Because I do two radio shows, usually when I am at home there is a CD in my stereo that I am either reviewing or listening to for my shows. About four years ago, I was so ill that I would drag myself to work and then come home and crawl under the covers and hide. Normally, I would pop in a CD and just relax myself to sleep; but everything I tried to listen to was actually painful for me at the time—except for one album. That was À Bercy or Live at Bercy from the Corsican group I Muvrini. I had just purchased this album and it was the first one that I had heard by them. I would not characterize it as background music in any way; it is an exciting pop performance in front of a live audience of several thousand enthusiastic fans who are singing and clapping along. Yet, somehow the intensity of their music was nonetheless soothing to my aching, feverish body.
At that point, I knew I had to seek out more of I Muvrini and other music from Corsica. I managed to acquire a copy of their next release, Leia on their own label AGFB. Leia translated from Corsican means “link”, and the choice of this title signifies the link between all people, all languages, and all cultures without losing the individual identity of any one culture—especially their own.
I Muvrini, led by brothers Jean-François and Alain Bernardini, are Corsica’s most popular group. They have been singing since they were children and their voices resonate with the anger, sorrow, and joy of an island and its people who have been conquered, re-conquered, and oppressed throughout history and who are still trying to claim some sort of independence. (Corsica is currently a department of France and has most recently earned the right to teach the Corsican language in their schools.)
“Quantu Omu Pò” (translated as “As Much As We Can”), the first song on Leia, begins with an almost ominous sound of synthesizer, drums, and electric guitar, then Jean-François’ powerful voice comes in with a heartfelt yodel that grabs the listener’s attention right away. He asks within the lyrics of the song, “Where does the anguish go?” but calls on the Corsican people to put aside this anguish, this pain. He asks them to look towards tomorrow and move on trying to be “as much as we can”. These lyrics are characteristic of Jean-François’ poetry. He is a man, not only involved in the preservation of the Corsican language, history, and culture, but also dedicated to the struggle against injustice in the world.
Even when one cannot understand the language, the emotional quality of the music and singing comes across. The song “Eo È Tú” (“You and Me”) is a perfect example. It is a gorgeous love ballad written and sung by Jean-François with characteristic passion and intensity. “It is the silence of you that speaks to me the most,” he sings. The accompanying music has a slight “bluesy” quality showing that I Muvrini are open to the outside influences of music from all over the world and from many genres. As Jean-François said, “Corsica, in our minds, is a little tiny island in the world; but it is in the world, in all the world.” The song “Avà” (“Now”) has a hip-hop feel and ends with sampling. “È Dumane Dinú” (“And Tomorrow Like Other Times”) with its pop rhythms is quite joyous. On this particular song, (as well as on “I Lindumane”, another very joyous tune celebrating hope for the future) the brothers are joined in the singing by their Malagasy accordionist, Regis Gizavo, who is also a great singer.
Leia includes two traditional polyphonic songs, “Salva Sancta Parens”, sung acapella, and “Diu Vi Salve Regina”, sung with just a cello accompaniment. “Diu Vi Salve Regina” (a hymn to the Virgin Mary) is one of the most beautiful polyphonic songs in Corsica and is considered Corsica’s national anthem. I Muvrini’s version of this song on Leia is one of the finest I have ever heard—and I have heard many, because almost every Corsican singing group does a version of this song.
Their most financially successful song on Leia is not a Corsican one, but the famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) duo that they did with Sting on his song “Fields of Gold”, which they title “Terre D’oru”. This was Muvrini’s biggest hit in Europe, but it is my least favorite song that they have ever done. I feel that it does not do them justice and the rest of the album is so much better than this one song. But . . . okay. If that is what brought Muvrini to the attention of a new audience, then I can see the benefit for them. In itself, it is a lovely version of the tune, just not as stunningly beautiful as songs like “Pè Saluta” (“He Salutes”) or “Quelli Chi Ùn Anu À Nimu” (“Those Who Are Alone In The World”), included on the album.
I Muvrini are due to release their newest CD Umani in August of 2002. Perhaps it will replace Leia as my all time favorite recording—hard to say at this point. Even though I number well over a 100 CDs from Corsican artists in my collection, I Muvrini still remain, for me, the most innovative as well as the most powerful voices of what it means to be Corsican. They look inward to their own culture and experience as well as outward to the changing world around them.