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.