The music of Cyprus

The heartbeat of a place lies in the traditional music of the area and the Mediterranean island of Cyprus can boast a style of music called Rebetiko that pulls on everyone’s heart strings. Imagine the classic black and white film Zorba the Greek with its soulful acoustic soundtrack, and you’ll get the idea.

Also known as the Greek Blues, the dream-like melodies of Rebetiko are performed by rebetes – who are the composers, players and singers.

Rebetiko was originally played in Tekes, a Turkish word meaning the Dervish quarters in Muslim monasteries. And this word eventually came to refer to the side rooms of coffee houses and tavernas where we’ll most likely discover a Rebetiko performance on a Cyprus holiday.

Why is it known as the Greek Blues?

In 1923 after the Turkey/Greece conflicts, many Greeks who previously lived in Asia Minor, also known as Turkey, found themselves as refugees in Greece bringing their music with them and playing it in the shanty towns that began to grow.

It’s through the music that they expressed themselves, singing about everything that affected them – poverty, family troubles, drink, love and death.

This style of music eventually spread to the cafes frequented by Greek Cypriots and to Cyprus. Rebetiko has seen many guises and even went out of fashion for a while but it was repatriated by a new wave of intellectuals and artists.

Nowadays it can be enjoyed in a taverna, café, or music venue, and if you’re lucky with views to the Mediterranean Sea, too.

Moving with the times

A three-piece acoustic band performs Rebetiko with stringed instruments including the bouzouki, baglamas and the guitar. It has a dreamy, almost spiritual sound quality to it. Traditionally, a man, who appeared almost in a trance state, would dance alongside until he becomes one with the Rebetiko.

This traditional music has been popularise or mix with other genres since the 1970s. Mihalis Violaris is a famous singer and composer who was part of the new wave of Greek Cypriot folk music. He even had a top-10 hit in 1973. A bit retro perhaps, but good music never goes out of style.

A more contemporary band is the dynamic trio Monsieur Doumani, enriching their world music by utilising the special character of Cypriot folk music. Keeping the old music alive in more modern and recognisable arrangements, melodies, rhythms and sounds is a trend adopted by many new bands.

Out and about

Music and dance generally play a big part of Cypriot culture and there is more variation these days with Western music also thrown in the mix – particularly rock music. The first rock era of Cyprus reared its head in the late 1970s, followed by a more established second rock era.

But music is a big part of their culture in general, with rock, or post-rock, and many other types of music including jazz, reggae and groove played in many of the fantastic live music venues throughout Cyprus.

Whether it’s a small artsy cafe or a concert hall, you’ll find good music everywhere, from Limassol, to Larnaca and Paphos – the latter of which was voted the European Capital of Culture 2017.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Paphos is rich in history and beauty, and among the programme of cultural events in 2017 will be music from around the world. This includes jazz, klezmer, tango and the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra will also be performing.

If you fancy a taste of true Cypriot culture, take your seats for the theatrical production Evagora of Cyprus, which looks at the island’s history from 410 BCE to 1960 CE, of course featuring traditional Cypriot music.