If the talents of singer and lute player George Xylouris seem otherworldly, even god-given, it is hardly surprising. One of the best-loved artists on Crete, the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, Xylouris is a member of a clan long-regarded throughout Greece as musical royalty. A clan that hails from Anogeia, a mountain shepherding village down the hill from the Cave of Zeus, that hotspot of ancient mythology.
To hear Xylouris play his long-necked lauto and sing songs of love and liberty in his impassioned, distinctive voice, is to experience tradition at its finest; tradition that this bearded father-of-three grants respect, and crafts into something unique. It’s a sound that has taken him around the world, to festivals and concert venues throughout Europe, North America and Australia – where he lived for eight years in Melbourne, absorbing influences from the city’s thriving live rock scene – and back again to Crete. Teaching and playing at home, in village communities, is his lifeblood – just as it is his family’s.
Xylouris could not have been anything else but a musician: his father is the Cretan singer and lyra player Psarantonis, a man beloved of everyone from ethnomusicologists to Nick Cave. His late uncle was the iconic Nikos Xylouris, a singer and lyra player who became a symbol of the protest movement that brought down the Greek military junta in 1973. George was just a kid when he started playing the lute at the knee of his uncle Giannis Xylouris; after accompanying his famous father at village functions, there were several group recordings. Then George Xylouris struck out on his own.
Until then the Cretan lute was usually played as a backing instrument. But with albums such as 'Antipodes', by Xylouris Ensemble , 'Embolo' with his uncle Psarogiannis and 'Oso ki an Dernei o Anemos’ out with All Together Now , Xylouris showcased the lauto’s solo potential with a repertoire of traditional and self-penned material.
His numerous projects are testament to his restless musical curiousity: there’s a duo, Xylouris White, with Jim White, Brooklyn-based drummer of Australian instrumental trio, Dirty Three, with who Xylouris has toured. The Xylouris Ensemble features his three Greek-Australian children.
There are other Xylourises, all of them musical. A documentary – A Family Affair – is currently in the works.
His concerts at home have become legendary for their musicality and power; his onstage record is currently 18 hours straight.