An Irishman treasures the music of Crete

Ross Daly, a master of the Cretan lyra, who will perform at WOMADelaide talks to Fotis Kapetopoulos.

Ross Daly is a captain of modal music traditions that pass through millennia and cultures connecting Greece, India, and the Balkans and he is here in March for WOMADelaide.

“I began 35 years ago and in the context of the study of modal composition I still engage in the music of India, Afghanistan and Turkey. I came across the Cretan lyra which I happen to like very much.” Ross Daly

I first saw him in the 90s playing with George Xylouris and local Celtic Greek band Xenos.

Daly’s lyra was like hearing god’s breath – melismatic cycles ascending from a Byzantine past – yet, we were in a dank smoky pub in one of Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

George Xylouris, who spent much time in Australia and is accompanying Ross Daly on his Australian tour, is a member of a Cretan musical dynasty.

The Xylouris clan includes the great late Nikos Xylouris and his brother Psarandonis (Antonis Xylouris).

“George is my neighbour, he lives down the road in the Houdetsi,” says Daly.

Houdetsi has been the epicentre of the Irishman’s world for 35 years, a Cretan village 20 kilometres south of the island’s capital Herakleion.

Houdetsi is where Daly established Labyrinth, an institution dedicated to the study of the world’s modal musical traditions. It is a space where he and his peers organise seminars and master-classes led by some of the world’s greatest master-musicians.

Daly is not someone who takes on the role of the ‘other,’ he is not a Cretan lyra player.

“I never saw myself as becoming a Cretan lyra player, of stepping from one identity into another,” he says.

Daly simply wanted to learn the lyra, “in the context of playing the lyra, one of the traditions you study is the Cretan, which is the largest but not only tradition.”

He is a member with more or less seamless musical tradition that links his own Celtic traditions to Greek, Turkish and Indian musical ones.

“I began 35 years ago and in the context of the study of modal composition I still engage in the music of India, Afghanistan and Turkey. I came across the Cretan lyra which I happen to like very much.”

He did his “apprenticeship “, in 1975 with the late Kostas Mountakis, one of the greatest exponents of the Cretan lyra.

Daly explored the various traditions of lyra playing in “Turkey, Bulgaria and other regions of Greece”, in order to draw on them so as to create new music.

He plays with Turkish, Irish, Greek, or Indian musicians and this openess defines the way Daly plays Cretan lyra.

“Nationalism in music doesn’t make sense, especially in the region where I live,” says Daly adding, “The area where I live, we are surrounded by countries with ancient names like Greece, Egypt, Persia, India, and Syria, yet they are all younger than Australia as nation states.”

Greece was in bloody negotiations over borders from the 19th to the 20th century, Egypt, Syria and India had brutal national births in the post war period.

“Culturally these people have lived intertwined for thousands of years and that has been responsible for creating something extremely beautiful, that is why it is important that inter-cultural exchange continue today.”

He talks about Iranian, Indian, African and Turkish artists playing with local Cretan musicians and enlightening young people who “see and hear something they know and understand”.

He tries not to be too cynical towards so called, ‘world music’, particularly when he sees much of it as increasingly becoming, “an offshoot of the pop music industry with an emphasis on party music”.

On the whole though Daly sees it as a “ positive trend”, marking the end of an “extreme cultural arrogance on the part of the western world.”

Ross Daly has played at some of the of most important venues and festivals such as the Madrid Summer Festival, the Manresa Festival in Barcelona, Athens Concert Hall, National Concert Hall in Dublin, Konzerthaus Mozart Saal, in Vienna, the San Francisco World Music Festival, USA (2005), for the State Theatre Company in Adelaide and in 2004 he was the artistic director of Crete, Music Crossroads Heraklion’s cultural program for the Athens Olympics.

The Irishman who has made Crete his home will be here for WOMADelaide March 5 -8

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