Caminos de pache (Paths of Peace)
Dunya Records fy 8088
This CD is something of a revelation - and in several ways. Firstly - from track 1 - they sound different; faster, higher, harder. Secondly, they are joined on two tracks by a couple of Sardinia's finest instrumentalists - Luigi Lai on launeddas and Totore Chessa on accordion. Although this is a 'first' for the group, it's not as startling an innovation as might be imagined, since the two tracks concerned are both conventional songs rather than examples of the traditional sung dance music which comprises the usual cantu a tenores repertoire. Finally, half the group is new to us - Mario Pira (bassu) and Pierluigi Giorno (contra) replace Salvatore Bandinu and Tancredi Tucconi.
To recap slightly, for the benefit of newer readers, cantu a tenores is secular sung dance-music, performed by four singers who, for the most part, will have come together informally in the first instance to sing these songs within village social / feast / dance situations. It is still performed widely in villages and towns in the central parts of Sardinia, particularly the Barbagia region, where Bitti is situated. I first encountered it on that essential CD of Sardinian singing, Polyphonies de Sardaigne (Chant du Monde LDX 274760), recorded by Bernard Lortat-Jacob in the late '70s and early '80s. In general the lead singer (the boche, or mouth) sings some phrases or a whole verse, which is responded to by the other three in chorus with a series of rhythmic vocables of the 'bim-bam-bom' type which characterise the genre. This is the case here, with the exception of the two conventional songs mentioned earlier.
The two remaining founder-members, Daniele Cossellu and Piero Sanna both sing both the boche and the mesa 'oche parts at various points on the CD, but who's doing what in each song is not indicated in the booklet. I'm sorry about this, because I'd like to know which of them sings the boche on track 2, Operas Divinas (sound clip). This is about the finest example of cantu a tenores I've heard since those benchmark Lortat-Jacob recordings (and contrasts sharply with one or two of the other tracks where dynamic variation and emotional light-and-shade seem to be at a minimum). The short duration of the sound clips which are acceptable online mean that you only get a hint of the quality of these performances, but I hope you'll enjoy them sufficiently to buy the CD - I know you won't regret it!
Since cantu a tenores is now well-enough known among this audience I won't try to give you any more sound clips of the standard repertoire, but I think it would be remiss of me to leave you without hearing the contributions of Luigi Lai on launeddas (sound clip left - Sa grobes de s'annussata) and Totore Chessa on accordion (sound clip right - S'isposu de battorone). Both are superb, and it's great to hear a group with some 30 years of existence being prepared to try something so different ... and so good.
The Tenores de Bitti have had three CDs before this - two Sard recordings licenced by Felmay's New Tone label, and one from Real World. This present offering is their first recording since that last 1996 disc, and was recorded and produced by their greatest Italian fan, Felmay's Beppe Greppi. A fine job he's made of it, too. You can (and should) get this excellent CD from Felmay at: www.felmay.it or tell your local record shop that they're distributed in the UK by Discovery.
Rod Stradling - 12.11.04
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