MANOLIS LAGOUDAKIS (LAGOS) From the series "The Masters"
Authentic recordings 1935-1955
It was with great pleasure that I responded to the request of my friend Stelios Aerakis to preface the album of lutist Manolis Lagos, I must admit, however, that I felt a little intimidated by the prospect since any historical retrospection requires good knowledge of facts. In spite of the fact that only twenty years have passed since then, people in those days lived by a different set of rules. Living conditions have changed dramatically since then. So, I beg the readers’ lenience in my account of Manolis Lagos’ life and of his age.
I firmly believe, and hope that others share my view to some extent, that the twenthieth century has been the “Golden Age” of the Cretan lyra. Never before in the musical history of Crete have we come across such eminent names as those of Antonis Kareklas, Manolis Lagos, Andreas Rodinos, Yiannis Baxevanis and others. These famous artistes, mainly from the province of Rethymnon, have sealed our century with their unique performances on all our traditional instruments. When I was very young their names had taken mythical proportions in my imagination.
As I became more acquainted with the Cretan lyra, the soul of Cretan music, my preconception of lyrists gradually changed. I relocated them from their Olympian heights to the church altars. I consider them the hierophants of the great temple of Cretan music; they are the keepers of our musical traditions. When they perform, they are more like priests saying Mass at a church and all folk music lovers are their faithful congregation.
One of the most reliable advocates of this tradition was Manolis Lagos. He had this rare charm – the divine gift, as others put it – to fathom the human soul with each stroke of his bow and sing about its virtues and passions.
Manolis Lagos was born at Pervolia of Rethymnon in 1910. As a child he was deeply in love with the Cretan lyra. Those who remember him from school say that when he was a pupil at primary school, he had managed to get hold of a small lyra and play the tunes he heard from other lyrists. His father, however, was not actually thrilled with his son’s particular musical inclination. On the contrary, he tried to discourage Manolis before that inclination turned into passion.
He was partly right since most artistes of that time, even much later, having no alternative means of making a living, died in utter poverty. In other words, being an artiste did not pay in those days. Fortunately for us all, Manolis did not yield.
One day, a little after 1920, his contemporaries recall, when his father was away from Perivolia, he gathered his schoolmates at a playground and played for them the rousing song of Eleftherios Venizelos “Our Venizelos, father of Greece…”, which had been banned for political reasons.
Taking into consideration the above testimonies and recollections, as well as Manolis Lagos’ musical progress, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that Manolis was an exceptionally talented artiste who had a passion for his lyra. This passion accounts mainly for the fact that he never acquired any formal education, nor did he ever learn any craft.
Even his choice to enlist with the Gendaremerie, which he served for a short period of time, was made just because he would have enough spare time to play his lyra.
At the end of the German occupation (1944) Manolis opened a tavern at Pervolia, but his business went down the drains since the only thing he cared for was the lyra. He knew that his friends and customers patroned his establishment just to listen to him play. This gave him enormous satisfaction. He would play for his guests for hours neglecting at the same time all prospects for profit. On many an occasion the patrons would shower him with significant amounts of money, as it still the custom at popular folk taverns around Crete. However, Manolis was offended by such gestures. He felt that they injured his artistic love and personal dignity.
The inhabitants of Pervolia, and those who knew him, believe that Manolis could have become a rich man from such impulsive and generous gestures of his patrons. Had he changed his attitude towards money, he would have managed to save his business and die rich. Manolis, however, was born poor and died poor, albeit with dignity and grace. Lutist Yiannis Baxevanis was Manolis’ true partner and associate for many years. Their co-operation resulted in four albums and many unforgettable melodies like the one which he dedicated to his birthplace:
“Pervolia mou me t’anthi sou, me tis garefalies sou kai me to perigiali sou kai me tis kopelies sou”
(My Pervolia, (you are) blessed with flowers and carnations, a long beach and young girls).
The old inhabitants of Pervolia often recall that their fellow-villager and artiste, Manolis, would stay all night in his tavern with Baxevanis and together would play for yours to satisfy their inner most desires that haunted them for years.
To improve the quality of the sounds Manolis would use en extra bridge on his lyra. His innovation resulted in lower and sweeter tones during performance. Those who had the privilege of witnessing both artistes perform speak of heavenly melodies.
Allow me, before I finish my account of Manolis Lagos, to mention two more incidents in his career which provide testimony of his character. Once, five music connoisseurs from Rethymnon, G. Psyrris, Stamatis Papadakis, Stagouroyiannis, Yiannis Bernidakis, and Manolis Lagos, went to Egypt responding to an invitation by the Greek cultural association of Alexandria. The group stayed in Egypt for a few days and their performances were met with great success. Following their successful appearance in Alexandria they were flooded with lucrative proposals for more appearances. They refused. The only things they brought back to Greece were photographs and happy memories.
On another occasion Manolis Lagos received an invitation from a rich Greek-American. The invitation was accompanied by a contract with extremely favourable terms for the Cretan artiste. Manolis refused again. His answer was, “I never play for money”.
This was Manolis Lagos, the lyrist, the connoisseur, the man who fell in love with one and only thing, his lyra.
© Aerakis - Cretan Musical Workshop