The Classic Sound of Mykonos

Mykonos is filled with music. But the classic sound of Mykonos might not be what you think it is. It’s well worth seeking out.

The “Tsambouna” — A classic sound of Mykonos 

For many of us, we hear the word “bagpipe” and we probably think of Scotland. But have a look around you when you are driving around this gorgeous island. Goats are everywhere. Goats’ horns and hides are not hard to come by. And shepherds have always had a lot of time on their hands.

There can be no purer sound — this is the authentic instrument of the island, coming from the land itself. The “Tsambouna”- the bagpipe of the Cycladic (and Dodecanese) islands, differs from its Scottish cousin. The tsambouna is simpler- it has a chanter (the part you blow into, with finger holes to play a melody), but it has no drone. The drone is the part of the northern bagpipe that sounds a constant harmonizing tone. Without this, the sound of the tsambouna is a little lighter, and maybe a little wilder, too- fitting for the life of the islands where it is played.

The “Tsambounia”

A ”Tsambounia” is a festival built around the instrument, a traditional evening of dance, all to the music of the tsambouna- one or more, accompanied by a drum and perhaps a bouzouki. But- as authentic as it is- the traditional is completely a part of contemporary lifestyle. At a tsambounia, you’ll find people of all ages- the octogenerians at the places of honor at the table, looking on, and dancers starting in their twenties.

Like any party, the tsambounia starts off with a little formality. People remain at their tables at the edges of the room. Those wanting to dance come to the center, and the musicians are seated along one wall. But this is infectious music; as the music heats up, so does the speed. The circle widens to fill the room. The musicians, also, can no longer keep still. They get up and play among the dancers and soon the whole room is united in the ecstasy of the moment.

A Part of Contemporary Culture

Dance – the expressive joy of dance – has a special place in the culture of Mykonos, as you quickly will see. All regions of Greece have folk dances, but here it seems to be somehow more essential- not just an expression of culture, not just something to preserve- but a vital part of contemporary life. The tsambouna itself is not “old” Mykonos. At a tsambounia, you might find players who are barely in their thirties. One young player even crafts the; he learned watching the older craftsmen of the island, and starts the old fashioned way- by tanning the goat hides himself (it takes about 25 days).

A History of Nightlife

Everyone knows that Mykonos is world famous for its night life. But if you come to a tsambounia, you’ll see that it’s not just the recent history, not just the heritage of the international set who discovered the Island’s beauty and made it the world’s most coveted destination. The fact is, having a great time has always been a native Mykonian specialty. To have a classic Mykonos experience, forgo the fabulous bars and clubs and djs- just for one night. Try to get an invitation to a Tsabounia instead.

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