Vroukounta is the area near the ancient city of Βρυκούς (Vrikous), in northern Karpathos. Every year in August a special treat is awaiting the visitors who will take the effort to visit this hard to reach area.
The church of Saint John, built inside a cave, has a celebration on August 29th, with more than 24 hour of Karpathian music, verses, and dance. The music will start after the church vespers on the night of the 28th, and continue overnight, pausing only for the liturgy in the morning of the 29th. If you are visiting Karpathos around that time in August, this is an occasion you should not miss.
I had the privilege to visit Vroukounta back in 1995, and to make a few minimalistic audio recordings. I was so captivated by the whole ceremony, the nature, and the spirit, that I kept going there for the next ten years.
The Vroukounta St. John festival is another manifestation of the blending of greek history forces. You can experience there byzantine hymns, folk music, chanters and singers, spontaneous poetic-musical conversations, prayers, in a way that blurs church and folk tradition. The musical expression of the πάθος (passion) is unforgettable. The faithful of the church pay the same respect to the rules of “γλέντι” (festivity).
Next, there are some key moments, as were captured by our recordings back then. Close your eyes and imagine the scenery …
- August 28, 6:00 PM: We are on a ship, from Diafani on the way to Vroukounta. The festivities started already and μαντινάδες (verses) are sung on the ship. You should be able to sense the excitement of the participants, as they approach the church in the middle of the calm Karpathian sea and while the sun sets… In the first segment, you will hear the verses of Manolis Sofillas, Yannis Gergatsoullis and a few others. In the second segment the ship’s captain is praised for his smooth sailing, “a fine way to start this night”. Last, Μιχάλης Μιχαλής (Michalis) sings to Saint John for the blessing of the faithful.
- Aug 28, 7:00 PM: We are now inside the church and Saint John’s and vespers are recorded live. The byzantine music chanters will also be singing later during the festivities, in a way that shows clearly the link between church and folk tradition, not to mention the melodic relationship between the two types of music.
- Aug 28, 9:30 PM: Father John commences the festivities; “… you honor Saint John with your presence…” sings to the faithful, under the sounds of lyre, lute, and bagpipe.
- Aug 29, 2:00 AM: pano choros (upward dance) after midnight, when the lyre and lute and bagpipe players from Olympos are at their best. Please notice the intense and yet accurate tempo produced by the players tapping their foot on to the wooden tables where they are sitting.
Note: the original high fidelity recording (in stereo PCM/48Khz) was made with minimalist recording equipment. On the web, the recording files may have lost some of their clarity due to compression.