Old sounds from Southern Italy: Calabrian folk music

By Francesca Politi - JUMP Team

“Listen to a Calabrian peasant singing as he follows his oxen along the furrow,
or as he shakes the branches of his olive tree.
That wailing voice amid the ancient silence,
that long lament solacing ill-rewarded toil,
comes from the heart of Italy herself,
and wakes the memory of mankind.”

-George Gissing, By the Ionian Sea: Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy

Our ancestors didn’t transmit their history only through manuscripts: they relied on songs, dances, customs, celebrations, superstition and manifestations of faith, important steps in the life of the community. Traditional music, particularly, has rich cultural characteristics and carries the tradition, history, and cultural identity of a place and its people. Although Italian musical heritage goes back centuries, including the famous chants of the Gregorian monks, Calabrian music has its own unique tradition and rings out in passionate songs about various topics such as love, emigrations, agro-pastoral work, religion accompanied by traditional instruments. The way in which these instruments are used and combined, and the functions that they assume on various occasions, the symbolism and the ritual associated with them, are all factors regulated by a social code with which the folk culture maintains and perpetuates its own music. To conserve and pass down the message of this past, generation after generation keep the tradition going, playing these instruments with pride.

The rural Calabrian folk tradition is associated with the zampogna, the Italian bagpipe, which is also found across Italy but is an especially important part of the Calabrian tradition. There is also an ancient Lira tradition, pipita and tambourine.Traditional Calabrian folk music has some common elements: high, strong vocals, a catchy, nearly hypnotic rhythm, and a bittersweet raw passion. The song rhythm you’ll hear often is the tarantella, a traditional southern Italian folk dance.

Multi-instrumentalist: Mimmo Morello

Videos: Angelo Cavallaro



Ricci, A., & Tucci, R. (1988). Folk Musical Instruments in Calabria. The Galpin Society Journal, 41, 37-58. doi:10.2307/842707