetiko movement and generally of Laiko Tragoudi.
With rebetiko and traditional folk songs being its predecessors, Laiko Tragoudi is perhaps the most popular Greek music genre of our times. It is often split into two categories based on its… heaviness. The most painful the subjects on the songs and the deeper the voice of the singer, the “heavier” (vary) the Laiko Tragoudi. For example, Vasilis Karras is known for his deep singing voice and his songs that express people’s deepest feelings of kaimos.
But there are “lighter” versions of laiko tragoudi. You may have heard of Konstantinos Argyros, Antonis Remos, and Nikos Oikonomopoulos. For the past two decades, these three Greek singers are perhaps some of the popular among the general Greek population. The songs and melodies of “elafry” laiko (light laiko) have a more uplifting tone to them when compared to “vary” laiko. From elafry laiko, we can derive another category: Greek laiko-pop. If you have heard hits from singers such as Despoina Vandi, Anna Vissi, Josephine, and some older songs from Eleni Foureira, then you already know what I am talking about. This type of music is a combination of western pop music and Greek elafry laiko, with the bouzouki still playing in the background.
Keep in mind that vary laiko is not meant to make people feel negative emotions but rather to help them process negative life events, such as a divorce or a forced move to another city. If you have watched Helinika’s videos on the Greek culture, then you may remember that Greeks have a healthy approach towards negative life events. Instead of forcing themselves to be positive, they allow themselves to feel grief and express it openly.
Lastly, if you are very familiar with the modern Greek culture, you may have heard of the word “skyladiko” (of the dog). This is a negative word that is often used to describe a branch of Laiko Tragoudi. They are considered songs of lower artistic value and quality, while there are specific night clubs that often play only these types of songs. These are also known as “skyladika”. Places with bad stage lighting, microphones of low quality, less-skilled singers, semi-naked dancers, and visitors who often throw baskets full of carnation flowers on stage.
Perhaps the Greek songs and singers with an international recognition are the ones of Entechno Tragoudi. These are songs of greater artistic value, with a lot of work and experimentation being put in the composition of the music and the lyrics. Some of the songs are what we call in Greek “melopoihmena” – poems that were turned into songs with the help of talented composers.
For example, the song “To Parapono”, sang by Eleutheria Arvanitaki, is based on the poem with the same title by Odysseas Elytis, a world-renown poet, awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature. The poem speaks of the human condition and the inevitable regret of not following one’s heart’s desires. The process of questioning the path we followed and whether we experienced life as our genuine selves or as the reflection of the image others projected upon us. A feeling perhaps everyone experiences once in their lifetime.
“Εδώ στου δρόμου τα μισά
έφτασε η ώρα να το πω
Άλλα είν’ εκείνα που αγαπώ
γι’ αλλού γι’ αλλού ξεκίνησα
Στ’ αληθινά στα ψεύτικα
το λέω και τ’ ομολογώ
Σαν να ‘μουν άλλος κι όχι εγώ
μες στη ζωή πορεύτηκα
Όσο κι αν κανείς προσέχει
όσο κι αν τα κυνηγά
Πάντα πάντα θα ‘ναι αργά
δεύτερη ζωή δεν έχει.”
“Here, half-way along the road
The time has come for me to say
Other things are the ones I love
I set out for something completely different.
Amid the true and the false
I hereby confess
I was like someone else and not me
Acting in life.
No matter how careful you are
No matter how hard you search
It will always be too late
There is no second go at life.”
Another example is perhaps the song based on one of the most emotional poems of Greek literature by Myrtiotissa. The music is composed by Hadjidakis and the lyrics are expressed by Flery Ntantonaki. It starts with some of the most powerful lyrics about love.
“ Σ’ αγαπώ, δεν μπορώ
τίποτ’ άλλο να πω
πιο βαθύ, πιο απλό,
“I love you, I cannot
anything else say,
as deep, as simple,
If you are interested in listening to Greece but also understanding the essence of Greece, its people and their culture, then the music of Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis come to mind who both come from an educational background related to classical music.
If you know the music of Zorba the Greek, then you already know the lyricist and composer Mikis Theodorakis. His songs usually revolve around poetry – Greek or foreign. Manos Hadjidakis is one of the most globally recognized Greek composers, winning the sympathy of all Greeks, regardless of their background, education, class. In 1960, he won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the song “Never on Sunday” for the movie with the same title which has been recommended in Helinika’s respective video.
As with other artists of the music genre, Hadjidakis used Greece’s ancient, medieval, and recent past – its myths and poems- to create phenomenal music. At the same time, Hadjidakis is remembered by all Greeks thanks to his masterpieces for some iconic Greek movies, such as “Alice in the Navy” (Aliki sto Nautiko).
Other prominent composers of artistic Greek music are Mimis Plessas, Thanos Mikroutsikos, Manos Loizos, and Stavros Xarchakos, among others. Another Greek prominent composer is Vangelis (Evangelos Odysseas Papathanasiou). Although he is not officially considered part of the entechno musical genre, he is one of the most talented Greek artists to have ever existed. You have probably heard the soundtrack of Chariots of Fire. The Academy-Award winning score was composed by Vangelis, who has been behind many other phenomenal soundtracks, such the one of Blade Runner. Another thing you should know about Vangelis is that he had released a choral symphony named Mythodea for NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission. Its premiere in Athens was truly spectacular, waking up the spirits of the past.
When it comes to singers of entechno tragoudi, it is worth mentioning that these are usually called “ermineutes” (exetutants), instead of “tragoudistes” (singers), since they are called to express deep emotions, just like an actor on stage. Therefore, world-renown ermineutes of that era are Haris Alexiou, Maria Farantouri, and Nana Mouskouri among others.
Within entechno, there are various other categories. For example, Dionysis Savvopoulos is known as the creator of the “new wave” era of Greek artistic songs in the 1960s, mixing the style of the western music scene of that era with the instruments and melodies of traditional Greek music. Arleta and Mariza Koch are part of this musical sub-genre as well.
Today, there are many more artists who belong in this Greek musical genre, with many of them experimenting with various others musical waves. Eleutheria Arvanitaki, Alkinoos Ioanidis, Sokratis Malamas, Thanassis Papakonstantinou, Nikos Papazoglou, Alkistis Protopsalti, Lavrentis Mahairitsas, Giannis Haroulis, Nikos Portokaloglou, and Pantelis Thalassinos, who has somehow merged Greek traditional music with entechno, are some of the most well-known contemporary artists of this genre. Unfortunately, some of them, including Nikos Papazoglou, no longer live.
Today, there are some new artists who have emerged in the scene. Although they may be experimenting with their musical styles, evolving and changing their direction, they are very promising and are recommended by Helinika. These include Marina Satti, known for her angelic voice, the band Usurum, and the duo Kadinelia. All of the above pay tribute to the traditional music of Greece, while experimenting with modern and foreign musical styles.
Famous Greek Songs and Artists | Greek Songs and Singers
Here are some important Greek musicians. Keep in mind that many of these singers fall into multiple categories.
- Mikis Theodorakis
- Manos Hadjidakis
- Thanos Mikroutsikos
Greek Artistic Singers (Ermineutes) of Entechno and Folk/Rebetiko/Laiko
- Haris Alexiou
- Nana Mouschouri
- Maria Farantouri
- Flery Dadonaki
- Yorgos Dalaras
- Dionysis Savvopoulos
- Miltos Paschalidis
- Eleutheria Arvanitaki
- Eleni Tsaligopoulou
- Stamatis Kraounakis
- Socrates Malamas
- Thanasis Papakonstantinou
- Nikos Papazoglou
- Pyx Lax
- Alkistis Protopsalte
- Alkinoos Ioannidis
- Eleonora Zouganeli
- Yannis Charoulis
- Yannis Kotsiras
- Pantelis Thalassinos
- Nikos Portokaloglou
- Foivos Delivorias
- Orpheas Peridis
Best Greek Singers of Laiko
- Dimitris Mitropanos
- Stelios Kalantzidis
- Paschalis Terzis
- Vassilis Tsitsanis
- Giorgos Zambetas
- Grigoris Bithikotsis
- Sotiria Bellou
- Tolis Voskopoulos
- Vasilis Karas
Greek Popular Singers of Elafry Laiko & Laiko-Pop Tragoudi
- Despoina Vandi
- Anna Vissi
- Eleni Foureira
- Konstantinos Argyros
- Nikos Vertis
- Antonis Remos
- Sakis Rouvas
- Yorgos Mazonakis
- Marina Satti
Best Greek Songs and Music to Explore the Greek Culture
- Manos Xatzidakis – Gioconda’s Smile
- Eleutheria Arvanitaki – To Parapono
- Dionysis Savopoulos – As Arhisoun oi Horoi
- Haris Alexiou – To Tango Tis Nefelis
- Giorgos Zambetas/Mikis Theodorakis – Sirtaki
- Dimitris Mitropanos – Rosa
- Nikos Papazoglou – Augoustos
- Pantelis Thalassinos – Ta Smyrneika Tragoudia
- Nikos Portokaloglou – Ta Karavia Mou Kaio
- Yannis Kotsiras – Hantra Thalassia
- Vasilis Tsitsanis – Synnefiasmeni Kyriaki
Ancient and Byzantine Music
Music has always been important in Greece. In antiquity, we know of talented musicians, such as Orpheus, gods of Music, such as Apollo, and a Muse named Euterpe who brought inspiration to musicians. We know that hymns, which addressed the gods, were types of songs. The same goes for Paeans and Dithyrambs. We know that epic poems were narrated aloud in a melodic way. And we also do know that ancient Greeks used a variety of instruments, from the lyre, the cithara, and the aulos to Pan’s flute and tympana. In Byzantium, the ecclesiastical forms of music flourished – in other words, religious chants using the harp and the lyra, laouto and tambouras, defi and flogera. Greek music today is a descendant of the ancient hymns and the Byzantine chants. In fact, the most popular Greek instrument, the bouzouki, is a descendant of the ancient pandoura, later known as tampouras.
Marialena Perpiraki is a journalist and writer from Athens, Greece. In 2020, she founded Helinika as a cross-media platform.
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