Documentary traces the musical legacy of the great Nikos Xylouris

For three successive generations, the family of the legendary Cretan singer-songwriter Nikos Xylouris and his brother, the equally famous Antonis Xylouris, known as Psarantonis, have kept the Aegean island’s music tradition alive, adapting and spreading it to thousands of people around the world.

“A Family Affair,” a new documentary due to open at local theaters on January 8, tells the story of the multi-talented Xylouris family by zooming in on Psarantonis, his son Psarogiorgis (Giorgos Xylouris) and his children, who are at university in Melbourne, Australia.

Together, they make up the Xylouris Ensemble, performing in concerts around the world.

Filmmaker Angeliki Aristomenopoulou followed family members into the recording studio, at rehearsals and concerts, and recorded their thoughts about their music and their professional challenges. The documentary was shot over a period of two years, showing some major changes that occurred in the protagonists’ lives and how they responded to them.

“The film captures how music is passed on from father to son to grandchildren, in a contemporary Greek-Australian family, brought together by their love of music,” says Aristomenopoulou on the film’s website.

The filmmaker quotes something Giorgos Xylouris says on the film to explain what it’s all about: “We don’t carry this tradition as a family weight. It’s part of our lives, of who we are. We need this tradition to live like we need oxygen.”

Cretan roots

Nikos Xylouris (1936-80) was born in Anogeia, a rugged mountain region in the hinterland of Crete, and penned soulful songs seen as expressing the indomitable Cretan spirit. He was also linked to a generation of young music artists who emerged in the 1970s, during or in the aftermath of the student uprising against the colonels’ dictatorship at Athens Polytechnic, such as Yiannis Markopoulos and Stavros Xarchakos, who gave Greek music a political and tonal edge it previously lacked.

Like his brother Psarantonis and nephew Psarogiorgis, Nikos Xylouris was a master on the Cretan lyra, evoking from the Byzantine-era instrument sounds that inspired hundreds of young Greeks, then as now, to try their hand at traditional Greek instruments.

Psarantonis has also built a strong domestic and international following in his own right, not only by propagating his brother’s music but also through his own personal work.

The Athens premier of “A Family Affair” will take place on January 8 at the Danaos (109 Kifissias, tel 210.692.2655), the only theater in the Greek capital that will be screening the film. Starting on January 15, screenings will also take place on Crete, at Technopolis in Iraklio as well as at theaters in Hania and Rethymno. On January 29, Thessaloniki will have its turn, at the Olympion Cinema.

“A Family Affair” will see its international launch at the end of January in France, before traveling to others parts of Europe, the US and Australia. It is also due to feature in a number of film festivals.

Aristomenopoulou is a documentary filmmaker who studied in London and Barcelona and who has specialized in music-related subjects. From 2005 to 2010 she worked as a director on the popular documentary series “Music of the World,” produced by former state broadcaster ERT. She has directed more than 30 music documentaries about different genres of music from around the world and her work has been shown at international festivals and by foreign broadcasters such as CBC Canada, Al-Jazeera UK, and Czech and Slovenian state television. 

Her last full-length documentary, “Wandering Soul,” was about the former frontman of Greek rock act Trypes and now solo act Yiannis Angelakas. The documentary was awarded the FIPRESCI critics’ prize at the 2010 Thessaloniki International Film Festival.