Balli staccati della tradizione emiliana
Romilla Records RR CD 001
Pizzica taranta
Le tradizioni musicali in Puglia, Vol 3
Taranta Ethnica TA23

This review is of two more Felmay-distributed CDs of music from Italy.  The first is from Emilia Romagna, the regione that lies at the dividing line between the 'Continental' North and the 'Mediterranean' South.  The second is from Salento, the southern part of Puglia (aka Apulia), the one that forms the 'heel' of Italy's 'boot'. Cover picture

Suonabanda are a 'revivalist' group which started in 1979 - at about the same time that La Ciapa Rusa, Tre Martelli and several other northern Italian bands began looking for their own traditional music, in the face of the US-centred 'folk boom' which motivated so many of us in the same way in these islands, a decade earlier.  It's not a band I'd heard before and, unusually, the slim booklet is printed only in Italian, so I can't give you too much information about what they did in the past quarter-century, or how their music has changed/developed/progressed over that period.  What I can do is to tell you what they sounded like in 2002 when this CD was recorded.

They sound like a quartet of musicians with a quarter-century's worth of experience who have decided to avoid (or abandon?) technical virtuosity, and play the music they love simply and skillfully, in the belief that this is all it needs - and what it deserves.  Experienced readers will detect, from this simple phrase, that I really like this CD.

The tunes are almost all of the Northern Continental type, and thus do not sound as 'foreign' to British ears as those from the South sometimes do.  play Sound ClipMany of them are familiar to me, in different versions, from my small collection of Italian music.  A particular delight was to find a recording of Contradanza - a tune I learned years ago from a Riccardo Tesi LP which got lost/lent/stolen, as things seem to - and then I forgot how to play it!  It's a great tune, which should easily find a place in the English session repertoire, so here it is (sound clip) for anyone out there with an instrument, to get to grips with.  And it also gives a pretty good idea of what Suonabanda sound like.  This is a fine CD of good music, well played - what more can one ask?  It's available (as is the one below) from Felmay:

The Pizzica taranta CD was recorded principally in Lecce province (with a couple of tracks from Brindisi, on the coast to the north).  Giuseppe Michele Gala's recordings were mostly made in 1988, but there are a scattering of earlier ones and a couple from 2001.

Cover pictureKnowing little of the tarantismo phenomenon myself, I'll simply paraphrase the booklet notes in the following description:  From the Middle Ages, Apulia, and especially the Salento, was a center for tarantismo (not uniquely, since all of Southern Italy and the Islands are involved in the phenomenon).  The complex system of Apulian tarantismo has for centuries attracted the attention of many doctors, scholars, and ecclesiastics, who have engaged in spirited debate on the subject.  It was thought to be a dying relic at the beginning of the 20th century, and the fieldwork of the anthropologist and religious historian Ernesto De Martino in 1959 analysed in a multi-disciplinary framework the last glimmers of tarantismo in the Salento.  In the last decade though, there has been a lively renewed interest in the phenomenon and the publication of many historical texts and new studies.  The effects of the bite of the lycosa tarentula (and/or other spiders, scorpions, and other venomous animals) have been exorcized for centuries on a magical-religious level through the direct relationship with the animal, the protection of specialized saints (In the Salento, the thaumaturgic figure of St Paul distinguishes himself), and the therapeutic use of music and dance.

The album examines the various musical repertories of traditional dance in the Salento, pieces acquired during research spanning twenty years (from 1980 to 2001).  The recordings took place both at ritual festivals (S Rocco di Torrepaduli, S Pietro e Paolo di Galatma, la Madonna di Belvedere a Carovigno) and at informal gatherings at the homes of musicians and dancers.  The customs are analysed both for their geographical diversity and for their socio-cultural variety.  The pizzica pizzica, pizzica tarantula and pizzica scherma are unmistakable expressions of a peasant and pastoral world, executed with instrumentation typical of this context - voice, tambourine, flute, castanets, friction drum (acpa cupa), harmonica and hand organ.  On the other hand, 'aristocratic' dances such as le quadriglie, lo scotis, ll valzer, la polka, and la marzucca characterized the workshops of instrument makers (mandolin, violin, and guitar) typical of the artisan class which flourished in Apulia around the barbers' shops.  Here, the ability to read music was more common, and there was far less of the peasant culture's influence.

Thirteen of the 25 tracks on this CD are of the latter type and, being all grouped together (tracks 8 to 20), we are presented with what sounds almost like two separate records.  In a way, this is a good thing, since 73+ minutes of highly melismatic vocals and friction drum might prove a bit wearing.  Of course, it should be remembered that this CD is a piece of ethnomusicological research, so normal standards of 'listenability' do not properly apply.  Also, the pizzica taranta is a functional music - for playing, dancing and healing - not for listening to in an English armchair!

Rod Stradling - 22.5.04

Top Home Page MT Records Articles Reviews News Editorial Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services   Updated: 22.5.04