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The stories of Cypriot fiddlers on screen

Even though most weddings in Cyprus have done away with the traditional money dance and the rolling of children on the marriage bed – symbolising the children to come – there is one traditional act that pretty much still remains, and that is when fiddle players come to the homes of the bride and groom before they go off to church. But these old-style traditional fiddle players (or fkiolarides) are becoming the last of their generation and the culture behind them has been sadly lost. This is why Nicoletta Demetriou decided to make a documentary about them, which will be screened at the Home for Cooperation on Thursday at 7pm.

Demetriou is a research fellow in Ethnomusicology and Life Writing at Wolfson College, University of Oxford and in 2005 when she was doing fieldwork for her PhD, she returned to Cyprus to do a series of interviews with elderly folk musicians. These interviews led to a glimpse of a life that used to be and the realisation that although the music had been recorded and transcribed, the stories behind the people who played it had not.

Demetriou explains that “while interviewing these musicians on the folk songs I was then studying, I would also ask them to tell me a few words about the lives they had led as professional instrumentalists in Cyprus in the mid-twentieth century.

“Their stories revealed far more than I could have imagined. I made a note of them, not really knowing why at the time. In 2012, when I was elected to a research fellowship in ethnomusicology and life writing at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, I decided to revisit them.”

So revisit them she did and in June and October 2015 the bulk of the documentary was shot in both the north and south of the island.

The fact that the stories collected are from both communities, Demetriou explains, is because fiddlers could be both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot, depending on the mix of a particular village. This was the case until the late 1950s and early 1960s.

This is how things were, Demetriou explained “it did not really matter whether one was Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot, music that was played was enjoyed by everyone.”

The 77 minute, crowd-funded documentary captures a culture that now belongs to the past. These fiddlers took up their instruments and played them as a profession at weddings, at village fairs and anywhere else where their sound was needed to accompany a celebration. And now the documentary has preserved this profession for current and future generations to get to know. As Demetriou puts it “the musicians’ life stories reveal a snapshot of a Cyprus that no longer exists – in terms of both Cyprus’ landscape and the people that inhabited it. Whether what has been lost is important or not can only be judged with hindsight.”

The Cypriot Fiddler will also appear as a book at a later stage and over the next two years the documentary will be screened in academic conferences and seminars in Cyprus, the UK and elsewhere, and will also be shown in cultural venues across Cyprus.

After the screening the audience can also enjoy music played by traditional music fiddlers.

The Cypriot Fiddler
Screening of the documentary. April 7. Home for Cooperation, Nicosia. 7pm. Free. In Cypriot with English subtitles. Tel: 22-445740

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