Psarantonis: Traditional Cretan Lyra Musician and His Legacy Transcending the European Borders

Not many musicians who choose traditional styles manage to claim international recognition and fame at Psarantonis’s level.

His lyra is on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona (USA). He played with some of the most prestigious musicians, including Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

He participated in numerous international festivals – the earliest in Cologne, hosted by the WDR radio channel. When Berlin celebrated 750 years since its founding in 1984, Psarantonis was there, representing Crete and Greece with traditional music. The public and critics alike acclaimed him during the “Journée des cinq continents” festival in Martigny, Switzerland, in 1999. He went on to gain standing ovations at the rock music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties in Brisbane, Australia, in 2009.

It’s pretty clear that his legacy transcends Europe’s borders. But who is this Cretan phenomenon who managed to take the sound of the Cretan lyra so far?

He is Antonis Xylouris. Psarantonis is just a nickname or a stage name if you prefer. He was born in Anogeia, a mountain village in the heart of Crete. He is the younger brother of the regrettably departed Nikos Xylouris (nicknamed Psaronikos), a famous Cretan musician whose name was known abroad since the 1966 Sanremo Music Festival, where he won the first prize.

Antonis Xylouris played along with his brother since he was nine years of age, but his claim to fame was hard to earn. Nikos Xylouris was too famous even in Crete and Greece to allow – although unwillingly – his younger brother to stretch his wings. So, Psarantonis had to wait, and unfortunately, his great chance only came after his brother’s passing in 1980.

However, to understand Psarantonis better, we must look not to family ties but the Cretan history in general and Anogeia in particular.

Anogeia was traumatized during the Turkish occupation. To give you a generic idea, here is a short passage from historian Stelios Spanakis:

“Anogia are referred to as a revolutionary place during the years of Turkish occupation. In 1822, when the Anogians were fighting the Turks in Messara, Serif Pasha found the village empty and put it to the torch.”

The village was a crucial part of the Great Cretan Revolution of 1866–1869, which attempted to free Crete from Ottoman rule. It managed to resist:

“In November 1866, during the Great Cretan Revolt, Resit Pasha tried to capture Anogia, but he was repulsed by the Anogians and other villagers from Mylopotamos,” according to historian Stelios Spanakis. Nevertheless, the Turks still burned the village in 1867.

The fights with the Turks and the villagers’ resistance continued until the establishment of the independent Cretan State in 1898. Still, trouble followed Anogeia as the Germans razed it to the ground in August 1944.

Anogeia raised like a phoenix from the ashes over and over. Its people didn’t lose their pride and their traditions. Instead, they kept on living, enduring the pain, and learning from the lessons history had to give them.

Psarantonis greatly understands history and tradition, and his music reflects it. He distinguished himself during his career as a master of the Cretan lyra and for his ability to bring other traditional instruments along to create unique, surprising melodies that celebrate Cretan life, history, ancient gods, mythology, nature, and love.

Every performance is unique – he is a master of improvisation. The artist prefers to sing, embracing a feeling or a passion that dominates the moment he takes the stage. His voice’s timbre adds another dimension to the performance and will transport you into the unknown, unexpected, and unforgettable.

Psarantonis is a virtuoso with an extensive discography counting thirty titles. If you care to hear him, look on Amazon for Psarantonis and pick a title. Any title. Search on YouTube and watch him perform. You will soon understand why he is nicknamed “the Jimmy Hendrix of the lyre.”

photo by monogramma

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