The Greek Musical Tradition in South Italy
Part 2: The Music

Since the early 19th century, a number of ethnologists have tried to document these traditions, and transcribe the songs. Although not many sung in the local idiom survive, the quality of those that do is outstanding.
cd cover

The music can roughly be categorized as following:

Religious Music

This includes the Mass, performed in the local language and usually following the Orthodox ritual, even though the local church came under the Catholic jurisdiction in the recent past.

song info
One of the most interesting quasi-religious musical pieces is the "I Passiuna tu Christù" (Christ's Passion), a recollection of the events taking place through the Christian Holy Week, the holiest period in Grecìa and Greece. cd cover It is performed in the street by two singers and an accordion player. There are many versions of excerpts available (including Ghetonìa, Savina Yannatou (on Virgin Maries of the World) and on the Hellenic Musical Tradition in South Italy record).

If you are interested in the complete version with elaborate notes, then you should look for "I Passiuna tu Christù" on Edizioni Aramirè (EA04), a field recording of outstanding quality and musicality. Of similar nature is the "La Strina," which is a song about the birth and infancy of Jesus from Grecìa Salentina and Novena from Calabria.

Secular Music

The secular music of the two regions basically consists of:

dancer and musicians The tarantella, a popular dance used for curing the bite of a spider, Lycosa tarantula, is typical of the region. Many of the spider's victims were women who would go into a trance, dancing ecstatically until, exhausted, they would slow down, taken as a sign that they were cured. The tarantella is also known to the Romance population of the region.

"Pizzica di cosimino"
song info
The performers were not only able musicians but akin to shamans who were able to find the appropriate rhythm for the kind of spider that had bit the patient. It is generally accepted that the tarantella is directly related to the ritual of the cult of Dionysus (the patron god of wine) of Ancient Greece.

There are many wonderful examples in almost all the recordings of Grico and Grecanico music.

The love songs of the region possess an irresistible beauty and attraction. The combination of an intricate rhythm section and melodic background and a vernacular lyrical tradition capable of expressing a wide range of emotions from unrequited love to outright lust is quite wondrous. Comparing it to the music and the vernacular poetry of the region of the Peloponnese (where the second wave of immigrants to Grecìa arrived from), the influence of the Italian musical tradition and the advantages of life in a tension-free environment (characteristic of that culture) become utterly palpable.

Here are some examples of that poetry:

(Aspro è tto chartì)

"Two good craftsmen did your portrait
And it was a success,
So that you could remain in the world for remembrance."

(Agàpimu fidela protinì)

"My faithful first love
I still see you in my sleep
But when I wake up I do not find you there
And I start to cry a lot.
Let my love into your heart
As I've let it into mine
That's the way things go
You should love those who love you."


"From the roses and the carnations
And the other scented flowers
I'd rather have a bed
Where you and I could lie together

If I were to kiss you
I feel that in a moment
The whole heavens
Would be wide open

But whatever I'm telling you is just like a dream
That immediately disappears
And I wake up and find myself
Worse than I have ever been."


Songs about immigration also cover a large part of the repertoire. Living in a land were harsh times were the rule, immigration soon became a viable solution, with people leaving for the industrialized North or abroad.

Immigration, which always carries with it the nostalgia for the motherland, is probably what connects the Greeks and the Grechi and Grecani together most potently. In a recent Ghetonìa concert it was quite touching to see people with no apparent interest in world music sing out the whole following song. This was a way to realize how much that song speaks to the Greek soul:

"Aremu rindineddha"
Here are two versions of the song, performed almost 2 decades apart by singer Roberto Licci.

The narrator is talking to a swallow, when we join

I've been asking you about my mother
The most beloved
Who is expecting me back for so long,
As long as it's been since she has seen me
I've been asking you about my father
And for the whole of the neighborhood
If only you could speak,
How much you would have told me!
I sit before the sea,
I look at you,
You just go up, then down
And just touch upon the water
But you are not giving me any answers
To the things I'm asking you of.
You just go up, then down
And just touch upon the water."

(Aremu rindineddha)


Work Songs: In the rural agricultural communities that define the two regions, work was the rule and free times the exception. Under the scorching sun, from dawn till dusk, the people would work the land. In those times, usually of solitude, they would sing to entertain themselves. During those songs, they would touch upon all the great issues, making a mental recapitulation of the day or their lives.

"Ninusu Ninusu"
Song Info

Mothers were often forced to carry their children in the field with them or keep them peaceful while they were busy with housekeeping. Lullabies, therefore, were a staple of their daily cycle and they would be also a way to take pride in the little ones or wish for their future: a good marriage, an easy life.


In a life full of hardships, laments for the dead were heard quite often. Performed by professional women singers who acquired a quasi-spiritual role, they would include kind words and reflections about an elder's life or an almost self-inflicting sense of pain for the younger ones. The moroloja are powerful expressions of the ancient soul of those people.

Part 3: The Instruments and Recordings

Return to the Grico Home Page

Audio Notes:

"Passiuna" I Passiuna tu Christu
Edizioni Aramire
accordion: Raffaele De Santis
voice: Salvatore Russo voice: Pantaleo Stomeo)
from Martano, Salento

"Pizzica di cosimino"
Canto D'Amore Edizioni Aramire
Cosimino Surdo:vocals and tambourine
Calimera, Salento

"Aspro chartě"
Canto D'amore Edizioni Aramire EA03
voices: Giovanni Avantaggiato, Antonio e Luigi Costa, Nicola Fonesca, Giuseppe e Leonardo Lolli, Giovanni Mangia, Antonio Serra, Nicola Tanieli
from Corigliano d' Otranto

"Agŕpimu fidela protině," "Malia" "Aremu rindineddha" (1998), and "Ninisu Ninisu"
Grecěa Salentina Canti e musiche popolari
Ensemble Ghetonia:
Salvatore Cotardo: ance and flutes
Emanuele Licci: classical guitar and backing vocals
Roberto Licci vocals and acoustic guitar
Franco Nuzzo: tambourine and percussions
Emilia Ottaviano: vocals
Angelo Urso: bass
Admir Shkurtay: harmonica
from Calimera, Salento

"Aremu rindineddha" (1981), and "Kaleddha"
Hellenic Musical Tradition In South Italy
Roberto Licci:vocals-guitar
Francesca Licci: vocals
from Calimera, Salento


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Article by Nondas Kitsos
©2001 RootsWorld. No reproduction is allowed without specific written permission.