In a small village of 50 inhabitants in northern Corsica, two brothers, Jean-François and Alain, learned to sing from their father, Ghjuliu Bernardini, himself a great poet, writer, and singer. During the summer, they traveled around Corsica performing in their native language, Corsican, at festivals and in small villages. In 1975, the Bernardinis collaborated on two traditional polyphonic songs with Canta U Populu Corsu on the group’s first release, Eri, Oghje, Dumane on the Corsican label, Ricordu.
After their father’s death, Jean-François and Alain formed I Muvrini (Les Mouflonsin French or mountain goat in English) in the early 1980s. They not only sang traditional songs and polyphonies; but also ones that Jean-François wrote both the words and music to as well as lyrics written by other great poets in Corsica that he composed the music for. His father had given him the passion to write, to sing, to spread the word of peace and to struggle against injustice in the world.
Perhaps because they grew up in a traditional village and began to sing when they were small children, the Bernardini brothers possess two of the most powerful voices I have ever heard. Alain has a sweet and clear voice that comes straight from his heart, while Jean-François has a rich and emotionally packed voiced that comes from deep in his soul. They continue to sing in Corsican, which like Italian is a beautiful and expressive language. Their first album as I Muvrini, Ti Ringrazianu was released on Ricordu in 1979. In 1986, they formed their own recording company, AGFB Productions.
Their most recent release is a “best of” simply titled I Muvriniand was released on Higher Octave in the summer of 2001. Although if I were to choose what I considered I Muvrini’s best, I would choose a slightly different mix; there is enough great material compiled on this recording to serve as an introduction to this outstanding group.
The album opens with two new songs “Vogliu” (“I Want”) and “Noi” (“Us”). “Vogliu” features Jean-François trading the lead singing with Andalucian singer and guitarist, Josefina Fernandez. Their voices are perfectly matched in power and emotion. Josefina also sings on the version of “Un So Micca Venuti” (“They Did Not Come”) included on this release. She is an excellent addition to the group as she is not only a great singer but a fine guitar player as well. As with all of Jean-François’ songs, “Vogliu” is a message vibrant with his feelings, communicating his love for his homeland, the Corsican people, and his love for humanity.
“I want a people that laugh,
I want a people that sing,
Answer in love,
I’ve dreamt it so long.”
The other new song on the album, “Noi” is sung with the young Belgian group Laïs. While “Vogliu” vibrates with a flamenco rhythm, “Noi” has more of a “Celtic” influence. Although I Muvrini is obviously influenced by music from many different areas of the world and by pop music, they essentially have a Corsican sound. This is evident not only in the language in which they sing, but in their singing style. They utilize traditional Corsican melismatic vocal ornamentation and glide through the grace notes with apparent ease. Also, they include Corsican instruments like the cetera, which is a 16-string lute-like instrument played in the group by their long-time collaborator, arranger, and producer Jean-Bernard Rongiconi.
Unfortunately, this release does not have on it any of the group’s traditional polyphonic songs. They have one release, only available in Europe, titled Pulifuniethat compiles most of the polyphonies that I Muvrini have recorded in the past. I say “unfortunately” because I Muvrini are some of the best interpreters of traditional Corsican polyphony, especially when they sing paghjellas, which is an ancient song form unique to Corsica. They do include “The Death of Filicone” a traditional song sung by Alain with Gilles Chabenat accompanying him on hurdy-gurdy and Alain Bonin on synthesizer.
Although Corsica is a very tiny island in the Mediterranean with a population of approximately 240,000 people, there is an amazing amount of outstanding music that is produced there; but much of it is very difficult to obtain. Because of I Muvrini’s enormous popularity in Europe, their music is available outside the island. I would say that if one is looking for music from Corsica, I Muvrini, along with a few others such as Giramondu, Zamballarana, Petru Guelfucci, and Jean-Paul Poletti are a great way to start. I Muvrini is due to release their newest recording Umaniin August of this year.
// Notes from the Road
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