(Higher Octave) 22 April 2003 Available as import
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“Yes, our paths will always take us back to those voices
Like a sweet thought recalled . . .
A just and brotherly idea recalled
And that is why the polyphonies of the world
Can but have only one language
A sole language where they join together in harmony.”
Well, I don’t hope to be stranded on a desert island any time soon—with or without my favorite recording of all time. As luck would have it, I would probably have one or two of my favorite CDs with me in my backpack, but there would be neither a CD player nor electricity on the whole island. Anyway, I do hope to travel to an “enchanted” isle someday soon.
L’Île de Corse beckons to me in my dreams. Its hauntingly beautiful and plaintive music is the theme songs for my sleeping and waking reveries and has been for several years now—since I first heard the likes of Petru Guelfucci’s CD Corsica, Donnisulana’s Per Agata, E Voce Di U Cumune’s Corsica: Chants Polyphoniques, and especially I Muvrini‘s À Bercy. What first enchanted me about these recordings was the traditional polyphonic singing that they included. Donnisulana’s, of course, is all polyphonic singing; but done by a group of women—which is considered to be very untraditional in Corsica. E Voce Di U Cumune’s is also all traditional polyphonic singing, done as mixed groups of men and women including some of my very favorite singers in Corsica such as Claude Bellagamba, Jerome Casalonga, Jean-Pierre Lanfranchi, Jean-Paul Poletti, and Jacky Micaelli (who is also in Donnisulana). On Petru’s CD of mostly original “pop” songs, he does a stunningly beautiful version of a very ancient tune “À Tribbiera” with his group Voce di Corsica. And although I Muvrini’s À Bercy is a live pop album, they sing a couple of verses of the traditional lament “Lode Di U Sepolcru” in traditional a cappella style and as a bonus (not their live version and not a cappella) the song “Terra” written by Jean-François Bernardini as a tribute to his homeland. This is the song that triggered my interest in them and in doing further listening research on the music of this little “department of France” in the Mediterranean. From the impact of the song “Terra” on me and on those whom I have played it for on the radio and at social gatherings, I decided to make it one of my goals in life to help popularize the artists and the music of Corsica.
These days it has become characteristic of my radio shows to include a “Corsican set” that usually consists of three or more tracks by different artists from Corsica and always at least one by I Muvrini. Three years ago, they released their recording Pulifunie in Europe on their own label, AGFB and now they have released it in the U.S.A. on the Higher Octave label. “Pulifunie” is the Corsican word for “polyphony”—which is basically harmonic music with parallel melody lines. Traditional polyphonic choirs occur in many countries and regions of the world such as Albania, Bulgaria, Sardinia, Greece (especially in Epirus), Polynesia, the Southern Alps, Georgia, Latvia, Italy (especially in Genoa), Ghana, South Africa, etc. For me, the polyphonic singing of Corsica reaches the highest level—although I will admit that most polyphonic singing in the world is quite astounding and has an incredible impact on the listener.
Brothers Alain (Alanu) and Jean-François Bernardini (Ghjuvan-Francescu), the leaders of I Muvrini, began singing traditional polyphonic music as children with their father, Jules (Ghjuliu). Jules Bernardini is considered the “poet of the paghjella”—one of the traditional non-sacred polyphonic song forms in Corsica. After their father’s death, Jean-François and Alain formed I Muvrini in the early 1980s. As Jean-François said, “Really, we began with I Muvrini in the ‘80s because we were so concerned about what was happening in Corsica—with its culture, its language.” Jean-François began writing songs for the group and setting the poems of other Corsican poets to music—always with messages of peace, tolerance, and support for the Corsican people and their identity. Besides these original songs characteristic of the group, they also performed the ancient traditional songs of their country. Having grown up in a village of about 50 people in northeastern Corsica, they had learned to respect the teachings of their neighbors and friends. This is reflected not only in the original compositions of Jean-François but also in I Muvrini’s interpretations of the traditional material. They are first and foremost Corsicans and secondly they see themselves as citizens of the world—“in all the world” as Jean-François says. Thus, they have taken their music to stages all over the world with great success.
Pulifunie consists mostly of songs that have been previously recorded on various albums by I Muvrini in their 23-year career and two “Ecco Bella” and “Requiem” that have been previously unreleased. Because of this, the line-up on the different chants changes a little; but of course, consistently there is the Bernardini brother’s distinctive voices holding all the songs together. There is often as many as six vocalists and sometimes as few as four. (Currently their touring line-up of singers are Alain and Jean-François Bernardini, Stephane Mangiantini, and Martin Vadella—all four of them absolutely excellent).
There are 11 tracks on this recording and all but two of them are sung a cappella. There are examples of both the sacred and the secular songs (terzetti and paghjella) of Corsica as well as one written by Jean-François (“Terra”), a poem written by Ghjacumu Thiers and set to music by Jean-François (“Una Antra Matina”), and one written by Ghjuliu Bernardini (“O Salutaris”). “Terra” and “Una Antra Matina” are the two with an ethereal ambient accompaniment. On “Terra”, one hears the synthesizer tastefully played by Alain Bonin and the unique and amazing vielle à roue master, Gilles Chabenat. “Una Antra Matina” also features these players, but with the addition of the Corsican cetera—the 16-string double course instrument of Corsica whose only existing relative is the Portuguese guitar. This is played by multi-instrumentalist Jean-Bernard Rongiconi, who arranges much of I Muvrini’s material.
The album finishes with “Diu Vi Salvi Regina” the most sacred song in Corsica and considered Corsica’s national anthem. This is I Muvrini’s a cappella version of the tune; like all the chants on this recording, it is a song of great power. They do another version of this song on their recording Leia with just a cello back up, and for me this is one of the most beautiful versions of this sacred song that I have heard. Nonetheless, their a cappella singing on this chant and all the others is some of the very best in all of Corsica.
Pulifunie is a very special album and one that reaches right into the heart of the listener. My recommendation for first listening is to sit back quietly in a candlelit room and put away the day’s cares with either a favorite glass of wine or a cup of hot mint tea. This extraordinary music will take you on a voyage to an ancient island with glittering seas, rugged rocky mountains, citadels, scented maquis, chestnut and olive groves, and the standing stones of Filitosa. Like Jean-François says, these polyphonies come from a “sole language” and for me, they come from the language of the soul.
// Notes from the Road
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