Music in Sardinia


Make music is a prerogative of our species. Every culture/society shapes the sound, "organizes" it in relation to its way of life, it's system of beliefs and values. In a given social context, make music allows people to express themselves, relate to others, put in place communication strategies, express their sense of belonging, create individual and collective identities. In Sardinia like in other places, make music consists of a combination of practices, passed through generations, based on strict rules about performing and the use of musical instruments.

Observing cultural manifestations in Sardinia, both in an historical and modern context, it's impossible to not emphasize the quantity and variety of music and dances; Yesterday as today music is a key element in religious and civil festivities, private and public meetings, in bars, squares, on stages, during folk festivals and so on.

Music, oral tradition and history

The rooting in the communities of musical traditions inherited form the past, a past that is sought, evoked and too often mythologized, can't make us overlook the dynamism of the musical creativity, which is closely linked to the personal or collective experiences of the musicians. Oral Tradition offers indeed models and patterns (forms, structures, way of issuing/articulate the sound) that are constantly reinterpreted by the current performers. That means that a musical product, a song a tenore, a sonata for Laubeddas or a religious chant, it's not given to us one time and forever, but it's reconstructed here and now by the performer. Here we have in play the dialectic of oral tradition/rules and the musician's individuality.

Because of that we can guess the relationship with the traditions is not something static, a simple reception of what previous generations passed on. What we got today is the product of accurate choices that people, communities, have done through the course of time.

In fact, before the invention of devices capable of capture the sound and fix it on a medium, at the end of the 19th century, music had to be performed in a specific time and place and enjoyed only by the actual audience. It didn't matter if it was written music or something from the oral tradition, the contribution of the performer was always needed.

We can guess that compared to us, that have all the music and images of the world always available on our devices, (computers, smartphones etc.), listening music was pretty limited back then, confined to the availability of one's town or the place that could be visited. This determined a substantial musical "self-sufficiency" of our communities, that for centuries expressed themselves with forms and genres specific to the single geographic areas. In this way a vast heritage is stratified, made of different types of song (religious, profane, polyphonic, monodic), music for dances and music instruments. Periodically this continuity is interrupted by little and big fractures, like the introduction of new instruments during the industrial revolution; The diatonic hand organ and the accordion for instance, were brought from the mainland at the end of the 18th century and were instantly used by sardinians, to compose many original material.

Our knowledge about the old sardinian musical traditions comes from the 18th century, when foreign travelers, civil servants and clerics visited the island and observed them, telling stories of a world that for their eyes and ears accustomed to others contexts, was quite unfamiliar. What for sardinians was normalcy, were reported in the chronicles as something curious, exotic. For all the 18th century a vast number of travelers has portrayed Sardinia and its inhabitants, some more thoroughly than others, with more or less empathy, but always pointing out their dances and music, especially "ballo tondo" (round dance) and Launeddas, that for them were a legacy of ancient cultures like biblical orient and classical roman.

Continuity and changes in the 19th century

At the beginning of the 19th century, with the rise of ethnological studies, the interest for the sardinian poetry and music opens the way to a new season of researches: Giulio Fara (1880-1949) lead pioneering works investigating several aspects of the music on the island, Gavino Gabriel (1881-1979) played a role in its divulgation beyond the local borders, even with recordings.

At least since the italian exposition of 1911, the traditional costumes and the culture of the island attract the interest of the not locals; in the twenties-thirties under the fascist government and it's workmen's club, the national "folklore" started to be organized and the first folk groups were formed. They not only worn the traditional costumes, they brought the use of the traditional dances and music out of the conventional contexts.

Contrary to what happened in other italian and foreign realities, the sardinian society is still profoundly bounded to archaic production systems, its ways of life change slowly and it continues to express itself both in everyday life and during festivities, with practices that start to be performed on stages as something exotic. But it's the rise of mass culture and the very fast social, economic and cultural changes after WWII, that really broke with the past in the way songs, music and dances were used. Since the fifties and for all the sixties the life of the local communities was deeply effected by the migration to northern Italy and central Europe, as well as and the industrialization process of the island.

Centenary traditions as the Sunday community dance in the square, the chants related to the cycle of life (anninnias, attitidus etc.) and some religious repertories weakened in time, becoming outdated. During celebrations, cantadores a poesia and a ghiterra, started to be accompanied on stage by bands with electric guitars and drums.

The folk groups and the choral singing of the nuorese school

As we said the birth of the folk groups with the traditional costumes, which performed shows with the traditional dances and songs, started in the twenties, but it's after the WWII that this practice really spread in the villages and town of the island, supported by the national tourism boards (Enit and Esit). Folk groups kept alive the musical and dancing traditions of the towns, performing again some dances and chats that were lost and were rediscovered again, thanks to the memories of the older people.

The idea itself of a performance in a folk event has changed the traditional settings, the dance for example is moved from the town's square to a proper stage. The biggest festivals are now organized with the support of local and national authorities, the sardinian cavalcade, the feast of sant'Efisio in Cagliari and Redentore in Nuoro, are in fact events that show new directions and create new replicable models.

In this environment, a new choral singing phenomenon emerges from the middle of the fifties, it looks to tradition (use of the sardinian language, the use of traditional costumes etc.) but integrates structural and stylistic elements derived from cultured choral signing. In the city of Nuoro polyphonic choirs are formed, due to the passion of some young fans of sardinian singing, operatic music and pop italian music. This kind of folk choirs, following the success of the first important formations ("coro barbagia" and "Coro di Nuoro"), knew and still know a remarkable popularity and diffusion on all the local territory.

From the folk revival to the world music

In Europe and United States, from the end of the fifties rose a cultural movement that lasted until the next decade, focused on the rediscovery and valorization of the popular music; folk revival. Echoes of this movement reached Italy in the sixties and bonded with the social and political renovations, that were at the core of 1968's protest movements. Popular music was indeed opposed to the values of the middle class capitalistic society, it intertwines with political songs and it's the centre of the researches and the performance of non popular musicians.

In Sardinia traditional music was still a big thing despite some ups and downs, it was shared and offered an interesting picture of richness and diversity. The collection called Musica Sarda (1973), curated by ethnomusicologists Diego Capitella and Pietro Sassu, with the help of linguist Leonardo Sole, contributed to the discovery of this legacy by the outside world. Sardinian traditional music was featured in important national shows about popular culture, like Ci ragiono e canto (1966) by dario Fo, where some of the guests were the choir "Galletto di Gallura" from Aggius and Sentite buona gente (1966-1967), written for the "piccolo teatro di Milano" by Roberto Leydi and Diego Capitella, for the direction of Alberto Negrin.

It will be especially the figure of Maria Carta, a true folk singer, to bring Sardinia in the forefront of the biggest television shows made by RAI (the italian national channels), imposing herself as the true icon of the sardinian music. Not only she rearranged some traditional songs (for example with the use of classical guitars), but she wrote new original material.

Instrumental Music