Et le voyage . . .
C’est une ancienne chanson
Attisée par la passion
Et le soufflé du vent . . .
—Stèphane Casalta, “Per Ogni Petra” (For Each Stone)
Translated into French from Corsican
While still quite a young man, Corsican poet, singer, composer, and musician Stéphane Casalta began his long musical career. He was singing with the group A Filetta at age 11, and then toured and performed with them for many years. If you have seen either the film Himalaya, The Rearing of a Chief or Winged Migration (Le Peuple Migrateur), then you have heard the very talented A Filetta, in their more recent line-up in the Bruno Coulais film score.
Stéphane later co-founded the group Giramondu and became one of their lead-singers and composers. His extraordinary talent is evident on the group’s first two releases Un’ideale and Mediterraniu. His rich voice and poetically beautiful lyrics make these two releases some of the very best that I have heard come out of an island that for its size has an astounding amount of talented singers, composers, poets, and musicians.
Casalta left Giramondu in 1999 after recording these two albums with them. In 2002, after two years preparation, he finally released his own solo album, Una Preghera—which translates from the Corsican as “A Prayer”. The album features his own compositions and proves him to be not only an amazing singer and musician, but also a sensitive and accomplished poet/composer.
Although he also plays many instruments such as guitar, violin, cetera (the 16-string lute-like traditional Corsican instrument), and bass, Stéphane has a fascination for electronic sounds—not uncommon for Corsican musicians, I must say. For me, the synthesizer is sometimes a bit distracting and takes away from the beauty of the melodies and the voices; but for the most part, he uses a light hand with them and his good sense of where he is going with the music prevails.
He also has the wisdom to include several other great singers to join him on many of the songs: Jean-Paul Poletti and Patrizia Gattacea both from Corsica and others such as Charo Martin from Spain and Francesca Taranto from Italy.
Including Jean-Paul Poletti was a great choice. Having trained as an opera singer, he has one of the most commanding and powerful voices in all of Corsica. His career has spanned since the ‘70s as one of the founding members of Canta U Populu Corsu and most recently with his Le Choeur D’Hommes De Sartène/The Male Voice Choir of Sartène. For a young man such as Stéphane to include JP Poletti is a great decision indeed and shows a sincere homage to the older generation of singers in Corsica. When the album was complete and Poletti heard it, he cried “Your recording is a prayer!”, thus the title Una Preghera.
Indeed. From the first sound of Stéphane’s richly ornamented voice on “Per Ogni Petra” (For Each Stone) to the final joyful tune “I Ghjorni Novi” (The New Days), one feels in the presence of something sacred. We feel a part of his meditations, his pleas to respect the people and the traditions of his island home and his heartfelt call for a better world—even without understanding the Corsican language. His expressive voice manages to communicate the depth of his feelings. These are love songs to life. Stéphane is a man who is first and foremost a poet and this is evident in his work. He takes his inspiration not only from the long tradition of music and poetry in Corsica but also from one of his favorites, Léo Ferre, the great French poet, singer, and composer.
Another good choice of Stéphan’s was to include women vocalists to join with him on some of the tracks. Patrizia Gattacea, also from Corsica, is a veteran of the groups Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses (another group who uses much electronica on their recordings) and the all-women’s group Soledonna. There are many great female singers in Corsica, but apart from another all-women’s group Donnisulana, Jacky Micaelli and perhaps Mighela Cesari, few are well known outside the island. (Unfortunately, this can be said for many very worthy groups and soloists in Corsica. Somehow even though they are all magnificent singers and musicians, they just do not seem to have the savoir-faire to be able to market themselves outside the island).
Although Stéphane is firmly rooted in his island’s traditions, he is no purist. On Una Preghera, there are none of traditional polyphonic songs of Corsica. Although of course, he sings in the islands traditional style easily utilizing this ornamentation to enhance his charismatic voice. His guest vocalists join him to create the polyphonic sound that is characteristic of traditional music on the island. Although Stéphane sees himself as a Corsican first, he feels he is also a “citizen of the world” yet like many other Corsican bands and solo artists such as I Muvrini, Feli, Zamballarana, Giramondu, Petru Guelfucci, and so on, his music remains distinctly Corsican despite outside influences.
As already mentioned, he has no qualms about using electronic back up nor does he hesitate to add pop elements to his beautiful melodies. On first listening, I was a little skeptical about this; but subsequent listening has enhanced my appreciation of these additions. They fit because they do not feel contrived. He is not necessarily catering to popular tastes, he is remaining true to his artistry and interests. Of course, for my personal tastes, I could do without a lot of the electronica; but they still work because they rarely get in the way of the true character of his work and his message.
Stéphane is an artist whose artistic temperament and integrity can only become greater and greater as he matures. He has all the elements to become one of the great voices both musically and poetically for Corsica—all this on a small island known for its memorable voices. Una Preghera is a fine “solo” effort from this gifted young singer destined for a long and productive career.