Ioannis Skoulas and the music of Karpathos / « Back

Ioannis Skoulas, multi-instrumentalist and cultural treasure of Crete and Karpathos, now available for US performances in 2018.

The folk music of Crete, the largest Greek island, is dominated by one instrument: the lyra.  It is a pear shaped bowed instrument that emerged from the Byzantine Empire, roughly 900 CE.  On Crete, it is typically played with steel strings and with the accompaniment of the Cretan laouto, a four course, double strung lute. Cretan lyra is heavily influenced by the European violin. Cretan music–although stubbornly traditional–has experienced significant change over the last couple hundred years.

But off the Eastern coast of Crete is the island of Karpathos.  There, the lyra has been played as accompaniment to the bagpipes or the voice for over one thousand years.  The Karpathos lyra is strung with gut strings and tuned to the lead singer’s voice or the bagpipe. The music of Karpathos is a living fossil.  

Karpathos is an island of poets where a special form of semi-improvised song has emerged.  On the island, there are songs called mantinades that are formed of fifteen syllable rhyming verses. They are sung during village festivals and weddings and they test the wit and speed of the individual singers.

The music of Karpathos is a zealously guarded treasure–it a cultural asset to the people who play and sing.  They made it themselves. And they are fiercely proud of it.

Ioannis Skoulas, 32, is himself a cultural treasure, a musical asset of both Crete and Karpathos.  He learned his music from both sides of his family: his mother’s side is from Karpathos and has at least five generations of musicians before him. His father is from Crete where that side of the family is descended from the most esteemed musicians of the region: Anogeia, Skoulas and Xylouris.

For his US appearances Ioannis will present the unique music of Karpathos as a primarily trio.  He will alternate between playing lyra, laouto, and bagpipe with singing. Ioannis plays all three instruments: lyra, bagpipe, and laouto very skillfully but also with an undeniable passion that will bring this ancient music to life for audiences young and old.

This is exhilarating and ecstatic music that is also perfect for dancing. The main dance of Karpathos is the Pano Horos. Ioannis and his group can teach this simple dance, as well as a couple others, on the spot, as an added experiential bonus to their performances.


Karpathos is an island of poets, where they speak to each other with 15 syllable rhyming verses, and during festivals, celebrations, and weddings they sing to each other with poems improvised on the spot.  This always follows a topic of discussion where it is considered a mistake to change the subject too fast. Despite the poor quality, the following video from a wedding on Karpathos shows the participants singing their wishes; a very touching moment.

Here is another recent video from an inspired mantinades event with Ioannis playing laouto and his cousin George on lyra.

The following video from Karpathos shows children doing the Pano Horos dance.



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