The most welcome respite for rich and poor alike is to gather to listen to the beautiful tragude or songs, accompanied by the bagpipe and the tambourine, in impromptu serenades performed beneath the casement of a sweetheart, or in the evening, especially on Holy Days.
Cesare Lombroso, In Calabria, (Giannotta Editore, Catania, 1898)
Traditional music and singing were once the only form of entertainment known to the Aspromonte Greeks before the advent of the “television era”. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, due to natural disasters, emigration and depopulation, traditional music, as a form of socialisation in the Greek-speaking inland areas, died out little by little.
Music and its traditional instruments once accompanied every phase of the lifecycle and seasons, that is, weddings, christenings (songs and sonate a ballu), funerals (keening) as well as Holy Day celebrations: the patron saint’s feast day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter and Carnival.
Private parties also provided occasions to enjoy music and song, and dancing in particular, as forms of entertainment and socialisation (see the following section on Greek-Calabrian dance).
In Greek-speaking Aspromonte, during the past few decades, the very fabric of traditional musicians and singers has declined considerably. The end of the twentieth century, with the demise of the older generation of musicians has seen the local tradition give way, for better or worse, to more or less innovative forms due to the pressures of ecotourism, festivals, emigration and new cultural models which have impacted on the very conception of music, dance and instruments. At the present state of the art, the importance, presence and repertoire of the bagpipes has diminished considerably due to a lack of generational renewal, while the button accordion flourishes.
Deferring an in-depth analysis of both the area’s historic musical culture and its present state of development, we shall simply present some of the instruments belonging to Greek-Calabrian peasant-pastoral musical tradition.
Cerameddi, Zampogna [Bagpipe]
The unrivalled queen of the Aspromonte district’s musical realm is the bagpipe. This instrument which accompanies traditional singing (traguda in Greek) comes in two forms in the Graecanic area:
Cerameddi a paru – the a paru bagpipe
The main characteristic of this instrument is that its two chanters are of equal length, which explains why it is called a paru (equal). It has three drones (bass, middle-range and high) all tuned in the dominant key. The area where this instrument can be found is vast indeed and ranges from eastern Sicily to all of southern Calabria.
The version used in the Graecanic area is small in size and tuned somewhere between A and G.
Cerameddi a moderna – the a moderna (modern) bagpipe
This bagpipe is traditionally known as a moderna probably because it came into being between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its distinguishing feature is the different lengths of its two chanters; the left one is almost double the other. This is due, most probably, to the influence of the majestic “keyed” bagpipe typical of the northern Reggio and the Catanzaro districts. The drones are tuned like those of the keyed bagpipe (bass in the tonic, middle-range and high in the dominant). Here too the tuning hovers somewhere between G and A. Like the a paru, this bagpipe is usually accompanied by the tambourine.
The smaller-sized instruments have disappeared from the Cardeto district and have been replaced by larger ones in a lower key (for example the a paru bagpipe in F).
The sulàvria – double-flute (in the Latin-based dialect Fischiotti, literally “whistles”)
During the period between the two world wars the double-flute was used as an instrument preparatory to learning the bagpipes as well as being an instrument with characteristics and a repertoire all its own. Easy to carry, this instrument was a favourite with shepherds. At present in a critical state, people still remember how to construct it, though it is no longer used as an introduction to the bagpipe.
Two different types of sulavria or fischiotti [double-flute] are typical of the area: the Sicilian and the a paru, each tuned in a different key and playing a different scale. They are made entirely from cane, a material that requires precise ageing procedures
and skilled craftsmanship.
Frauta – the seasonal bark flute
An ephemeral instrument lasting little longer than one day, the bark flute (frauta) is made by using a young chestnut sapling in springtime to obtain a tube.
At one end of this tube a whistle is fashioned and the remaining wood used to create a block which channels the air towards the hole at the base of the whistle. The sound is modulated by changing breath pressure as well as by using a finger to vary the size of the hole.
Arganettu – Organetto – the button accordion
The button accordion, a relatively recent arrival to this area (and to the rest of Calabria too), was introduced between the two world wars. Exclusively in the two-bass version, this instrument, easy to maintain and requiring no tuning, spread throughout the Graecanic area and began to replace the bagpipes almost completely to accompany singing and perform the tunes required on every other musical occasion.
Tambureddu – Tambourine
The principal percussion instrument of the Greek-Calabrian Aspromonte area, it is a member of the frame drum family. In olden times it was made by stretching a previously cured and shaved goat’s skin over the frame of a sieve, securing it and inserting pairs of small metal discs into a number of slots around the rim.
Who constructs the instruments typical of the Calabrian Graecanic tradition?
Here we shall simply mention those who construct the ancient instruments typical of the Calabrian Graecanic area alone.
Foremost and best qualified of the instrument-makers who reintroduced the instruments of the Calabrian Graecanic tradition, are Sergio Di Giorgio from Reggio Calabria, Demetrio Vazzana, from Prunella di Melito, and Bruno Marzano from Bovalino. All of these craftsmen distinguished themselves by carrying out a painstaking census and documentation of the production centres and oldest models of the traditional instruments existing here between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As far back as the 1970’s, Sergio Di Giorgio pioneered a veritable rediscovery of the bagpipe and its modes of construction.