Cantu a chiterra (Guitar Song)

Various performers
Collection Ocora, Italy, Sardinia

Ocora C 560206

Cantu in Re; Nuoresa; Mutos; Galluresa; Filognana; Piaghesa antiga; Cantu in Re; Mi e La; Fa diesis; Si bemolle; Disisperada.

Cover pictureThe only other Sardinian 'guitar song' CD I've reviewed was Cantigos a chiterra from the splendid Taranta Ethnica label, back in 2004.  I wrote: 'like me, you may find some of it a bit difficult to take at more than one song at a time'.  This was not in any way a criticism of the CD - rather of the listener - because such a display of incredible guitar playing and passionate, intricate singing ... such a whelter of notes hurtling at you out of the speakers, is difficult to absorb in large doses.  And perhaps being new to the genre also adds to the problem.

In the case of the present CD, this difficulty is magnified by the fact that there are three singers, not one, each singing one verse at a time, competitively, claiming your attention.  Because, despite its title, this CD is actually a recording of a gara - literally a war - between three of the top Sard cantu a chiterra performers.  The singers are Emanuele Bazzoni, Francesco Demuru and Daniele Giallara; the guitarists are Bruno Maludrottu and Bachisio Masia.

The booklet notes say: 'a musical tournament where singers rival in elegance breath control and vocal audacity, cantu a chiterra is still largely unknown outside Sardinia.  With a guitarist, each contestant takes turns at performing texts from books of poetry (more often 19th century works transmitted orally) in a show of endurance vocal prowess and melodic inventiveness.'

The cantu a chiterra tradition is thought to have begun at the turn of the 20th century, and has become categorised - through the contests of professional singers and guitarists in the post-war period - into twelve or more types of song, usually sung in the same order.  Eleven of them are presented in sequence on this disc (see track list, above).

So this is competition singing: a tradition of competition singing which has flourished for approaching 100 years.  As you may imagine, this has resulted in astonishing levels of technical competence and a relative narrowing of stylistic variation.  To a non-aficionado of the genre, all three singers sound pretty much the same; all sing a hundred notes a second, and all at top volume, in fierce competition!  The CD's cover picture is far from appropriate.  As a record of the very best in cantu a chiterra at the begining of the 21st century, this is doubtless a document which scholars will treasure.  But listening to it for pleasure is not something to be encouraged!  True, there are moments of sublime melodic inventiveness and vocal audacity - but, for the most part, being shouted at for 70+ minutes is not my idea of fun.

Rod Stradling - 29.10.06

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