In present-day Cyprus one can easily come across traditional music on the radio, the TV, or the internet. On a daily basis the media feature elderly men and women singing, children dancing in traditional costume, actors and politicians asked to improvise a rhyming couplet on the spot, and modern TV presenters performing folksongs on live shows. More and more young people study traditional music in music schools and universities, and more and more people express their interest in the songs and dances of the island, which are often presented as a primordial tradition that has no beginning, no middle, and no end. One could certainly argue that traditional music has never before been so popular in Cyprus. But how was this body of recordings and transcriptions that people in Cyprus are exposed to daily – in other words, what we now call “Cypriot traditional music” – created? What were the social and political circumstances in Cyprus during the period when the interest in traditional music emerged? When did this corpus of songs and dances begin to be seen as concrete and unchangeable? Are the origins of Cypriot traditional music indeed lost “in the depths of time,” as the media often puts it, or is this type of music something that, in its current form, developed in very precise stages? These are some of the questions that this workshop will attempt to answer. Together with these, the workshop will also reflect on the challenges, difficulties and joys of writing a narrative history of Cypriot traditional music in the twentieth century. 

Nicoletta Demetriou is Research Fellow in Ethnomusicology and Life Writing at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, and Tutor in Narrative Non-Fiction on the University of Oxford’s Master’s program in Creative Writing. She has written on Cypriot traditional music, its history and historiography, and is co-editor of Music in Cyprus (Routledge 2015). She has also led the British Academy-funded project ‘The Cypriot Fiddler’, which resulted in an ethnographic documentary on the last surviving Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot traditional fiddlers (The Cypriot Fiddler; 2016). Nicoletta is currently completing a Greek-language book based on this project, while also working on a critical edition concerning the tradition of tsiattista (Cypriot improvised rhyming couplets), funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Cyprus. The first of three volumes was published in May 2018; the second will be published in spring 2019. Nicoletta is also an active performer of Cypriot folksong, and has sung and recorded both in Cyprus and abroad. 

Respondent: Gavin Steingo, Department of Music

Supported by The Christos G. and Rhoda Papaioannou Modern Greek Studies Fund