Sandouri (Greek Hammered Dulcimer)


Thanks to Jim Frye for finding this rare treasure!

Panayiotis Sousamlis (Karkougous) was the Santouri player for the soundtrack of the early 1960s movie Zorba the Greek

Nikos Theodosakis found this video with commentary of him playing.

Santuri from Nikos Theodosakis on Vimeo.

"Found footage of Panayiotis Sousamlis (Karkougous) playing the santuri, that I recorded in 1982 in his shop in the village of Agiasos, Lesbos.

With some thoughts.

It was that scene in the movie Zorba the Greek that did it. Out of a large canvas bag, Zorba pulls out a wide trapezoid wooden instrument, places it in front of him and sitting cross-legged on his bed, begins gently hamering it’s forrest of strings. Like a piano turned inside out and its guts proudly exposed to the world, the santuri releases it’s penetrating voice under the gentle coaxing of Zorbas’ large rough labourers hands. I fell in love with its delicate haunting sound, the way the notes were rapidly struck into being and then how they hung in the air, drifting, like clouds.

It reminded me of my mothers uncle Mihali Fourmousi, who I never met but heard stories about. From what I know, he was also a labourer, a tall, thin stone mason like his father and brothers who built small homes, barns and walls from the plentiful rocks on the island of Karpathos and later, Crete.

The same rough hands that transfomed stone into homes each workday, put down trowels and metal hammers each evening, exchanging them for long thin wooden hammers, their ends wrapped in balls of cotton, and used these to awaken the 130 bronze, steel and copper strings of his santuri. On the weekends, he would set up at the park in Heraklion and play simply for his pleasure and for the pleasure of the people passing by.

There is only one phtograph of him. He’s in a long sleeve white shirt, white hair and black glasses, poised at his instrument, sitting at the park, lost in his music. One photograph. It’s the only proof that he existed. He had no children, he never married. He left his santuri to a neice in Athens, who had it mounted in her home on a wall above her fireplace.

So it was with surprise and anticipation that I found myself one day on the island of Lesbos, in the remote village of Agiasos, visiting my aunt Kyriaki, great neice to my Santuri playing uncle, when she introduced me to the santuri player known as Karkougous.

Karkougous had a small humble shop that sold and repaired sandals but his real passion was playing his santuri. On the walls of his shop, dozens of photographs, framed magazines and newspaper clippings validated his reputation and proclamation of being one of the best santuri players in Greece.

He had learned to play santuri from his father, who migrated from Smyrni in Turkey during the exchange of 1922, so his repetroire included many songs from Asia Minor, like “Σαν τα μάρμαρα της πόλης” (Like the Marbles of Constantinople) as well the traditional tunes from the island of Lesbos like “Το ξύλα (The wood).

He was selling home-made cassette tapes of his recordings. Forty years later, I wish now that I had bought one. Fortunately, I had a video camera with me, a BetaMax that I was lugging along in my travels, and he allowed me to interview him and record a little bit of his hypnotic playing.

This last week I decided to find that footage and to share it on-line, simply for my pleasure and for the pleasure of the people passing by.

When I researched Karkougous on the web this evening, I shivered when I discovered that he was the musician who was playing the santouri on that soundtrack of Zorba the Greek.

I find that interesting."



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