Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the screening of The Cypriot Fiddler, a new documentary by Nicoletta Demetriou, which showcases the important cultural role that fiddlers (fkiolarides/kemaneciler) in Cyprus, both Turkish- and Greek-Cypriots, played during the mid-twentieth century.
The screening took place in the middle of the UN Buffer Zone in Nicosia, at the Home for Cooperation, which aims to foster inter-communal communication. Aside from being a beautiful, laid-back venue (which I would recommend to anyone, simply for the coffee, food and amazing array of events it hosts), it also allowed for people from all over Cyprus to easily attend.
The evening started off with Dr Demetriou, who is a research fellow in Ethnomusicology and Life Writing at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, saying a few words about the origins and goals of the project. She explained that despite the fact that a lot of their music had already been recorded, personal and professional stories detailing the role of fiddlers in Cypriot society had not. Through the film (and the book that will follow), she wanted to gather those stories, and capture a part of Cyprus’s recent past.
Through one-to-one interviews, the documentary covered various aspects of the fiddlers’ craft, including their training, as well as how and why they chose to enter the profession. It discussed the vital part that they played at social gatherings – particularly weddings, which they tellingly called “making a wedding”, rather than “attending”. They were also asked about the perks and disadvantages of being a fiddler in Cyprus at that time, including their going rates and the expectations on their repertoires.
One of the most interesting parts of the film for me was when it touched on the women that worked and lived beside those men. It addressed the gender imbalance in the profession, acknowledging the few female fiddlers that did preform during that time. I also enjoyed the brief interviews with the fiddlers’ wives, which offered an unique perspective into how their households, family and work was affected by their husbands’ profession.
The film was simply but charmingly shot, delivering as much banter and jokes as anthropology, and it was obviously full of amazing folk music. But the most enduring sentiment for me was that of unity. The descriptions of fiddlers working in mixed villages for example, or the use of the Cypriot dialect by both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. And some of that past unity was certainly reflected in the screening’s after-party, with musicians and audience members from both sides of Cyprus sitting down to eat, drink, play and dance into the night in the middle of the Buffer Zone.