For Cretans, and lovers of music, Feb. 8 is a sad day. It marks the anniversary of the death of one of Crete’s greatest singers, Nikos Xilouris, whose talent made him known on the international stage.
During the early 1970s, Xylouris’ voice became identified not only with Cretan music but with the youth of Greece who rebelled against the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. His music and lyrics beautifully captured the Greek psyche during those troubled times, gaining him the title of Archangel of Crete.
Xylouris, who was given the family nickname Psaronikos, embodied and helped create a new style of popular music which adapted verses of famous Greek poets. He incorporated well-known poems into the musical genre called mantinada.
The emergence of this music during those dark political times was lifting and inspiring to Greeks, much as Sofia Vembo had galvanized the Greek populace during the Second World War.
Nikos Xilouris was born in Anogeia and was the older brother of two other great Cretan musicians, Antonis, nicknamed Psarantonis, and Yiannis, called Psaroyiannis.
His early years were filled with a patriotic zeal for the nation of Greece. He witnessed the Battle of Crete and saw the Nazi atrocities on the island.
Xilouris acquired his first lyre, or lyra, the three-stringed Cretan fiddle which is supported on the knee while playing, at the age of twelve. He immediately displayed great potential in performing local Cretan folk music.
A turning point in Xilouris’ career occurred with a recording he made in 1958. He first performed outside Greece in 1966, winning first prize in the San Remo folk music festival soon after. In 1967 the musician he established the first Cretan music hall, Erotokritos, in the capital, Heraklion.
The recording of “Anyfantou” in 1969 was a huge success nationally. Xilouris soon was invited to perform in Athens, at the Konaki folk music hall. The Greek capital then became his new permanent residence.
In 1971, Xilouris was honored by the Academy Charles Cross of France for his performance on the Cretan “Rizitika Songs” album along with the musician G. Markopoulos.
The beloved musician, Psaronikos, the Archangel of Crete, died at the age of 44 from cancer on February 8,1980. A unique voice of Crete which will never be silenced because of his huge body of recorded work.