Danza Sarda: Sardinian Folk Music from the 45rpm Era

Sardinia is a majestic, mountainous Island, the 2nd largest in the Mediterranean, that lies just south of the island of Corsica and west of Italy. It has a long history of rulers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Spanish, and finally, Italy. Historically it has been a pastoral culture, farming and sheep herding dominate (currently home to over 4 million sheep!).

The music includes a few styles unique to the island. The four-part harmony singing known as cantu a tenòre is a fascinating style in which two of the voices (“contra” and “bass”) use an unusual larynx technique to produce a rough, guttural timbre that imitates the sound of the sheep and cow, respectively. The 3rd voice (“mess ‘oche”) imitates the wind, while the lead voice (“oche”) sings the melody. Styles vary from village to village.

Cantu a chiterra (songs with guitar) is another popular form that was first recorded in the early 1930s. Influenced by Aragonese and Spanish traditions, cantu a chiterra are songs with powerful singing and playing, often taking place in local competitions. Look for the excellent cd produced by legendary 78 researcher Paul Vernon titled “In Dialetto Sardo” (unfortunately out of print). This includes recordings of Gavino de Lunas, one of the greatest performers of the cantu a chiterra style.

Another unique music of Sardinia is that of the “launeddas.” Launeddas is an instrument made of three pipes, each with a single reed. One pipe functions as a drone, another plays the melody and the third pipe plays harmony. The playing technique is focused on circular breathing, allowing the hypnotic, bagpipe-like songs to stretch out for many minutes. The incredible recordings of launeddas virtuoso Effisio Melis can be heard on “In Dialetto Sardo.”

The Accordion has been popular on the island since the early 20th century, used for dance music or to accompany songs, often played in a virtuosic style that calls to mind the launeddas.

Although the early 30s recordings represent the bulk of Sardinian music on record during the 78 era (Melis did record one more session a few years later), we are lucky that further folkloric recordings were made and released as 45 rpm, 7-inch records in the late 50s through the 60s. It is from this period that we have selected some fine examples of Sardinian folk music.

TAARAB: Songs of the Swahili Coast

21 tracks from the 78 rpm era of this beautiful and hypnotic East African music.

The first in a new series of compilations of vintage music called ShellacHead Archives.

“Poetry and languid charm,” is how legendary recording pioneer Hugh Tracey once described the city of Mombasa, and the phrase applies just as nicely to the music known as Taarab. Taarab consists of sung poetry with Arabic-influenced melodies and a laid back groove that gives the music a pleasing, hypnotic sound. Taarab was born in Zanzibar in the 19th Century and eventually spread throughout the Swahili coast of East Africa, especially to cities such as Mombasa and Dar es Salaam, due in no small part to the popularity of phonograph records. This compilation focuses on that early phonograph era, the late 1920s to the 1950s, the “golden age” of taarab.

ShellacHead Annual 2016: Hear Your Favourite Artists

2016 is drawing to a conclusion, which means it’s time to reflect on all the sounds that have flooded our ears, filtering the musically nutritious records like plankton through baleen. As usual, ShellacHead searches the nooks and crannies of the 78 rpm realm in search of those special moments of musical epiphany that exist outside the safe confines of popular mainstream pablum. While it was a particularly depressing year, watching humanity blindly rush hell-bent toward self-destruction, I hope these recordings will provide some solace as reminders that music is perhaps the one true thing of beauty that we’ve created during our time on this planet.

Get it Here.