About This Project
This first step of the
project was incredibly long, tiring and expensive to achieve. No one believed
to this project at the beginning, because Sicilian folk music is nearly dead
and it is not very appreciated in Sicily. Almost everybody here knows
just few (and relatively modern) songs that are commonly played by the "gruppi
folcloristici", groups of musicians and dancers, dressed in a traditional
way, that perform mainly for tourists.
The most difficult thing was probably to
identify and rebuild the instruments, but also to find (and motivate) the
musicians, and to find and arrange the songs was very hard. Also the recording
and the mixing was longer than usual. Each instrument has got his own
story. Besides the "friscalettu", which is still nowadays played, the others
was rebuilt or found in different ways.
The harp, by instance. We know that the
"orbi" used to play also an harp, but what kind of harp?
There are two different, but not necessarily
1) the harp used in Sicily was similar
to that one played in the past in Calabria, of which there are several traces
in a very small Calabrian town, "Viggiano".
2) the harp was brought by the spanish,
during their colonisation of Sicily. In this case the instrument could be
similar to the XVII century spanish harps.
We followed this second way, but it was
not very easy. During a masterclass in Urbino, I asked to the best italian
player of historical harps, Mara Galassi, where to find an old spanish harp.
She gave me the address of the only instrument-maker capable to rebuild this
instrument. He lives in
Tenerife, Islas Canarias, and he took the
plan of construction of this charming instrument from a book stored in the
royal library of Madrid. So I contacted him and, a couple of months later,
I went to Tenerife to fetch my harp. Its name is "Flavia", and it is near
me in the meanwhile I am writing to you.
The "bifera" is another good example. It
is an ancester of the oboe, played in the past by our shepherds. Four years
ago I visited a very old shepherd, Sebastiano Liuzzo, living (I hope) in
Maniace, in the northern side of the Etna. He also was a "ciaramedda" maker,
and a player as well. He played for me for few minutes using an incredibly
old model. Despite the age, he was great. I remember he said that is not
possible to become a good "ciaramedda" player if you do not start to practise
at the age of 5-6. I asked him to make a "bifera" for me. He
replied that he made his last "bifera" forty or fifty years earlier, and
he was no sure about the result, overall because I did not not remember the
holes positions. I asked him to try anyway. His "bifera" was completely out
of tune. But the materials, the shape and the proportions were the right
In the same period I knew about another
old men living in a very small town near Isernia, in Molise. He is
capable to make several wind instruments. Among them, the "cialamella". The
"cialamella" played in Molise is not similar to the Sicilian "ciaramedda",
which is a bagpipe. It is, more or less, a "bifera". So I sent him the Sicilian
shepherd's "bifera", asking him to make a copy with the holes in the right
I got similar stories for the "colascione",
that was rebuilt twice; for the "lute-guitar", dated around 1830, founded
in Lucca and restored in Randazzo; for the "chitarrino", taken by iconographical
The musicians selection took me more than
one year. The most difficult was to persuade them to play those strange
instruments, and playing with them a kind of music that everyone in Sicily
links to that one played by the "gruppi folcloristici". The rehersals started
two years ago, and we worked at the same time for the recordings and for
the show. I wrote "show", and not "concert", because all the musical pieces
are linked each other by the intervention of a narrator.
Also the tales and the poetries acted by
the narrator belong to the oldest Sicilian tradition. Ada Russo, our narrator,
found them during a very long quest in the Sicilian libraries. We selected
few pearls between more than one hundred books written by etnologists like
Pitré, Amabile Guastella, Vigo, and others, during the first half
of the XX century. It was not very easy to get the books. In some of the
biggest public sicilians libraries you have to be a student to get a book,
and you have also to demonstrate that you need the book for your degree
The songs and the dances was taken from
different sources The oldest one is a group of manuscripts written by a German
musician, Giacomo Mayerbeer, during his Sicilian journey in 1806. He transcribed
part of the repertoire played by the "orbi", the blind Sicilian
The oldest dance of this precious collection
is probably "La Capona". In a note Mayerbeer wrote: "very old, it was composed
more than one hundred years ago". It means that it belongs to the XVII century!
It was a pleasure to arrange and record it. Now "La Capona" is the last track
of our CD.
For the recordings we created a little,
fully digital, studio for having the chance to work without haste. Some friends
of mine lend us some very good microphones, and I worked with another friend,
Graziano Lacagnina, for the recordings and the mixing. It took us more than
18 months. We have not received any help from the Government.
Despite the written that you will find
in the back of our CD, "con l'Alto Patrocinio dell'Assemblea Regionale Siciliana
e della Fondazione Federico II", we have never got any financial aid from
them... Until last week. Just few days ago, infact, I received a letter in
which the Regional departement for the cultural affairs allow us a funds
of 4.700.000 italian lire (about 3.100 U.S. dollars) for... "attività
From 1995 up to now, I personally spent
for the "Armós" project more than ten times this amount. By chance,
in the last years I was not alone.
The musicians made lots of rehersals without
asking any remboursement (someone came from distant towns); the director
we choose for setting up the show, Salvo Piro, did it for nothing; and the
same did the narrator, despite she spent lots of days closed in libraries
pretending to be a student. Also the web site was realised with the unwarranted
collaboration of a friend, Cristiano Marletta.
Anyway, now the CD is finished and the
show is ready. And we did it without compromises of any kind. I don't know
if we will have success or not (we are still looking for distribution), but
I know we have already saved (and ferried across the future) sounds, words
and melodies otherwise buried and dead.