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World Music CD Reviews Europe


Published May 30, 2006

Omertà, Onuri e Sangu
[PIAS] America

Italy’s postwar industrialization meant high unemployment, intense poverty and forced emigration for the southern periphery of Calabria, perpetuating a fierce local autonomy expressed in the stoic motto of “discreet silence, honor and blood.” The folk repertoire includes love and courting songs, wedding tunes, quick-stepping tarantellas, ballads of vengeance and remorse, prisoner’s laments, religious songs and lullabies. Vocal style is highly valued, accompanied by guitar, chitarra battente (a distinctive plucked regional guitar), mandolin, violin, lira (a pear-shaped fiddle), accordion, harmonica, zampogna (bagpipes), reed flutes, shawm (an oboe-like woodwind), and hand percussion. The stark, uncompromising values idealized in the code of respect, secrecy and omertà permeate this collection of 22 songs and spoken narratives. Popular culture romanticizes the protective conventions of Mafia patriarchy, but careful listening reveals the desperate character of social existence, as when a mother sings her little son to sleep: “You must grow up... quickly... become skilled at using weapons... preserve your family’s honor [and] avenge your father’s murder! Please forgive me for these words... And now, sleep well.” A worthy sequel to Il Canto di Malavita.