Anna Cinzia Villani Ulìa: La pizzica a pizzica incontra la capoeira
Core de Villani
Review by George De Stefano
"Pizzica pizzica di Galatone"
Ulìa: La pizzica a pizzica incontra la capoeira, the latest recording by the southern Italian singer Anna Cinzia Villani, is an encounter between her native territory, the Salento subregion of Puglia, and its now world-famous pizzica, and Brazil, or rather, the music associated with the Afro-Brazilian martial art, capoeira. If that sounds like an unlikely or contrived pairing, rest assured it's anything but. The album's twelve selections, a mix of traditional and new material, performed by Villani, three Italian musicians, and guest artist Mestre Canhão, achieve a powerful and convincing fusion of two musical cultures.
Pizzica, and the music played to accompany capoeira, which combines self-defense movements, dance, and acrobatics, were created by subaltern peoples. "It is not by chance that in capoeira I could immediately recognize something very close to the music of Salento," Villani said in an interview in the Italian language magazine Blogfoolk. "We are talking about poor populations, often exploited but proud, who have produced codes that have been going on for centuries."
Peasants and laborers in Salento used pizzica as a ritual, healing music (its well-documented association with the tarantismo phenomenon) but also played it for other social occasions. Capoeira was invented by enslaved Blacks in fifteenth-century Brazil. To deceive slave masters, they often disguised its martial art and fighting techniques as a folk dance. Pizzica and capoeira music are both highly rhythmic, percussion-driven forms. One type of pizzica, the pizzica scherma, is not only rhythmically close to capoeira; like the Brazilian form, it combines dance and fighting techniques.
Alessandro Lorusso, a guitarist with whom Villani collaborated on Fimmene in Dub (a 2012 compilation album featuring Villani and several other Salentine women singers), took capoeira lessons with Mestre Canhão. In rehearsals with Villani, he brought Brazilian instruments he borrowed from Canhão, including the berimbau. This single-string bow leads the capoeira movements in the roda, the circle in which the capoeiristas sing and play instruments. Villani hadn't thought to include Canhão or capoeira songs on her next recording, but she says she "fell in love" with the sound of the berimbau and was intrigued by the possibility of singing to its accompaniment.
On Ulìa -the title means both "olive" in Salentino dialect and "I would" or "I would like" -Villani is backed by Lorusso on guitar, berimbau, and several Afro-Brazilian percussion instruments; Massimiliano Peró, accordion, tamburello, and vocals; Francesco De Donatis, tamburello, bendir and duff, two Middle Eastern hand drums, and vocals; and Mestre Canhão, berimbau, vocals, and two of the main percussion instruments used in capoeira, pandeiro and atabaque.
"Marituma è Pecuraru"
The first track, "Marituma è Pecuraru," about a neglected farm wife whose husband is more attentive to his sheep than to her, opens with the buzzing sound of the berimbau, followed by Villani’s brief spoken introduction. The berimbau's ostinato and the beats of several hand drums circle her vocal as it rises in intensity.
"Pizzicapoeira" opens with Mestre Canhão singing Portuguese lyrics that tout the narrator's strength and spirituality, bestowed by Samson and St. Matthew, in the roda. The rhythm smoothly shifts to the 6/8 of pizzica, and Villani calls on St. Paul, the patron of the tarantate (women supposedly bitten and possessed by tarantulas, sometimes scorpions).
"Teresina," a straight-up pizzica that features Peró on diatonic accordion, comes from the tarantismo tradition; the lyrics address a tarantula called Teresina (the spiders often were given names) to determine exactly where it bit its female victim. The tender "Una mia bella luna" is a filastrocca salentina, a traditional nursery rhyme with new lyrics by Villani. The title track, a Villani original, expresses an artist's indignation over misconceptions about the creative life:
There are those who think that life as an artist is effortless and without any conquest
Those who think that everything is given away, that everything is all set because of fate
I don't wake up at noon in the morning
On the contrary, every day is a lottery
Lottery without winning anything.
"Noite Escura" (excerpt)
The Brazil-Salento fusion finds its most enchanting expression on "Noite Escura," in which Canhão and Villani sing of loss and disappointment, he about his capoeira master, whose absence has stilled his music: "My berimbau didn't play today, Today my pandeiro is mute"; she of a woman's melancholy over her lover's illness. Mestre Canhão kicks it off, singing in Portuguese to acoustic guitar accompaniment; Villani joins in on the second verse, turning in a gorgeous vocal that's more Lusitanian than Salentine. "Noite Escura," with its irresistibly seductive melancholy, is my favorite track on the album.
"San Frangiscu" (excerpt)
"Carciru" and "San Frangiscu" are prison songs, the first a ballad sung to acoustic guitar accompaniment, the second performed a capella by Villani to the rhythm of handclaps. Both are showcases for Villani's exquisite vocal artistry. She's been dubbed "the voice of Salento," which might seem presumptuous since the Salentine tradition boasts many terrific singers, female and male. But Ulìa, only her third album as a solo artist- Ninnamorella (2008) was her debut, followed by Fimmana, mare e focu! (2012) - proves that the encomium is no idle boast.
"Pizzica pizzica di Galatone"
Ulìa ends with one of the best-known entries in the Salentine repertoire, “Pizzica pizzica di Galatone.” To a spare backing of voices, handclaps, and percussion, Villani gives a vivacious rendition of this tarantismo love song that hails the beauty of love "and those who know how to make it" while imploring St. Paul to "give the grace" to the tarantate. There are countless versions of the song, under varying titles, but Villani's is faithful to tradition while sounding fresh, even surprising.