Holst-Warhaft Gail
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Music, dances and bitter-sweet songs of the Aegean islands

Nisiotika is a book about the living tradition of Greek island music. Nisiotika derives from the Greek word for island, nisi, and has come to describe in particular the music and songs that are played and sung at festivals and celebrations on the islands of the Aegean. It is music to be danced to, and, as revealed in this book, in traditional celebrations with live music it is the dancers who call the tune.

The songs tell of the sea and people whose lives are bound up with often dangerous sea trades, of love and of pretty girls, sometimes of historical events, but also of sadness and separation, of women who wait in fear for their husbands and sons to return from long voyages or faraway lands. Most of the songs are not very old and date probably no earlier than the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, although they borrow musical and poetic motifs from older forms of Greek folk song. The most common instrumental accompaniment to them is the violin, often played together with a laouto (folk lute), but the tsambouna (bagpipes) and the santouri (hammered dulcimer) are also very popular. Like the rembetika, the songs of the underground and of urban Greece, the nisiotika only became pan-Hellenic music after the islanders emigrated, initially to the US and then later to Athens. It was then that their songs were recorded and a wider audience for their music was created.

Building on the work of pioneering musicologists and through independent research into the songs themselves, recordings and interviews, Gail Holst-Warhaft has turned the same discerning and loving eye on nisiotika as she did in her now classic book on rembetika, Road to Rembetika.

The text is richly illustrated with photographs and includes a collection of the songs in Greek with English translation en face.

Cover art by Irene Taptas.

'‘For thousands of years young men and women have danced beneath the burgeoning trees in Spring — beneath the poplars, firs, oaks, planes, and slim date palms — and they’ll go on dancing for thousands more years, their faces consumed with desire.’'
Nikos Kazantzakis

‘'How can we know the dancer from the dance?’'
W. B. Yeats

‘'The dance, of all the arts, is the one that most influences the soul.’'

‘'Dance till the stars come down from the rafters, dance, dance, dance until you drop.’'
W. H. Auden

‘'Music gives wings to the feet of the dancers.’'
Alkis Raftis


  • Acknowledgements
  • Editorial note
  • 1 What are the nisiotika and where do they belong
  • 2 Recording the tradition: Aegina, Skopelos, Skyros
  • 3 Nisiotika in the recording studios: USA, Athens; the Hadzidakis and Konitopoulos families, and Yiannis Parios
  • 4 The blond girl from Santorini
  • 5 The island violin: Kythira, Amorgos, Kythnos
  • 6 Kalymnos: sponge-divers, dance, and the diaspora
  • 7 The Eastern Aegean: Lesvos, Rhodes, Chios, Oinousses, and the Asia Minor coast
  • 8 'Softly I tread the earth’: three masterpieces of the nisiotika
  • 9 The songs
    Links to videos
    Alphabetical index of song titles
  • Index

Denise Harvey publisher

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