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The Black Mountains' Lament

Singer and song collector Sam Lee travels to the mountains of Epirus in Greece and encounters the haunting sound of Europe's oldest folk music.

Singer and song collector Sam Lee travels to the remote mountains of Greece and discovers the haunting sound of Europe's oldest folk music.

High in the black mountains of Epirus, close to the northwestern tip of Greece, winding its way through the thick forest, is the river Acheron, the river of woe. According to Greek mythology, the newly dead must travel across this river before entering Hades - the underworld.

An otherworldly music pours from these mountains. It's an ancient music. Filled with sadness. Filled with longing. Filled with dread.

Sam journeys to Epirus, an unforgiving mountain range housing 46 tiny villages, each with its own distinct style of folk music. The nature of the harsh terrain means that the ancient musical tradition of these villages is remarkably well preserved - an intoxicating blend of violin and clarinet dancing between wild frenzy and hypnotic solemnity.

Speaking to writer, record producer and song collector Chris King, whose book A Lament From Epirus first brought the strange music of this region to a wider audience, Sam hears about the riotous festivals in Epirus when musicians play around the clock for three days straight while entire villages come together to dance.

Sam discovers that the sadness saturating the music of Epirus is often attributed to "xenitia", the pain and longing caused by the separation of emigration. In a region plagued by dwindling population as people abandon traditional village life for jobs in urban centres, the sadness of the music looks set only to intensify.

Presenter: Sam Lee
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4

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28 minutes

Last on

Sun 16 Jun 2019 23:30