Nidi D'Arac / Ammaraciccappa
During the 1990s, the pizzica taranta, a traditional music of the Salento peninsula in the Puglia region of southern Italy, was taken up both by folk revivalists and more forward-looking musicians. Groups such as Aramire and Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino specialized in straight-up, traditional renderings of pizzica, sometimes with new, topical lyrics. Others, most notably Nidi D'Arac, were grounded in the tradition but mixed pizzica with techno, dub, and Balkan and North African music.
Nidi D'Arac, founded and led by the charismatic singer-guitarist-percussionist Alessandro Coppola, pulled off a brilliant synthesis of Salento roots music and electronica with their 2006 album, Saint Rocco's Rave. Purists may have been put off, but as Rootsworld's Lee Blackstone observed, "all the elements that make Nidi D'Arac sonically mysterious are present in abundance: Coppola's soaring voice, violin and flute, tambourine flourishes, dub and echo flitting about the production. It is an album where the band sounds incredibly confident and not a song is misplaced."
Coppola apparently decided that he'd taken the fusion of folk roots and electronica as far as he could, since his latest, Salento Senza Tempo (Timeless Salento) is a complete u-turn from the experimentation of St. Rocco's Rave. The CD notes state, in fact, that it's not even a new Nidi D'Arac album but rather a tribute to the traditional music of Salento.
Coppola et al. have turned off the synths and sequencers for their latest, but Salento Senza Tempo, though entirely acoustic, isn't all traditional pizzica. Piano, strings, and traps imbue the folk-based material with a welcome modernity.
The not-Nidi aspect is evident in the personnel. Only a few of the sixteen tracks feature the entire band, a shifting aggregation whose core, in addition to Coppola, includes vocalist Vera De Lecce, violinist Rodrigo D'Erasmo and the excellent percussionist Maurizio Catania. Interspersed among the ensemble numbers are solo and duo pieces. There are complete songs and brief instrumental interludes that serve as connective tissue between them.
Guest musicians, including I Tamburellisti di S.Rocco, accompany Coppola on several tracks. The Tamburellisti, players of the tamburello, a large tambourine, themselves represent a blend of tradition and modernity. The group was formed from musicians representing two different southern Italian percussion schools, the more traditional from Torrepaduli, a quarter in the Salento town of Ruffano, the other represented by Andrea Piccioni, a percussionist noted for adapting the tamburello to diverse, non-folk settings and styles.
The pizzica derives from an ancient dance in whose frenetic rhythms impoverished Salentini found momentary release from the harshness of their lives. The melancholy and sorrow of Salento Senza Tempo is a reminder that pizzica, like certain reggae, is "sufferers'" music. "Mmalavita," a solo by Coppola, leads into "Su rrivatu a San Frangiscu," a grim narrative that relates what happens to a man living the malavita, the criminal life, when he ends up in a prison where pitiless mafia violence and murder reign.
There are love songs, but they're also colored by deep sadness. In "Su vinutu luntanu luntanu," a lover returns from afar bringing a serenade he fears his inamorata will not accept; frantic and lovelorn, he waits outside her door, imploring her to let him in.
Salento Senza Tempo has been thoughtfully conceived and impeccably arranged, played and sung. It's a testament to Alessandro Coppola's seriousness of purpose, his deep knowledge of and love for the traditional music of Salento. I admire it quite a bit, and love some of it. But overall it doesn't thrill me like St. Rocco's Rave. For me, the radically different versions of "Quante Tarante?," a track that appears on both albums, say it all. On Saint Rocco's Rave it's an upbeat, techno-dub mood elevator that gives me happy feet; the more restrained and traditional Salento Senza Tempo version doesn't.
I hope Coppola's latest is a temporary detour from his masterful mixing of Salento tradition with contaminazioni from other musical cultures. (That term has a positive connotation in Italian, signifying the enrichment of local idioms through the incorporation of foreign elements.) In fact, the newest incarnation of Nidi D'Arac suggests he's returned to that approach. The current lineup features three tamburellisti, but also a "dub master."
Al Qantarah means "the bridge" in Arabic. (In Islam, it specifically refers to the walkway that believers must cross before entering heaven.) Ammaraciccappa, the brainchild of percussionist-vocalist Umberto Upapadia and digitalist Antonino Chiaramonte, aims to connect southern Italian idioms (pizzica, tammurriata, tarantella) and North African gnawa and rai, with electronics as the cement in this sonic bridge.
When the fusion works, it's so seamless that you are momentarily disoriented, unsure which shore of the Mediterranean you've landed on. Tamburello, organetto (diatonic accordion), and violin mix it up with duduk and kraqab. The affinities between Upapadia's incantatory vocals, rooted in Salento's Hellenic and Saracen antiquity, and Ahmed Benbal's Algerian style, are obvious they sound like they went to different (music) schools together. Check Benbal's rapid-fire Arabic rap on the reggae-tarantella "Na vampa de focu." There's a third lead singer, Nora Tigges Mazzone, who expertly commands the strident monody typical of rural southern Italy as well as the more ornamental approach of Arab music, which is also found in parts of Italy that had been colonized by Arabs centuries ago. The overall effect is of a Mezzogiorno-Maghreb psychedelia, built on folk traditions but spinning off from them in surprising ways. Al Qantarah is like the soundtrack to a movie that hasn't been made but one you can play in your head, given the right circumstances and/or chemical enhancement. Most tracks run from five to eight minutes, which lets the band stretch out and dig into the intercultural grooves. Tedium occasionally ensues. But for the most part, the trippy folkloric electronica of Al Qantarah is a beguiling brew. - George De Stefano Nidi D'arac online: www.nididarac.com/
Ammaraciccappa available from cdRoots
CD available from cdRoots