This section is no longer maintained. Please check the home page for the latest news and reviews

RootsWorld Europe
The Music of Italy


Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
Ballati Tutti Quanti Ballati Forte
Dunya Records (www.robidroli.inrete.it)

The Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino perform a particular form of trance music from Salento, part of Puglia, in Italy. The performances throughout this CD evince a wild rusticity, all the more pronounced for the music's roots in tarentism. The culture of tarentism, according to the extensive historical background provided within the CD booklet, incorporates a powerful belief in the bite of the tarantula. When one is bitten by the tarantula, the onset of illness is offset by dancing and the thunder of tabors, which are abundant throughout Ballati Tutti... The music channels the bitten person to a new mindset. What we have here, then, are songs that function on a deeply spiritual level.

But cultures change, and music can take on new meanings. As with any society touched by modernism, generations can become more removed from the land, and the belief in tarentism has altered. I'm reminded of the Marxist literary critic Raymond Williams' distinction between residual and emergent cultures: residual cultures are residues and echoes of the past that still have some resonance amongst a people, while emergent cultures reinvest the past with new meanings and experiences.

It is not hard to imagine the haunting melancholy of these songs wielding new appeal. The call and response of male and female voices, the insistent percussion, the combination of mandolin and violin: even in quieter moments, the Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino take their folk tunes and (re)create music intended to be hypnotic. While belief in the spiritual power of the tarantula bite may be less salient amongst Salentines, the Ballati Tutti... CD is nonetheless an exorcism: shake off the modern world, awake to the rhythm of the past. An intriguing CD! - Lee Blackstone

Available at cdRoots


cd cover Listen! Mazapegul
Piccolo Canto Nomade
Audio B /CNI (www.cnimusic.it)

Tribal rock for the nineties? Mazapegul is a surprising, perplexing and thoroughly exhilarating band from Italy with a BIG sound; horns (heavy on the baritone/trombone bottom end), screechy electric guitars, a rock solid rhythm section and a crew of growling singers. They add various bagpipe-y sounds (cornmuse, bombarde, etc), stringy touches like balalaika and viola, trashy homemade percussion, drums from here and there around the Mediterranean, and mostly a whole lot of attitude. There are clear links to Italian folk music, sideways glances at African and Arabic themes, but they are hardly the focus. Mazapegul grabs reggae, salsa, jazz, spaghetti western sound track themes and what might be called "art school music" (i.e., Talking Heads) and toss it around like a musical rag doll, limbs twisting and eyes bulging as each song takes you by the neck and squeezes. This is an album of contrasts. Moments of dark, dangerous beauty are countered by hot, danceable tunes; the funereal is layered with the lively. While comparisons to everything from Les Negresses Vertes to Spike Jones spring to mind, there's really little to compare this band to. They are shrewd, articulate and inventive. Loads of fun, too! - CF
(Sound Sample: "Maramures Polka" by Mirco Mariani; used by permission)


Synaulia
Music From Ancient Rome Volume 1
Amiata Records (www.amiata.com)

Originally released in 1996 and now available in the US, this is an exceptionally interesting re-creation of a music culture for which there are scant clues or scores. Walter Maioli is the director of Synaulia, a group devoted to the ancient sound of Rome, who build and play their own ancient instrument replicas. Though this record has an "out there" quality, it is not as far out as his previous offering under the name Art of Primitive Sound, where Maioli explored altogether prehistoric fictions using little more than sticks and rocks to make the music. These are twenty-five inventive and differing attempts to entertain us in the way old Romans might have and the cryptic results are unlike anything I've heard in 20 years - since Atrium Musicae de Madrid's "Musique of Ancient Greece," to be exact. Though strange horns and flutes, familiar reeds and hand percussion, ecstatic vocal textures and haunting spoken words litter the soundstage, the music is at times quite orderly. A veritable museum of speculative gems, "Music From Ancient Rome Volume 1" is splendidly recorded, handsomely bound with generous notes as an oversized edition, and truly aspires to the best that CDs can be. Look out folks, Volume Two is complete and apparently in the pipe for a 1999 release. One of the more exciting items I've come across in 1998. Beautifully unusual music. Bravo! - Steve Taylor


La Piva Dal Carner
M'han presa
Dunya Records, via Robi Droli-Italy (droli@inrete.it)

cd cover This ensemble has had a brief but vigorous career in both folk music circles and as collaborators with some of Italy's rock bands, and this record, while showing none of the trappings of "folk rock" certainly shows how diverse influences can seep into the most traditional sounding music. The quartet from Emilio plays bass, piano, melodeon, guitar, reeds, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy and mandocello, so the overall sound is a reedy, raspy rush of air and droning strings. This album has them expanded in the vocal realm with the addition of some wonderful guests, the singing group Ariondela, and featuring some of their female soloists.

They add some violin on a few tracks, notably Fiona Barrow on a jig titled "Drago Rosso" that defines the spritely, energetic side of the band. Another strong point is the simple yet effective "D'esperanto/Working Class," an ode to the international language and ideal that features Paolo Somonazzi's squeezebox against a bare clarinet and bass accompaniment (with an occasional burst of bagpipe). Their dramatic centerpiece is "L'Inglese/The Englishwoman," that tells the story of Montesa, daughter of an English knight who outwits her cruel husband.

The driving sound is one of traditional sounds and songs, but they experiment subtly and carefully, adding unexpected little twists and turns that keep it all a little off-center. La Piva Del Carner are neither rank traditionalists nor wild experimenters, but they have found a solid middle ground that gives the listener ample doses of both. - CF

Available at cdRoots


Upanishad
Music Saves Your Life
Bapsy, via CNI-Italy (www.cnimusic.it)

An Italian trio, clearly enchanted with India, traffic in what has become increasingly familiar fare for disco "dub" in the late 90s. To their credit Upanishad play much of what is here, then rework the repetitive material with traditional dancefloor mixology. Ethnic voices spoken and sung (notably Indian subcontinent and Italian here), guitars, keyboard electronics, sampledelics and snappy drumloops struggle to entertain over the average five minutes per track. Certainly well put together with a slightly overwrought polish that would surely please Rome's better underground club jockeys. Synthetic rhythms of the now - everything from trip-hop to jungle to skittering duple/triple time drum'n'bass to chunky large beat funk-, acoustic tourist data and atmospheric synth chords make fine accompaniment for young, night steppers. - Steve Taylor


KlezRoym
CNI / Italy (www.cnimusic.it)

The klezmer revival continues unabated throughout the world, and this Italian entry into the scene is a notable one. KlezRoym is a standout for their aggressive use of Gipsy, Arabic Mediterranean and jazz motifs in their music. There is nothing particularly innovative about these elements in klezmer, but this band unites them with a marvelous lack of effort or pretension. Singer Eva Coen leads the songs with a natural, open style, the reed/horn section is tight, with arrangements that defy categories, and the strings (violin, guitar, bouzouki) lend a dry authenticity, augmented by an often funk-driven electric bass. Leonardo Cesari is superb in his use of both traditional percussion and kit drum. A clear, winning example of the band's ability to do it all at once is "Danza Immobile," a moody soundtrack piece that reaches deep into the tradition and comes out far removed from it, punched up by a distant sounding flugelhon and a contemporary rock groove. They play old freylachs with verve, traditional slow dances with grace and energized originals with passion. - CF


CALICANTO
Venexia
CNI (cnimusic@alt.it)

CD Cover Venexia is a celebration and a remembrance, a commemoration of the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. Like the city it honors, their music is cosmopolitan, a blend of Mediterranean cultures with a bit of an eastern attitude.

Calicanto have spent a number of years exploring, expanding and sometime exploding the music of their native Italy, through the use of both folk instruments and modern technology (the latter used very lightly on Venexia). Their music is distinctive. They rely heavily on the raspy tones of the bagpipes and the windy pull of the bellows, adding percussion from Mediterranean Europe, North Africa and the middle east. Strings include mandola and double bass, and the melodies are carried on whistles, flutes and a lot of clarinet. The lead vocals on many tracks is provided by percussionist Rachel Colombo, whose unadorned style fits the mood perfectly. Calicanto may be looking back 200 years, but they are living in the present, and their music expresses that dual existence that all good folk artists should live. -CF

Available at cdRoots


Atlante de Musica Tradizionale : Roots Music Atlas
Robi Droli (droli@inrete.it)

CD cover- Italian Map Possibly the best introduction you could ask for to the roots music of Italy is this 17 track compilation from Robi Droli (which loosely translates as "crazy things!"). Here are some of the best musicians in the country, from traditionalists like Tre Martelli and La Piazza to adventurous fusions by Ritmia and Re Niliu. Accordions, fiddles, bagpipes, reeds and drums are augmented by guitarists, bass and some fine singers. The set includes Tenores Di Bitti, whose polyphonic singing from Sardinia is stunning. La Ciapa Rusa are a unique ensemble that again has solid folks roots but no pretensions of revivalism. Their track on the album is both romantic and adventurous. Re Niliu offer their hyper-energy version of the folk music of Calabria, while ensemble Novocento create an almost lunatic atmosphere on a track of calliope-like ocarinas. The prize of the set is "La Stella e La Luna" by Ritmia from their album Forse Il Mare, possibly one of the best acoustic recordings ever made (really!). It features Ricardo Tesi on accordion, Alberto Balia and Enrico Frongia's pyrotechnic guitar work and Daniel Craighead on various reeds, with all contributing percussion and other instruments. It's 9 unstoppable minutes of "new routes" music that holds true to tradition while breaking borders left and right. - CF

Available at cdRoots


For the more pop-oriented and electronics-interested listener, I recommened this collection to get you started:
Compagnie Nuove Indye
CNI (cnimusic@alt.it)

This is a sampler from the co-operative label/distributor of the same name. Again, we get a two CD sampling of a wide range of work, this time from Italian artists both in and out of the mainstream. A lot of the material on these discs is pretty tame pop music, augmented with some local sounds and the inevitable didgeridoo or oud, but a few of the groups stand way out front as innovative sound makers. Addosso Agli Scalini ("the top of the stairs") make a rock-folk hybrid that will bring Hedningarna to mind. FLK blend classical vocal arrangements with traditional and avant garde moods and interject a very classy sort of folk-fusion. Twenty four tracks promise you an adventure full of surprises, delights and a few inevitable disappointments. - CF


Ritmia
Forse Il Mare - Maybe The Sea
Robi Droli (Italy)

Released in Italy in 1989, reissued on CD in 1995 in Italy, now out of print again. A damn shame.

Ever since I first heard this record, I have been driving people crazy making them listen to it. This outfit from Italy is going to leave the term "world beat" in complete disarray (maybe, thankfully, buried!). It's Italian folk, Italian jazz, Italian new acoustic, acoustic rock... it's tight, it's improvisational. The stunning guitar work of Alberto Balia is up there with the best jazz players (and he's also featured on clarinet, bass, vocals and other things); Danielle Craighead's inspired winds playing includes the piffero, a raspy double reed instrument that offers a distortion the guitar can only dream of; it has Celtic influences, African influences and rock roots. While the cuts are long by commercial radio standards (six to thirteen minutes), there is so much going on that the time flies by! The opening cut, "The Stars And The Moon,"will leave your head spinning with tempo changes, key changes, instrument changes and enough percussion-driven solos to please the most hungry jazz or rock fan. CF


RICCARDO TESI AND PATRICK VAILLANT
Veranda
Silex

Of all the European folk/experimental bands, few have made as much of an impression on me as the Italia group Ritmia did in 1988. Their blend of Italian folk music and modern jazz and classical sensibilities was almost breathtaking at times. Two members of the group, Italian accordionist Riccardo Tesi and French mandolin player Patrick Vaillant have returned with a new album, even more daring than before. I have been sitting on this for a month or two, trying to think of a way to describe this music. It has a rich romanticism to it, a strolling café quality, if you will. The melodies are very strong, and really do linger in your head long after they've ended. The blend of accordion and mandolin is surprisingly full, each in turn supplying melody and rhythm that is stark but complete. The added accompianists are used sparingly, but to great effect. A few cuts feature a marimba, others a wonderfully raspy horn section of tuba, trombone and euphonium. Their use in the recording makes for some jarring juxtapositions, moving from the simple to the maniacal in the turn of a phrase. There are bows to almost everyhting imaginable, from African tradition to Charles Ives, but the real impact comes from the songs themselves. Both Tesi and Vaillant have a special feel for the music of their countries, and effectively convey a regional flavor without mimicking it. Their instrumental capabilities are also excellent, each a master of his instrument, and each capable of playing in unexpected ways, marking new and unusual ground for their respective tools. - CF


LA CIAPA RUSA
Antologia
Robi Droli

I am not an ardent fan of "revival" groups, being more inclined towards experimenting within a tradition. But there are a few bands who make a real impression on me with their ability to breathe life into the old songs while staying "in the tradition." La Ciapa Rusa is one of them. Over the years these musicians have researched and resurrected the music of Italy, much of which has never been recorded in the field, or even notated, before the last half of this century. They are archivists, and proud of it in a country that doesn't always encourage such research. Since 1977 they have released innumerable recordings of the regional folk music of Italy, and this is a collection of their favorites from those many years of making music. It's a nice chronological set that follows their own development from a strict interpretation to their current looser approach, including, as they phrase it in the notes, "a polite use of electronics." But the heart of this music is the acoustic instruments, bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, piffero (a double reed wind instrument), accordion, many kinds of strings and percussion. And through every phase of their career, they have had great solo and group vocals, marvelously direct and earthy. Lively dance tunes and dark dirges; thundering choruses and sunny solos; herein are twenty great examples of Italy's tradition, played with vitality by a changing group of virtuoso musicians who obviously love the music too much to mummify it.

Available at cdRoots


RE NILIU
Caravi
Robi Droli (out of print)

The folk revival moved into Italy much later, but when it did, there was an explosion. At first, the ethno-musicologist reigned supreme, and bands would include extensive liner notes with sources and history. but then, as the eighties approached, a number of the revivalists cut loose, and the results were stunning and sometimes outrageous. Re Niliu covers both adjectives. They started as researchers, investigating the music of Calabria, in southern Italy, a region with much in common with the Greek and Andalusian music of the Mediterranean. Caravi is a set of songs based on children's rhymes and music. Their theory was that "children can dream and travel while dreaming better than anyone." These songs are dreams, and sometimes nightmares, from the Calabrian folk catalog. Utilizing instruments from Italy like the piffero and accordion, they also add the sounds of Africa and the middle east to the mix, not to emulate the music so much as to utilize the timbres and colors to create new Italian music. The sounds come together well, reminding you once again how close together we all really are, geographically and culturally. Intense vocal harmonies, incessant marimba lines, pounding drums and wheezing reeds clash in the dark and dance in the light that divide the worlds of Caravi. This 1987 album has just been reissued on CD, and should enjoy as revival of its own.


TRE MARTELLI
Omi e Paiz
Robi Droli

After near destruction in floods in 1994, with the loss of instruments, field recordings, homes and equipment, one of the premier folklore bands of Italy has come back strong with this new album. Their music comes from the Piemonte region of Italy and is rich in diversity, blending raw folk melodies with almost classical elegance. Instrumentation is equally broad, with hurdy gurdy, fiddle, piffero, ocarina, melodeons and accordions, graced by the occasional bagpipe and lots of percussion. The album is a mix of instrumentals and songs, including some "mouth music" styles where only voice and percussion supply the music for the dances.

Available at cdRoots


EFISIO MELIS AND ANTONIO LARA
Launeddas
Robi Droli

It's not a bagpipe, but it has a lot of the same character, and since it's such an obscure instrument, it needs a home somewhere. The launeddas is a sort of proto accordion, a reed instrument with a wheezy, breezy tone. The duets and solos on these 7 tracks look back on old music that sounds so damn fresh, and devoid of the cheesy pop aspects these songs usually get treated to. This one is visceral and solid. The instruments are alone, with no pop or new-folk trappings. Excellent.

Available at cdRoots


GIOVANNI IMPARTO
Yoruba
LaStrada/Pentagono, Italy

GIOVANNI IMPARATO is an Italian percussionist with a wide ranging view of the rhythm of the world. While his newest album Yoruba has a clear influence from the drums off western Africa, he makes a pop driven acoutic and electronic blend that is international in scope but local in its vision. Keyboards form an interesting and creative background to acoustic guitar, accordion, violin and bass, all pushed along by Imparto's unique drumming. The vocalist he works with an an equally broad group, with intonations of Spain, Italy, Africa and pop coming through each song invoked by Nel Brano. Some of it is a little sweet, but most of Yoruba is rich, lustrous music with plenty of depth.


ENZO RAO, GLEN VELEZ AND GIANNI GEBBIA
Ettna
Music Of The World

There's been far too little heard of the roots and fusion music of Italy here in America , so Ettna comes as a welcome Mediterranean breeze. Violinist, synth player and composer Enzo Rao has found a way to bring the world of jazz improvisation into his country's folk traditions, and then bring it out alive and well, in interesting and unique contexts. To do this, he has created Shamal, an ensemble of musicians equal to the task that includes world renowned percussionist Glen Velez and reed player Gianni Gebbia. Their virtuosity and diverse interests lend the group a unique sound, one that is full of Mediterranean references from Sicily to Morocco, and yet is completely contemporary. Each track has much to offer. "Ettna" is a frenzy of Arabic percussion and hot jazz melodies. "Acqua di Mare," a duet between Rao and Velez, is slow and mystical. "Vedersi Andar Via" adds a dark component through the pianist Diego Spitaleri. "Waiting For You" is perhaps the most alluring piece on the recording, a violin solo by Rao that moves from Gipsy romance to a fiery finale of flying fingers and electronic effects. The album finishes with a Sicilian "Danse A Trois" that well defines the blend of ancient and modern at the heart of Ettna, its energy drawn from an international well-spring that never loses touch with its local roots.


Zampogne en Italie
(Silex)

One of the most fascinating bagpipe releases of recent vintage is this disc of field recordings of the unique family of bagpipes that survives in southern Italy. These pipes are set apart from most west European bagpipes in that they have two chanters; one is played by each hand. They can produce a reinforcement of the primary melody line (when the chanters are of the same length) or a harmonic interval between the two chanters. The chanters and drones of the zampogne are all set together in a common stock in front of the instrument. In all other particulars, the zampogne are a heterogeneous group of pipes. The number of drones on the different types of zampogne varies from four down to none at all. Some are double-reed pipes, others single. Some are cylindrical bore, some conical. Some have open-ended pipes, some are capped. Some are as large as a grown man, so that the player looks as though he is waltzing with an inflatable partner. Others are quite small.

The sounds on this disc are as intriguing as the descriptions and photos of the pipes in the accompanying booklet. Throughout its 76-minute length, the disc provides intriguing samples of various flavors, from the shrill call of the pive de l'Istrie to the mellower tones of the zampogna a chiave. At its richest, the sound of the zampogna can be a chord of five or six notes. This gives it a resonance that many pipes lack. At its most extreme, in the zampogna a chiave, the difference in the chanters makes the pipes sound like an organ, with a melody line and a bass line played simultaneously by different hands. The pipers that were sought out and recorded for this project have a varied repertoire of dances, carols, and other tunes. Some of them are accompanied by singers, others by tambourine, and still others by a shrill oboe called a ciaramelle, much like the Breton bombarde. Although this is a rather specialized and esoteric album for the general listener, serious bagpipe fans, ethno-musicologists, folklorists, and other assorted nerds will find it indispensable. -- Steve Winick


Back to the top

Search RootsWorld

See: Europe

return to rootsworld Will You Subscribe?