Smarty Pants Podcast

An Epirotic Odyssey

One man’s quest to uncover Europe’s oldest surviving folk music

By Stephanie Bastek | June 1, 2018
Detail of an R. Crumb illustration of a panegyri in Epirus: the musicians are seated in front, the row of dancers stands behind them dressed in purple and red, and the village gathers in the back

Imagine there’s a place where music exists as it was first created, thousands and thousands of years ago, a place where song and dance still glued communities together across generations. That place exists: Epirus, a little pocket of northwestern Greece on the border with Albania. There, in scattered mountain villages, people still practice a musical tradition that predates Homer. In his new book, Lament from Epirus, the obsessive record collector—and Grammy-winning producer and musicologist—Christopher King goes on an odyssey to uncover Europe’s oldest surviving folk music, and spins us some rare 78s.



Go beyond the episode:

  • Christopher King’s Lament from Epirus
  • Buy LPs, CDs, or MP3s of Chris’s Epirotic collections, from Five Days Married and Other Laments to Why the Mountains Are Black
  • Read Christopher King’s Paris Review essay, “Talk About Beauties,” about the lost recordings of Alexis Zoumbas

All images below courtesy of W. W. Norton.

  • Pen and ink portraits of Kitsos Harisiadis and Alexis Zoumbas by R. Crumb

Listen to A Lament for Epirus (1926–1928) by Alexis Zoumbas, mastered and produced by Christopher King


Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

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