1) CALABRIAN MIRACLES n.1
by Sanne de Boer
Gilberto Gil, Wayne Shorter Quartet, Goran Bregovic – whoever spends summer in Calabria in Italy has the opportunity to see internationally celebrated musicians performing in an ancient and enchanting setting. All thanks to Armonie d’Arte, a unique music and arts festival which is a cultural breath of fresh air for Italy’s south.
This year’s co-production with Ravenna Festival, Regard sur le Passé, illustrates artistic director Chiara Giordano’s philosophy. This ‘Epic of the last African Emperor’ is a rearrangement by Marco Zanotti for his Classical Afrobeat Orchestra of a 1969 recording by the Guinean Bembeya National Jazz Band. Zanotti’s interpretation makes use of European classical and baroque as well as African instruments. The piece is a song of praise for Almamy Samory Touré, who founded the West-African Wassoulou Empire and resisted French colonization for twenty years.
To perform the African epic for the audience of Armonie d’Arte, the musicians could not have chosen a more challenging evening. Though summer rain showers are generally unheard of in Calabria, that evening of the 9th of August a thunderstorm was clearly about to burst. Luckily, it did not lead to the organizers call off the concert. And as it had been for more than a century, the anthem of the Africal emperor was told by the powerful Giunean singer Sekouba Bambino Diabate and Malian vocalist Baba Sissoko, both of whom are griots.
Griots are not only the musical keepers of the West African oral tradition, they have also been tasked historically with reminding their public of the past, the knowledge of which in turn helps guide future choices. The lyrics of Regard sur le Passé may have been about Africans rebelling against European exploitation, but seem equally applicable to the worrisome local reality in Calabria as well as Italy’s profound political disorientation:
Dancing lightheartedly across the stage, Sissoko and Diabate kept performing while a thunderstorm closed in. As though it were part of the spectacle, the lightning behind the ruins of Rocelletta added a silver-white backdrop to the colorfully lit stage. And when the rain finally started to fall, it still did not discourage the griots or the musicians, indeed, it made them even sing louder. Even after the storm caused the concert to be interrupted for fear of dangerous short circuits, the celebration continued.
‘If you are not able to organize, direct and defend your father’s country, appeal to more valorous men. If you cannot say the truth always and everywhere, appeal to more courageous men. If you cannot be impartial, give your throne to just men. If you cannot protect your arms to confront your enemy, give your sword to the women, for they will show you the path of honour. If you cannot express your thoughts with courage, call upon the griot to speak.’
TOWARDS THE SECOND CHAPTER
an inside view by director Marco Zanotti
The debut was there, dual and exciting. June 2013: in Ravenna’s amazing Alighieri Opera house. August 2013: in the evocative setting of the Scolacium Park in South Italy. We brought on stage “Regard sur le passé”, the Mandingo epic about the African last Emperor.
Exactly two years after the release of our first cd “Shrine on You”, dedicated to Fela Kuti, here we are again with the second chapter of our musical production: a suite in three movements with an expanded ensemble: 1 singer, 1 narrator, 4 strings, 4 woodwinds, harpsichord, drums and percussions.
The prestigious Ravenna Festival has produced this ambitious show, completing our two years-long period of research, transcription, adaptation, writing and arrangement. Sekouba Bambino and Baba Sissoko are not only two guests, they are key-performers, actors and warm supporters of it. It’s an honor for us to share the stage with two griots of their human and artistic greatness.
The work of Bembeya Jazz National is one of the (many) treasures of modern African music. This is because it represents at the same time and in an exemplary way the secular tradition of the songs of the Mandingo Griot, in this case the “Keme Bourema”, and at the same time the enthusiastic momentum of West African post- independence towards modernity.
[See also: “L’Africa che canta storie” by Giulio Mario Rampelli and “L’opera epica tra Africa ed Europa” by Marco Zanotti]
It’s no longer just “Afrobeat” in its inventor Fela Kuti’s philological declination, nor even “classical” in a strict sense . The spectrum is expanded and now it’s the ancient music of African continent who meets the European counterpart. The chant of Sekouba Bambino, the narration of Baba Sissoko and the music of Classica Orchestra Afrobeat are intertwined for almost an hour and a half, and unfold the chapters of the narrative of the last African Empire’s history, telling stories about glories and defeats, reflections and pompous bursts of joy. At the time of the bloodiest battle, percussions hound clashes between French troops and Samory Toure’s Army, shortly after that the strings announce the victory of the Mandingo and the mellow sound of an ocarina evokes their night’s rest. The orchestra alternates baroque-flavored improvisations with forays into popular music, through instruments such as the accordion and the italian pipe. In the intervals between the three movements of the suite the Orchestra runs two compositions of the sixteenth century: a symphony by Salomone Rossi and a passacalle by Andrea Falconieri.
In these two summer debuts we recorded what will become our second album, produced by Sidecar/Brutture Moderne, due to be released in February 2014. Two very special thanks go to Fabrizio di Baldo and Matteo Zanotti, the two artists who have designed especially for this show the beautiful paintings depicting the five protagonists of the epic.
Many thanks also to Ravenna Festival that has produced the show and Armonie d’Arte which co-produced it. All credits and synopsis of the show HERE.