Lament from Epirus

Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music by Christopher C. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lament from Epirus” by Christopher C. King is a mesmerizing first-hand journey into musical obsession. King, after hearing recordings of early 20th-century Greek musicians, goes on a Homeric quest to find the source of this music, and to understand the nature and purpose of music itself. Drawing unlikely connections between early blues recordings and early recordings of Greek music, particularly from the area of Epirus in northwestern Greece, King compels us to travel with him on his journey through time and place and to explore the mystical qualities of an almost-vanished music. No mere musicological analysis, nor a simple travelogue, King pulls us into his personal encounter of an exceptional music whose full impact cannot be fully experienced outside of the community from which it draws it life. The literal translation of “Epirus,” Smith tells us is “infinity,” and Smith’s writing skillfully lures us into his encounters at “panegyri” (musical feasts) with the infinite and transcendent quality of the deepest musical experiences.

Full of descriptive and illuminating facts – the Zagorians were descendants of Roma, Greek modes are more varied than the ones we Westerners are familiar with, healing occurs by “playing into” someone’s forehead, musical knowledge is passed from master to student by playing across a valley from opposing hilltops, and the history of Greece with its long memory of loss and tragedy plays into its musical identity – the defining characteristic of this book is King’s self-effacing humor and evocative prose. “The structure smelled like cancer,” is his description of one record store, and “In return (for hospitality), they ask only that you be human. Drop any pretensions. You are in their village, therefore you are one of them, if only for a brief time. This, then, is the exchange.” King invites us in, and in enjoying his literary hospitality, we too are one of them, if only for a brief time.

-Elizabeth DiSavino
Author of “Katherine Jackson French: Kentucky’s Forgotten Ballad Collector” (University Press of Kentucky)
Assistant Professor, Berea College

Published by Liza D

Teacher, musician, writer

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