Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – ‘Canzoniere’ (album stream) (premiere)

by George De Stefano

Canzoniere, the new album by Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (CGS), adroitly pulls off a tricky balancing act: adapting the Italian band’s unique, folk-based style to Western pop. The album’s cover art, a photograph of a Coca-Cola bottle filled with tomato sauce, is a visual metaphor for CGS’ new music. As CGS leader Mauro Durante notes, the Coke bottle “is a container — the Western pop song — but we put our own homemade sauce into that container.”

The album, whose title is Italian for “songbook”, comprises 11 original compositions and one traditional song, recorded in New York and Lecce, the band’s home base in the southern Puglia region. (Lecce is considered the capital of the Salento, a sub-region of Puglia famous for its music, dance, and Greek-derived language.) Canzoniereremains faithful to pizzica, the rhythm-powered Salento idiom that has made CGS an internationally acclaimed recording and touring ensemble. “We are still using our typical instruments, tamburelli [frame drums], violins, bouzouki, organetto [button accordion], and bagpipes,” says Durante. “We sing in Salentino dialect, we use our particular vocal, musical, and harmonic style, and our music is still driven by rhythm.”

But Canzoniere unmistakably is a departure from previous CGS albums and a new chapter in the band’s history. Here, pizzica merges with club-ready dance numbers, soulful ballads, and anthemic pop.

For the albums Focu d’Amore (2010), Pizzica Indiavolata(2013), and Quaranta (2015), Mauro Durante, and sometimes with other CGS members, adapted traditional pizzicheand other Salentine material or wrote new songs in a traditional vein. On Canzoniere, eight of the 12 tracks were co-written by Durante and US and European songwriters and musicians. Late in 2015, Durante went to New York for writing sessions with such proven hitmakers as Michael Leonhart (Bruno Mars, Steely Dan, James Brown), Rasmus Bille Bahncke (Sting, CeCe Winans, Backstreet Boys), Scott Jacoby (Coldplay, John Legend, Vampire Weekend), Steve Skinner (Diana Ross, Celine Dion), and Joe Mardin (Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Whitney Houston). Mardin, son of the legendary Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin, produced and mixed the album. Joe La Porta, who won a GRAMMY for his work on David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, was the mastering engineer.

Before their collaboration with Durante, none of these songwriters was familiar with the music of CGS. But he says that once they heard it, “everyone loved it and wanted to try something with me.” “Meeting those people, and writing with them, has been one of the most challenging and exciting experiences of my life,” he says.

The songwriting process sometimes began with Durante’s ideas (the tracks “Ientu” and “Intra la Danza”); at other times it started from scratch (“La Ballata degli Specchi”). The spark could be a rhythm (“Con Le Mie Mani”, “Moi”), a spoken-word loop (“Quannu te Visciu”), or an ethnographic field recording (“Lu Giustacofane”). Durante wrote “Subbra Sutta” with Mardin and the Anglo-French singer and songwriter Piers Faccini, who collaborated with CGS on Pizzica Indiavolata. Mardin joined Durante and CGS in Lecce, where they created the tracks “Tienime”, “Sempre Cu Mie”, “Pizzica De Sira”, (the album’s only traditional song) and “Aiora”, the last a new song written in traditional style by Durante and Alessia Tondo, who joined CGS after the 2015 departure of longtime member Maria Mazzotta. Canzoniere is Tondo’s recording debut with CGS, and as her contributions demonstrate, she is an excellent replacement, a distinctive vocalist and songwriter.

In Salento, pizzica originally was played not to entertain audiences but in rituals to heal the psychic and emotional wounds of workers and peasants, mainly women, who believed their suffering was caused by poisonous spider bites. Although it no longer has that function, pizzica retains ecstatic and cathartic qualities. Healing personal and social distress, whether through love, activism, or dance, has been a recurring theme of CGS’ lyrics. Canzoniere is no different. “Intra la Danza” (Into the Dance) is an exhortation to “together heal this illness”; “Lu Giustacofane” (The Mender) says “there is no wound that can’t be healed.” In “Quannu te Visciu” (When I See You), the narrator, whose “head is exploding” from the empty chatter of omnipresent know-it-alls, finds respite in his lover’s eyes.

Some CGS fans might be surprised by the big, anthemic choruses on tracks like “Moi” and “Lu Giustacofane.” But as Durante points out, in writing those numbers he was inspired by the great tradition of Italian, and especially Neapolitan song, with its indelible melodies and choruses. “Wanna speak of anthemic choruses?” he says. “I’d say ‘Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu.’ Who doesn’t want to sing along with that chorus, “Volare, oh oh”?” Durante also acknowledges the influence of folk-pop acts like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers.

Durante, on violin, percussion, synth, and guitar, and his exceptional bandmates — vocalist and percussionist Giancarlo Paglialunga; bouzouki player, guitarist, and vocalist Emanuele Licci; multi-instrumentalist Giulio Bianco; diatonic accordionist Massimo Morabito, and Alessia Tondo — bring the songs to vibrant, pulsing life. Their versatility and creative daring produce some thrilling moments — Durante’s and Bianco’s solos on “”La Ballata degli Specchi”, with Bianco leaping into free jazz territory with his horn squalls; Paglialunga’s full-throated roar on “Moi” (the man doesn’t sing the blues per se but he’s a great blues singer); the entire band’s locomotive force on “Pizzica de Sira”, led by Bianco’s harmonica. Silvia Perrone, whose beguiling dancing is a key element of CGS’ live shows, contributes backing vocals. Joining the band are guest artists Piers Faccini, cellist Marco Decimo, and British guitarist Justin Adams, from Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino always has balanced the musical traditions of the Salento with their own contemporary sensibility. On Canzoniere, CGS has created a captivating synthesis of homegrown and international sounds, a fusion of styles and influences that never loses sight of its roots. It should delight longtime fans and attract the broader audience this remarkable band deserves.

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Goncalo Frota’s review of our performance at Med Festival. So thanks! muito obrigado!!!!

“O Festival Med, em Loulé, foi agitado pelas belíssimas actuações de Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, Lura e Throes + the Shine. E lembrou-nos que a música nasce sempre num lugar e num tempo específicos […]
Quando Mauro Durante, aos comandos do maravilhoso Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, conta em palco que aquela música é filha da receita salentina para curar as picadas das tarântulas da região e sobretudo o comportamento desvairado das “vítimas”, torna-se muito mais claro o tom hipnótico e delirante, como se aqueles sons percutidos e alucinados fossem uma viagem permanente entre a consciência e um estado de alteridade […]
No caso do Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, possivelmente o grande concerto de sexta-feira, tudo concorre para um crescendo de êxtase: a
repetição imparável do ritmo impelido pelos tamburellos (pandeiretas), pelo jogo de vozes em alternâncias ou sobrepondo-se em polifonias propositadamente rudes, por uma bailarina que rodopia como única dança possível para espantar demónios e pelo bouzouki que coloca a música num permanente espaço mediterrânico indeciso entre rumar a Itália, Grécia ou ao Magrebe. Não é por acaso, aliás, que Mauro Durante assume um discurso sobre “o mar não como barreira, mas como meio de comunicação”, como rota para trocas culturais, numa alusão clara aos fenómenos migratórios e às condições precárias em que continuam a dar-se hoje em dia. De resto, é disso que o Canzoniere hoje nos fala – agora que as mordidas das tarântulas já não motivam rituais deste género, servem a música (pizzica) e a dança para espantar males contemporâneos, através de canções tão embriagantes quanto Nu te fermare”


D – la Repubblica: Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino in NYC

Review of Federico Rampini on D – la Repubblica about our concert in New York City at (le) Poisson Rouge – October 5th 2016. grazie!

“L’exploit del Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino che ha fatto tremare i muri del Poisson Rouge (locale sopraffino per chi ama i musicisti d’avanguardia), non solo per i suoi ritmi indiavolati, ma anche perché metà sala si è fatta contagiare, ballando tarantelle a più non posso. C’erano un po’ di italiani come me, e la delegazione di espatriati pugliesi non passava inosservata, però la maggior parte erano americani. Esterrefatti, incantati, trascinati”.



Il 5 febbraio 2016, durante la prima serata di “iWorld. Rassegna di Musiche Attuali” organizzata da iCompany in collaborazione con Blogfoolk, il Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino ritirerà “Blogfoolk Choice – M.E.I. – Meeting delle Etichette Indipendenti” per “Quaranta”, miglior disco world del 2015, selezionato dalla redazione del magazine online tra i dodici album del mese proposti lo scorso anno. L’album della storica formazione salentina è il segno di una storia che abbraccia passato e presente della musica salentina, in omaggio a Rina Durante, che fondò il CGS nel 1975, e a chi era al suo fianco nel portare all’attenzione le espressioni tradizionali locali. Non solo, perché “Quaranta” è il segno di chi la traccia dei padri, in senso letterale e figurato, l’ha seguita, cantando il male di vivere contemporaneo con suoni antichi, senza passatismi non scordando la tecnologia del XXI secolo. “Quaranta” è dialogo con autori come Erri De Luca, con musicisti quali Ludovico Einaudi e Piers Faccini, con un produttore internazionale del calibro di Ian Brennan; è coscienza di una cifra artistica di tradizione contemporanea da parte di un ensemble che annovera nell’organico alcuni tra i migliori musicisti pugliesi. “Quaranta” non è autocelebrazione, è andare avanti. Se n’è accorta la stampa mainstream anglo-americana, e anche la nostra, se ne sono accorti i pubblici dei palcoscenici world, dove il CGC ha portato il Salento, mostrando capacità di stare in scena, di fare spettacolo, arte nella quale, purtroppo, gli artisti trad italiani non sempre primeggiano. Lo hanno compreso i critici della Trans Global World Music Chart e quelli di riviste prestigiose di settore come le britanniche “fRoots” e “Songlines”, dove giornalisti non di primo pelo che hanno riconosciuto che il CGS è la punta del fertile tessuto musicale del Salento.