Nistanimera - Chore!
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cd cover There used to be a time, not long ago, that records from the Griko and Greko speaking communities of Salento and Calabria, respectively, were few and far between. Although Salento (in Apulia) has experienced something of a recovery in recent years, that was not so true of Calabria and even less so of the community of minority speakers there, which is bordering extinction. It is within this framework that Chorè! comes as a welcome surprise.

Ettore Castagna and the band did a lot of research before making this recording a reality and they are kind enough to share that wealth of information with us in the accompanying 40-page bilingual (Italian and English) booklet, which acts as a gateway to these fascinating cultures.

This is one of the rare instances where I regret having listened first to the music prior to reading the booklet. What a grave mistake to make. The music can seem raw and repetitive to a casual listener, even a touch pretentious. But upon reading the liner notes, I was convinced that this demanding recording is a piece of serious ethnomusicological research as well as a fascinating aural reconstruction of a musical tradition lost or fighting for survival. It is within this context that Nistanimèra ought to be congratulated on their effort. You read the lyrics, survey the nuances of the differences between the Calabrian Greko and the Apulian Griko, then move forward to the stories of thousands of years of local culture, augmented by the influx of new arrivals from mainland Greece each time a new disaster hit. Love, war, lullabies, job problems are all concepts tackled in these songs.

The Calabrian musical tradition has a greater repertoire of musical instruments: bagpipes, lyre, chitttara battente, double flute are all pieces of this musical puzzle. Ettore Castagna plays the lyre, the chittara battente, the Jew's harp, the frauta (a kind of reed flute that can only survive for a day) and the double flute. Piero Crucitti plays the button accordion, the ninarelli (a shallow drum-frame) and the tambourine. Diego Pizzimenti plays the tambourine, the bagpipes and some ephemeral flutes, as well as offering acoustic guitar and vocals. Valentino Santagàti sings and plays guitars; Anna Cinzia Villani sings, plays the tambourine, the button accordion, the mouth organ and sits on the rocking chair featured in the last track to simulate the way a lullaby would have sounded, back in the day. This multitude of instruments is used to give life to the 18 tracks of this record, some of which will be familiar to anyone well-versed in the musical tradition, others that are are virtually unknown or have been reconstructed by the band from texts in a process they call a "melodic transplant." This is used mostly for the Calabrian songs, for which no music survives to this day.

Nistanimèra have given voice to sounds and words that are bordering on oblivion and we should all be grateful to them for their effort. If the results sometimes sound raw and unconditioned and ancient, the better for it as this is truly the sound of ghosts as it comes through the instruments and the voices of a group who are dedicated into being their ancestors' custodians. This project is not for the faint-hearted, but it is a necessary appendix to anyone seriously interested in these magnificent traditions. - Nondas Kitsos

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