L'Alba À principiu
Review by Cliff Furnald
Corsica is in the central Mediterranean Sea, equally distant from Italy and France, and sitting scant miles north of Sardinia. Like most of the major islands in the Mediterranean, Corsica has had its share of invaders, conquerors, visitors and immigrants. It has been under Roman, Visigoth, Vandal, Ottoman and European rule. It was passed around among the pre-Italian republics of Lombardy, Tuscany and Genoa. It was ultimately ceded to France by the Genoese, and it's brief life as an independent nation was crushed. It remains a territory of France but in modern times has some measure of political independence.
All this turmoil makes for a unique culture, with strong ties to France and the French language, but still maintaining its own unique institutions, language and music. Most familiar of the musical part of that is the vocal music of the island, pulifunie, the polyphonic choral tradition that has had a resurgence since the 1960s and some of those choral groups have achieved some small international fame, as well as attention from contemporary composers from who incorporated it into works such as Hector Zazou's Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses and David Reuff's Tra Ochju e Mare.
On their fifth recording, À principiu, L'Alba straddle the old and the new, with strong vocal references to the traditional polyphonic singing and nods to contemporary folk and jazz. They embrace the many influences that have flowed through the island, from Arabic, North African, Italian and French inhabitants and visitors, as well as reaching out further to places like Greece, Portugal, Senegal and Zimbabwe.
They start off with “Guarisce” (Healing), which takes on a gentle touch of the currently popular 'desert blues' groove on the guitar slipping under the voices as they sing, “I ease your pain with a silk glove. I expunge our clashes in these tumultuous times.” It's a simple and direct delivery of their poetry over a hypnotic riff.
"Schjarì u to chjassu"
They don't neglect the island's traditional sounds, offering a few polyphonic vocal pieces like “Schjarì u to chjassu,” where they promise, “I will light your way, but without choosing your route. Life is full of pitfalls and danger.” But they roll right into the next track with a distinctly Middle Eastern flavor on a song of resistance, “Ancu sfarente” (A tomorrow to be invented).
"Stranieru da l_internu"
There are ballads that invoke the past like “Stranieru da l_internu,” (Stranger from within), but they are in service to the present, as they invoke Corsican history, and remind us of the present pain of immigration and conflict that still surrounds us. L'Alba are not here to recreate the past, but to remind us that past and present are separated by a very thin line and crossing it is both a challenge and a blessing. À principiu presents a global vision from a very local perspective, in poetry and song that crosses that line on each track.