owe my interest in Italian folk music to mum and dad (mama and papa) due to the fact that they come from Italy, Vallo Della Lucania in the Campania region.
My dad, Aniello or Andy as he is known as, taught himself the piano accordion after arriving in Australia in the early 1960s. He played in Italian flavoured bands and parties in the Wollongong area of New South Wales. Wollongong is 100km south of Sydney. There was and still is a large Italian community in the area based originally on supporting the Port Kembla Steelworks industry.
At age 10 dad attempted to pass on the intricacies of the piano accordion to me. I learnt the classic Italian numbers. I must admit a reluctance during my teen years to playing or admitting that I played accordion and Italian music to my schoolmates.
However my enthusiasm for playing the accordion was rekindled as I attended Wollongong University and I was introduced to Australian folk music through the Bushwackers.
From there I progressed into Celtic/Australian folk music, became a member of a bush band, Warrabush and then Wongawilli, attended folk festivals and broadened my folk music interests.
At some point in my folk music career, I think in my late twenties, there came a realisation that it was important to go back to my Italian musical roots. So began a journey of collecting, sourcing and playing Italian music along with the other folk music I played.
There was also an acceptance by my folk music comrades who also were to happy play the material. We featured the music at a number of our local folk festivals at Jamberoo, Illawarra Folk Festival in the form of Italian Lunch. This was a combined food and music event with pasta like mama used to make!
The interest was amazing and we still hold the event at the Illawarra Folk Festival. The group performing included my dad who had progressed to a myriad of percussion instruments including the tricche ballache, a Neapolitan noise maker. Other musicians included members of our Wongawilli Bush Band and friends from Obrobini.
We’d found the tricche ballache on a holiday in Italy. It was being used in a band at a restaurant in the ancient hilltop medieval town of Tivoli outside of Rome. It is actually a Neapolitan instrument. Funnily enough, as in Australia, it was hard to find the old folk music being played. There were certainly the favourites at the tourist haunts but anything more authentic was difficult to source.
I yearned to find a good tarantella and to share it! Opportunities arose to play the music I’d acquired at a couple of local theatre productions with Italian content, firstly Emma and then Italian Stories.
So this collection has been around twenty years in the making. It’s a mix of popular tunes and songs and some more obscure items that I’ve found in books such as Elba Gurzau’s ‘Folk Dances, Costumes and Customs of Italy and a myriad of other books. There are also a couple of newly composed tunes and some from transcribed from recordings of Italian folk bands.
Many of the tunes are actually songs but for simplicity I have omitted the lyrics. Many of the lyrics are available on various websites. Just type in the title and do a search.
The title of the collection ‘Zumpŕ’ and it is a Neapolitan dialect word meaning mean ‘jump’. As in most translation of words it’s not quite the right meaning. It is more related to the feeling of dancing, jumping around happily. I thought it an appropriate description of what some of the music might do for that lurking inner Latin spirit!
I would like to thank my wife and son, Tania and Samuel, for being very patient and supportive while I’ve been engrossed in this project. Thanks also to Jane Brownlee, Walter Bof and Mark Holder-Keeping for musical input and advice. Thanks to the opportunity from the National Folk Festival to present the music and this book at the 2006 event as part of the Italian theme.
And of course I have to thank my dad and mum for making us play the music! It has certainly opened many social doors and provided many good times and more to come hopefully!
David Pantaleo De Santi, April 2006
Italian folk dances evolved, as did most forms of dance, from the desire to express emotions and needs in a visual form. From the beginning, into the Renaissance period, and beyond, dance movements were thought to have magical properties.
Courtship dances, war dances, and harvest dances were developed, for example, to influence natural phenomena. Therefore, in many Italian folk dances, one can see movements that represent magical symbols, such as the star, cross, wheel, and circle. Many well-known popular dances, like the waltz and polka, began as courtship dances in which couples perform a series of figures that symbolize flirtation, pursuit, rejection, cajoling, and finally, acceptance.
Although Italy has never produced a truly national dance every region is rich in its own examples and there are as many types and as many variations of some of these as there are regions.
Every occasion used to be a reason for dancing – agricultural feasts, betrothals, weddings, public festivals and anniversaries both civil and religious. There has been a decline in these folk style activities with the advent of modern society.
Most widely diffused is the so-called erotic teasing style dance depicting courtship or used as a nuptial dance. Sometimes the choice is the woman’s as in the Mirror dance (dello Specchio), the Sigh (dello Sosprio), the Chair (della Segiola) or the Married Couple’s dance (degli Sposi).
Piedmont offers an immense variety of dances. There we find armed dances with swords such as the Swordsmen of San Giorio (Turin) and the Lachera of Rocca Grimalda (province of Alessandria). The charming Piedmontese courting dance, the Monferrina, has travelled over many regions. Other erotic dances include La Furlana in Fruili and Veneto, the Trescone in Emilia and Tuscany, the Saltarello in many regions and the most animated courting dance, the Tarantella from southern regions.
There are another group of dances displaying a definitely religious background and form part of ceremonies. In Calabria a dance by flagellants has survived, in Sicily the Riattate is danced during the festival of the Madonna of the Myrtle. In Castelfermini one of the main features of the festival of the Invention of the Holy Cross is the Taratata, a sword dance.
The most widespread dance in central and southern Italy was the saltarello, which literally means ‘little hop’, though the actual movements vary from area to area. The saltarello is a lively, merry dance that developed from the galliard in Naples during the 13th century. The two instruments normally associated with it over the last two hundred years have been the friction drum and the button accordion.
The tarantella (tarentule, tarentella, tarantel) is a traditional dance in rapid 6/8 time that lives in Campania, Lucania, Calabria, Apuglia, Sicily and Sardinia.
It is named after Taranto in southern Italy, and is popularly associated with the large local wolf spider or "tarantula" spider (Lycosa_tarentula) whose bite was allegedly deadly and could be cured only by frenetic dancing (see tarantism). In actual fact the spider’s venom is not dangerous enough to cause any severe effects and the spiders, far from being aggressive, avoid human contact.
The tarantella can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and may have evolved from an even older dance. According to legend, an epidemic of tarantula poisonings spread through the town of Taranto. The victims (tarantata) were typically farm women or others whose daily life might reasonably bring them into contact with the kinds of spiders that run in the fields. These supposed victims of spider bites would dance while villagers played mandolins or tambourines. Various rhythms were used until one worked, vigorous dancing ensued, and eventually the tarantata was cured. Many people have suggested that the whole business was a deceit to evade religious proscriptions against dancing.
The main instruments used in traditional dance are the fisarmonica (piano accordion), the organetto (button accordion), zampogna (bagpipes), zufolo / friscalettu (whistles), la ghironda (hurdy gurdy) and maranzano / scacciapensieri (Jew’s harp). Mandolins, guitars (10 string variety), tamborines and various drums are used as well. Some of the percussion instruments include the tricche ballache, putipu (also known as cupacupa, zonzuro), tammora, tamburello and bummulu (Sicilian jug).
References used to compile the book:
Dances of Italy – Bianca M. Galanti, Max Parrish & Co 1950
Folk Dances, Costumes and Customs of Italy – Elba Farabegoli Gurzau, first edition 1949, updated 2000, Italian Folk Art Federation of America, Inc.