Not quite knowing how to begin, I begin slowly, the way one might begin a song. You look over at your fellow musicians to see if they are ready. (listening?)…
I should say here that I do not know the men of Xylouris White, lute player Giorgis Xylouris and drummer Jim White. Not personally, not in the way many of the people writing these pieces know their subjects. I have listened to their records and I have twice seen them perform. I can attest to their individual mastery of their instruments. I do not use the word lightly (I am trying to speak clearly). Too much writing about music is simply hype and an abuse of adjectives. It can be an obstacle to hearing.
During the performance, the musicians will look at one another. It is a hard look to describe, appearing oddly removed from the music being made, which is thrilling. It is a wry look, often, and affectionate. It is more the look of a man listening than that of a man speaking.
What is being heard? Many of the melodies are based on traditional Cretan songs, a tradition of which I know nothing beyond what I have heard in the music of Giorgis and his family. (There are generations of Xylouris musicians).
To speak of folk traditions is to risk romanticization and exoticism and nationalism. To dismiss them is to adopt one of modern capitalism’s more effective methods of destruction. (My thoughts are formed here in a Canada not quite yet grappling with its colonial heritage. This might not translate.) Traditions are actions that have meaning when they are connected to the lived experience of people.
Xylouris White are performing. Where many drummers would evoke a steady click of time passing or aspire to the regimented power of a machine, Jim White plays in a rolling present.
Giorgis Xylouris is singing in deep clear voice in a language I do not understand. I do not know if it is an old song, or if it speaks directly of the mountains, eagles, rocks, and goats for which the songs are named.If the past is in this music, it is there in the same way as in a body: as blood, scar, and ability. It is there as it in a birthday or a wedding or a ritual feast.
The music is alive. It sweats. I stand up! I start dancing!