Canzionere Grecanico Salentino: New York, NY February 1, 2013

Ernest Barteldes By

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Canzionere Grecanico Salentino
Michael Schimmel Center For the Arts at Pace University
New York, NY
February 1, 2013

At the opening performance of its debut US tour, the Southern Italian Canzionere Grecanico Salentino sextet presented a cohesive set of traditional and original songs in an almost all-acoustic setting. The sextet opened by coming onstage, one by one. Accordionist Massimiliano Morabito began alone, and was slowly joined by the other members of the group. The ensemble played an up-tempo tune that got the mostly Italian audience singing or clapping along to the ever-increasing tempo.

Led by Mauro Durante (vocals, violin and frame drum), the group continued with songs that sometimes had a Middle Eastern vibe, while others resembled Celtic music- -especially through their use of the bagpipe-like chiaramella and because most relied on but two or three chords. Some tunes had a more contemporary feel, such as "Nu Te Fermare, "an original song from Pizzica Indiavolata (Puglia Sounds, 2012), which featured multi-instrumentalist Giulio Bianco on electric bass—one of the few numbers to include a non-acoustic instrument.

Durante explained that some lyrics were played in Grecanico—a dialect from his region that, according to his words, is disappearing because it is no longer spoken by younger generations. Dancer Silvia Perrone joined the group for the more up-tempo numbers, enhancing the music by interacting with the musicians and audience members, some of whom were already dancing in the open spaces in the theater. Among the highlights were "Bella Ci Dorme," a slow serenade sung by vocalist/percussionist Maria Mazzotta, whose lyrics told the story of a man singing under his loved one's window as she comfortably sleeps, and "Tambbirriedhu Mia," a percussion-rich tune in which audience members sang along during the chorus.

There were a lot of improvised moments during the show—the musicians often looking at each other as to signal that their solos were ending—and halfway through the show, Durante played a frame drum solo that included various rhythms, including rock and samba. At the end of the set, the group returned to the stage and played some tunes, including a reprise of "Tambbirriedhu Mia," without any microphones.

The concert, which lasted roughly two hours, was a welcome introduction to a genre that is rarely heard Stateside. The band managed to keep the audience engaged throughout, switching instruments and beats as it went along.

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