Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
Southern Italian pizzica tarantata
In southern Italy, the music that accompanies the trance-like dance ritual of tarantism nearly vanished before becoming the most prominent symbol of a regional resurgence. Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (CGS), a seven-member ensemble from the Salento peninsula of Apulia, known as the “the heel of the boot” of Italy, led this revival of interest in the music and dance of Salento. In the process, the group became the biggest stars of Italian traditional music.
Salento’s distinctive music is the pizzica tarantata, which accompanies the dance (pizzica) associated with tarantism, the belief in ritual possession arising from the bite of a local spider, the taranta. The centuries-old practice remained strong in this rural and impoverished region into the mid-20th century. Those who believed they were afflicted by the spider’s bite would exorcise the poison through trance-like dancing accompanied by hired musicians, whose songs were propelled by the heartbeat-like rhythms of the tamburello frame drum. For the possessed, who were mostly women, the ritual brought communal attention to their expression of suffering, which Salentine anthropologist Ernesto de Martino believed was more cultural, economic, and existential than physical. As CGS bandleader Mauro Durante says, the songs in this tradition “have a power, a magic, that you can feel even today. They are connected to really important things. They are connected to contact—something we are losing today.”
Just as the purportedly pagan and backward practice of tarantism was in danger of being snuffed out by the forces of modernism and the Catholic Church, its propulsive music and protest politics were embraced by a new generation. Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino was formed in 1975 by the musical scholar and activist Rina Durante, along with her cousin, the guitarist and singer Daniele Durante, who led the group for three decades, revitalizing interest throughout Italy in this regional genre.
Today’s CGS carries on this legacy with the dedication of a new but deeply rooted generation. Current bandleader Mauro Durante, who plays frame drums and violin, is the son of Daniele Durante and fellow CGS founding member Rossella Pinto. The younger Durante joined the group at age 14, and inherited his father’s mantle in 2007. Under Mauro’s leadership, CGS is bringing both the introspective and the ecstatic aspects of Salentine music to a global audience.
Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino is anchored by the singing of a trio of outstanding vocalists: the mesmerizing Alessia Tondo, Giancarlo Paglialunga (also a masterful player of the tamburrieddhu), and Emanuele Licci, a guitar and bouzouki player who, like Durante, is the son of an original CGS member. Powering the band’s sound are the multitalented Giulio Bianco on a brace of instruments including the Italian bagpipes, and pizzica scholar Massimiliano Morabito, hailed as “the best traditional diatonic accordionist in Puglia.” In keeping with the tradition of tarantism, the seventh member of the band is not a musician at all, but the incomparable dancer Silvia Perrone.
Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino has 18 albums to its credit, the most recent being 2015’s Quaranta, so named in celebration of its 40-year legacy. By combining music and dance that engage centuries of history with lyrics that often address modern challenges, CGS continues the Salentine tradition of using pizzica tarantata to draw the community together in order to process life’s struggles and to expel the poisons of the contemporary world. As Mauro Durante says, “This music is important now, it's not just a postcard from the past.”