Greek Folk Music from the 1960s

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Find out about the history and origins of Greek folk music from the 1960s. Discover the different instruments used and the unique sounds that define this traditional genre.

What is Greek Folk Music?

Greek Folk Music is the music of the Greek people. It is often based on Byzantine music, but with influences from West European, Ottoman, and other folk traditions. Greek folk music has a long history, with roots in the ancient, Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods. In more recent times, it has been influenced by Western music styles such as rebetiko and skiladiko.

The Origins of Greek Folk Music

Greek folk music has its origins in the music of the ancient Greeks. This music was passed down through the generations by word of mouth. In the 1960s, Greek folk music was discovered by the rest of the world and became very popular.

The Byzantine Era

The Byzantine Empire, which existed from the 4th century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, was a fusion of Roman and Hellenistic cultures. The music of Byzantium was characterized by complex rhythms and beautiful melody, often using the octoechos mode. This music would lay the foundation for Greek folk music.

During the Ottoman occupation of Greece (1453-1821), there was little opportunity for traditional music to be performed. However, there were a few exceptions: in monasteries, at weddings, and during other special occasions. It was during this time that many of the folk songs we know today were first written down.

In 1821, Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire. This resulted in a blossoming of Greek culture, including traditional music. With the help of composers like Nikos Skalkottas and Manolis Kalomiris, folk music became an important part of Greek identity.

The Ottoman Era

During the Ottoman era, Greek music was influenced by the music of Turkey and the Middle East. Ottoman music was a mix of Arabic, Persian and Turkish musical traditions. Many of the instruments used in Greek music today, such as the bouzouki, were first introduced during this period.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, as the Ottoman Empire began to decline, Greece began to experience a cultural renaissance. This led to a revival of traditional Greek music and dance, which had been suppressed under Ottoman rule.

One of the most important figures in this revival was Dimitris Lagousakos, who collected and published Greek folk songs in the late 19th century. His work helped to preserve and promote traditional Greek music, which would later be championed by other folklorists such as George Papaioannou and Hronis Aithyropoulos.

During the early 20th century, Greek folk music was increasingly influenced by Western music, particularly Italian opera. However, this influence was largely confined to urban areas and did not significantly change the overall sound of traditional Greek folk music.

The Golden Age of Greek Folk Music

The 1960s in Greece was a time of great social and political turmoil, yet it was also a golden age for Greek folk music. Many of the most important and influential figures in Greek music emerged during this time, including Mikis Theodorakis, Vangelis Papathanassiou, and George Dalaras. The music of this period was highly influenced by the traditional music of Greece, as well as by jazz, rock, and blues.

The 1960s

One of the most prolific and significant decades for Greek music was the 1960s. This was the decade in which the biggest names in Greek music rose to prominence, and when the foundations were laid for what would become known as the Greek golden age of pop music.

The 1960s saw the rise of some of Greece’s most popular singers, such as Marinella, Vicky Leandros, Demis Roussos, Nana Mouskouri, and Melina Mercouri. These singers helped to define the sound of Greek pop music for years to come. They were also responsible for introducing Greek music to international audiences, through their appearances on European television shows and their recordings which were distributed abroad.

The 1960s also saw the beginning of a new era in Greek folk music, with the emergence of artists such as Theodorakis, Vamvakaris, and Markopoulos. These musicians brought a new sound to traditional Greek folk music, infusing it with elements of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. This fusion of styles would go on to form the basis for what came to be known as rebetika – a uniquely Greek form of blues music that emerged in the 1970s.

The 1970s

In the 1960s and ’70s, a new generation of Greek musicians began to experiment with the traditional folk music of their country, applying modern techniques and instrumentation to create a uniquely Greek sound. The results were electrifying, and the ’70s became known as the Golden Age of Greek Folk Music.

Among the most important innovators of this period was Alekos Kaldaras, who blended traditional music with rock and roll to create a new style that became known as laiko (“popular”) music. Kaldaras was followed by other laiko pioneers such as Mikis Theodorakis, Stamatis Kokotas, and Marinella. These artists took traditional songs and rhythms and gave them a modern twist, creating an exciting new sound that was instantly popular with Greek audiences.

The success of laiko music in the 1970s paved the way for other genres to emerge in Greece, including rebetiko (a type of urban folk music with its roots in the underworld), ethno-rock (a fusion of traditional folk music and rock), and skyladiko (a fusion of traditional folk music and jazz). These new genres continued to build on the foundation laid by the pioneers of the Golden Age of Greek Folk Music, creating a rich musical tradition that is still vibrant today.

The Modern Era of Greek Folk Music

The 1960s were a time of political and social turmoil in Greece. The music of that time period reflects the Greek people’s struggle to find their identity. Greek folk music from the 1960s is a mix of traditional sounds and modern influences. The music is raw and emotional, and it captures the spirit of the Greek people.

The 1980s

The 1980s were a time of change for Greek folk music. The traditional music scene was invigorated by a new wave of performers who blended traditional sounds with modern influences. These artists included musicians like Mikis Theodorakis, Vassilis Tsitsanis, and Stelios Kazantzidis, who all helped to popularize Greek folk music in the mainstream.

During this era, Greek folk music underwent something of a revival, as more and more people began to take an interest in traditional sounds and instruments. This renewed interest led to the formation of many new folk bands and the release of numerous albums of traditional music. In addition, a number of festivals devoted to folk music were established, helping to further promote the genre.

While the 1980s were certainly a decade of change for Greek folk music, the traditional sounds and instruments continued to be an important part of the country’s musical identity.

The 1990s

In the 1990s, a new generation of Greek singers appeared on the music scene. One of the most popular was Makis Christodoulopoulos, who combined traditional Greek music with modern pop and rock. Another well-known singer was Nikos Karvelas, who often wrote his own lyrics. His daughter, Eleftheria Arvanitaki, is also a successful singer of Greek folk music.


In conclusion, Greek folk music from the 1960s was highly influential in the development of various genres of music. The traditional sounds and instruments of Greece were combined with Western influences to create a uniquely Greek sound that was popular both in Greece and abroad. While the 1960s was a time of great change and experimentation in folk music, the traditional sounds of Greece continued to be an important part of the music scene.

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