Walking in the city of Corfu and wandering in its famous cantonments you suddenly hear musical instruments… guitar and accordion… and something like a choir… you are surprised to find where this sound comes from… it is as if a neighbourhood has gathered in song, as if there is a celebration. Or another event, perhaps? And coming out of one cantonment, entering another, you see them! The wandering minstrels of Corfu! They are the so-called “Kantadori” of Corfu. Or maybe “Troubadours“?
Groups of people dressed in traditional costumes take to the streets and offer unexpected and unique moments of entertainment to residents and visitors with their music and songs. You do not come across them only in cantons but also at weddings, festivals and many kinds of events, they are, in short, an integral part of the cultural heritage of the island.
The Wandering Minstrels of Corfu, back in time
The Ionian Islands are islands of culture with several peculiarities, since they knew little about the Ottoman occupation, and this only in Lefkada. Corfu fell under the ‘Most Peaceful Republic of Venice’, in 1386. Thus, the Italian influence in the music of the Ionian Islands is obvious and strong.
The Ionian Islands came into contact with the art, literature and music of the West therefore the musical style that developed, even in folk music, largely followed the laws of western harmony.
The chant is an excellent example of Ionian folk urban song. Its name comes from the Italian verb "cantare" meaning ‘I sing’.
The chants are characterized by western polyphony and each aria is performed by many persons and not as a solo. Many were created by composers from the Ionian School of Music and the Modern Greek National School of Music, such as D. Lavragas, while the words were written by poets such as D. Solomos.
The chants were usually accompanied by guitars and mandolins while the groups often sang them without the accompaniment of instruments. In Greece it probably spread in 1863, when Mainland Greece was united with the Ionian Islands. It grew rapidly and became very popular in urban centres. The Athenian chant was associated with the romantic poets of the late 19th and early 20th century, such as G. Drosinis and A. Valaoritis. Athenian chants continued to be written until the 1930’s. Until about 1940 and before World War II, it was customary for young men to walk in the neighbourhoods and moonlight serenade the ladies. The chant is melodic and pleasant.
The songs always resonated with the same theme: – love, flowers, natural beauty, the sea and the beauty of life. Very rarely did they report illness, death or controversy about life. After World War II, the mood of the world changed. The chant belonged to the past. In the tavernas, there were still a few remnants of chants, but with very few guitarists playing in the groups. Even in these tavernas, music began to be sought that was closer to reality. Thus, the cultural art of chanting began to be forgotten.
Over time, however, several artists tried to revive the chant, but with very little success. Its popularity never reached the level it had once achieved. Looking for information about them, I read somewhere the term “Troubadours of Love”. Where does this event have its roots? In medieval Western Europe, changes in the poetic expression of the time were significant. It was then that the “troubadours” made their appearance in Europe; the wandering minstrels who helped spread folk music from place to place.
The troubadours, inspirers and creators of this current trend, were of noble origin, educated, mainly lyric poets, singers and musicians, while other class origins were not excluded. They lived around the 11th century in southern France; southern Loire and especially in Provence. They sang about the ennobling effects of love (amour courtois), giving it a different intonation, thus shaping its resonance as a desire. They praised women, but portrayed them as approachable.
Therefore, love is idealized and so the lady of the medieval court is portrayed as clearly superior; an angelic creature. The troubadours also praise courtly love, according to which the lover who embraces the ideals of courtly love idealizes the object of his desire, his beloved, he adores her and succumbs to all her whims, usually it is the love of a single knight for another man’s woman, as is the case, for example, in the story of Lancelot and Guinevere.
The name of "troubadours" comes from the term "trobar" and means ‘to find’, in this case to invent or compose, which is directly related to the meaning of a poet.
Thus, they were considered inventors of this new kind of music in the specific time period. Specifically, the name troubadour means: search for something that is hidden. On the other hand, the respective French musicians who lived and acted in northern France from 1150 to 1300 were called jongleurs, while their songs were distinguished mainly for their epic character while narrating the various military operations and crusades of the time.
Consequently, the songs of the troubadours had a strong lyrical element, while the jongleurs were distinguished mainly for their epic character. The difference between troubadours and jongleurs lies in the fact that the former lived in southern France, which, due to its location, was less exposed to various raids. They were far more distinguished, had a higher standard of living and a much more refined culture.
So a brief summation of what to expect should you come across these happy groups of people; men and women wearing traditional Corfiot costumes, singing tenderly and melodically, usually accompanied by instruments such as guitar, accordion or even violins and emotively stirring with their characteristic voices.
Kefalonia Today (2013). “Επτανησιακές καντάδες, αριέττες και αρέκια“, https://www.kefaloniatoday.com/kefalonitika/afieromata/eptanisiakes-kantades-ariettes-ke-arekia-74129.html
Historical Quest. “Τροβαδούροι – οι περιπλανώμενοι μουσικοί της μεσαιωνικής Δ. Ευρώπης“, https://www.historical-quest.com/ekdoseis/109-archive/mesaioniki-istoria/294-oi-trobadouroi-oi-periplanomenoi-mousikoi-tis-dytikis-eurwpis.html