El Pont d'Arcalís & Ariondassa

Del Piemont als Pirineus

Discmedi-Blau DM 961-02

Whilst enjoying the ambience of Barcelona last year, and during the mandatory (and very rewarding) tour of the Gaudí buildings, we noticed that the Catalan version of the guide's spiel was almost intelligible - particularly if it had been given in English first.  This was rather a surprise, since my wife and I have barely a dozen Spanish words between us.  We then figured out that Catalan is far closer to Italian than any guide book had ever told us and - stranger still - not at all dissimilar to the Piemontese dialect we hear amongst our friends in northern Italy, and of the Piemontese songs we hear on so many of their (and now, our) CDs.  Cover picture(If this seems a bit farfetched - my wife, Danny, was able to do a rough translation of the Catalan liner notes to this current CD, working from a pretty basic knowledge of Italian and what little Piemontese we've picked up over the years.)

When we were in Piemont for the carnevale in February this year, we mentioned this to Enzo Conti, of Tre Martelli (or Trej Martej in Piemontese), with whom we were staying.  "That's nothing," he said, "we have the same songs, as well!" and proceeded to show us a video of the Piemontese group Ariondassa in concert, only a few months before, with a Catalunian band called El Pont d'Arcalís.  Sure enough, not only were the two bands able to play along with each other's songs; on several occasions they played the same songs as a medley, first in one language, to one tune, then in the other, to a slightly different tune!  The concert took place on November 8th 2003 in La Sala l'Espai de Barcelona - and this is the CD of part of it.

Needless to say, this isn't the whole story; the concert was organised because the two bands had already met at several European festivals and had come to realise their shared cultural inheritance.  This may have come as a bit of a shock, since both Catalans and Piemontese feel themselves to be something rather special within their nations; certainly, some of the former think of themselves as being Catalan, rather than Spanish.  The insert notes put it rather well; 'they realised the existence of just one nationality, that of the song tradition'.

And, just to convince the skeptical, here's the first verse of one of the songs they have in common:

O j'é tre bel fije, a parto da Lion,      
a parto da Lion e a giro le riviera
van a còje fiori della primavera
a parto da Lion e a giro le riviera
van a còje fiori della primavera.
Tres gentils noies surten de Lió
surten de Lió i van per la ribera
van collint les flors de la primavera
surten de Lió i van per la ribera
van collint les flors de la primavera.

They then go on to posit a connection between the Pyrenees (Pirineus) and the Maritime Alps - which does rather ignorethe break between them - the huge bay of the Golfe du Lion; the gap between Perpignan and Nice.  This, however, is explained away by the existence of the Occitan culture which, it is true, spreads out of southern France eastwards into southwestern Piemont and westwards into Catalunia.  This is undoubtedly true - but I've not heard of any startling communality between the cultures of Piemont and Catalunia and that of the Languedoc, which lies between them.  But enough of idle speculation - what does this CD have to offer?

Well, those readers acquainted with the music of I Tre Martelli will find themselves on familiar ground here, since four of Ariondassa's six members were, until recently, part of that group.  Providing between them the lead vocals, pipes, piffero, accordion and various whistles, they are joined by musette pipes and hurdygurdy - so the sound, as well as the repertoire, is very like Tre Martelli.

El Pont d'Arcalís have the same accordion, hurdygurdy, whistles and reeds tune-end, but with guitar and drums for back-up.  play Sound ClipAlso, at least three of them take lead vocals at various times.  The main singer, Artur Blasco, has a splendid traditional style and often accompanies himself on the canya, a sort of split stick which gives a gentle bones-like percussion.  Here's a clip from Els Cigalons de Canalda.  He also plays melodeon rather well.

play Sound ClipThe two bands play together (though not all at once!) play Sound Clipon most tracks and, generally, each song is either a Catalan or a Piemontese one.  On a couple of occasions the same song is available in both languages; here are clips (right) of Ciacio Marchelli's lovely Se Chanto, with a verse from him, a short instrumental break, followed by Artur Blasco in Catalan.  And then Artur with La Dézarpa, followed by Ciacio (left).

I really can't praise this CD too highly - it's all delightful songs, beautifully sung and played, and a couple of tunes thrown in for good measure.  Furthermore, the 'two-similar-but-different-cultures' aspect of the concert makes the whole enterprise doubly interesting.  It's rather a shame that the booklet is only in Catalan (except for the Piemontese song texts), and that we learn little of the provenance of most of the songs, but that certainly won't stop anyone thoroughly enjoying this lovely music.

Rod Stradling - 10.8.04

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