Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tarantolati di Tricarico: a primal, visceral musical experience

I Tarantolati di Tricarico
U'Squatasce
CNI (www.cnimusic.it)

This dynamic band has been a driving force in Southern Italian culture, interpreting and performing their music with an incredible dynamism. There is no shortage of groups resuscitating the ancient music of tarantism in the South of Italy these days, but I Tarantolati di Tricarico have been involved in this endeavor since the 1960's (the band's biography indicates that they were officially 'born' in 1975. This was the time of the first wave of the Southern Italian folk revival, a time when the music of the pizzica was, in the words of the historian Luigi Chiriatii, a "broken memory": painful to listen to, as many people emigrated from Southern Italy to escape the poverty and hardship of the land. Performing the ritual music and old folk songs was a political act, a way of giving voice to expressions experienced and felt but oppressed in the modern age.

I Tarantolati di Tricarico's latest CD is a writhing, unusual beast; the cover art depicts a be-ribboned person in the throes of ecstasy, a tarantula dead center on the belly, surrounded by a psychedelic swirl of color. Those 'bitten' by the spider were thought to be drawn to particular sounds, and to respond to various colored ribbons; the remedy was to dance the poison out. What grabs the listener immediately upon listening to the first tracks is the vigor with which the songs are performed, a rigorous rhythmic attack full of tambourines and the thudding percussion of cupa-cupa tubs. But the real surprise occurs starting on the fourth track, "Hatta Mammone," where the acoustic sound of the band suddenly incorporates elements of electronic techno and vocals reach a trance-inducing intensity heightened by all kinds of hand percussion. For a band that has existed for several decades, it becomes abundantly clear that experimentation is the order of the day. The entire CD never lets up for a moment; tunes such as "Bella Figlj├│la" pulsate passionately, urgently contemporizing the music. Witness the stunning "Uno: Monte La Lune," which features more chanting, a heavy, insistent beat, and a piano line that nods briefly towards salsa as the bass bounces across the soundscape.

The great researcher of tarantism in Southern Italy, Ernesto De Martino, argued in his famed ethnographic work "The Land of Remorse" that the tarantism ritual had ancient Greek roots; the connection between tarantism and the rituals of Dionysus has been explored and contested in academic circles for some time. However, the music of I Tarantolati di Tricarico certainly goes in for the frenzy of Dionysus. U'Squatasce is a primal, visceral experience, a wondrous addition to the ever-evolving dance of the spider. - Lee Blackstone

Listen:


CD available from cdRoots


The ensemble's web site: www.tarantolatiditricarico.org

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