In the heart of the sacred Sardinian countryside, the rugged beauty of the mountains and the the near-barren steppes echo with the chants of traditional polyphonic singing groups in a style called cantu a tenòre and cuncordu in the region of Barbagia. The harmony of ancient voices have one foot in ancient Nuragic culture and another in local peasant life. Part religion, part meditation both equally connecting with the Sardinian past.
Although nowadays cuncordu and cantu a tenore are performed only by men, many remember when there were also women groups, as would be expected considering the Sardinian culture of matriarchal roles heirarchy.
The Sardinian word tenore, itself, is not to be confused with the English word tenor (one specific vocal register), but to this specific style of folk singing. There are also other similar styles in different areas of Sardinia: taja in Gallura and concordu in Logudoro. In Barbagia the two styles are differentiated in this way... cuncordu, is sacred music, sung with regular voices, and tenore is a more ancient style using overtone singing or throat singing. The first video below illustrates this style.
When traveling through the Sardinian landscape, a voyager can still see ancient ruins that date back to the megalithic, Nuragic age. These nuraghe -- round towers built in the form of truncated cones -- remain the symbol of this age between 1900 and 730 years BC, set in between the bronze and iron ages.
The droning overtones in these chants reflect the wind washing through the hilltops and the valleys, the words speak of the herds, the battle with nature, galloping horses and the rustling of grasses. In some groups an ancient instrument is also added, that somehow spread to nearly every culture in the ancient world... the trunfa or more commonly, the Jew's harp.
I've collected many Jew's harps myself of varied shapes and tones, and have used them in Celtic, French and old time Appalachian music. You hold the iron bars of the harp against your teeth and flick the metal plectrum for rhythm while in and out breaths and throat expansions and contractions control pitch and melody. Most of the trunfa in Sardinia have the more ancient shape of an onion, and of course are made by a blacksmith out of forges iron. Some claim the trunfa came to Sardinia as late as the 1700s but I imagine it might have always been here from the iron age onward. The video below shows a Sardinian trunfa player...
I'm constantly reminded in my discoveries how Italy is not just one thing. There are many cultures that make up what we call Italy and all amazing and inspire me to keep on searching and learning and sharing with all my GVI amici...
The group in the above video combines their talents with
throat singers from Mongolia. Absolutely haunting.
A traditional folk group.
A rare example of a Sardinian nonna who sings with a tenore group.