LivItaly brought Italian Culture to the Howard Assembly Room on Friday 1st May with a 3-part Soiree exploring Sardinia’s fascinating folk traditions and contemporary visual representations.
At a time when the politically-troubling transference of peoples across the Mediterranean stands at the forefront of international press, it couldn’t have been more relevant to discuss the identity of an island, whose location presents a crossroad of Italian and North African culture.
Head of Italian and Sardinian native, Gigliola Sulis, invited world music journalist and cross-cultural connoisseur, Andy Morgan, to open the evening with a compelling discussion on the themes of multifaceted identity, language, home and belonging, against the backdrop of virtuously vocal Elena Piras’ personal journey from Sassari to the Shetlands. Andy’s indication of Flamenco flares in traditional Sardinian guitar playing alongside Elena’s explanation of the Tenores vocal tradition exemplified by African-esque polyphonic throat singing, made for a musical education. We were enlightened further with the cultural comparison of Gigliola and Elena’s north-western and southern Sardinian cities, before Andy went on to explain the simplicity of cultural traditions in the context of their motherland; insightfully depicting a tree decorated with ball-balls as something habitual to a native, yet unforeseen and culturally intriguing to an outsider.
A strong believer in “people and places being given the time they deserve”, nomadic Elena recounted how her early memories of the streets of Sassari, experience of the 2005 London bombings, and residence in the virtually inaccessible Shetland Islands shaped her musical repertoire of Sardinian, Scottish and Bulgarian music.
With hints of Joni Mitchell and allusions to Shepherd sighs, Elena successfully drew together these unrelated musical connotations in a refreshingly organic, personal one-hour set, which constituted the second part of the evening. Opening with an unfinished ballad from Aberdeenshire, The Burnin’ of Auchendoon, Elena told of how her father’s land was burnt in a vendetta, whilst joining the dots between emotions common to Sardinians and the Scottish. The audience sung along confidently, with Elena’s encouragement, to Song for Ireland by Phil Colcough, clapped to the Gaelic Fill-iù oro hù-o, and chuckled at the up-tempo Bulgarian number, Izgreyala Yasna Zvezda, which demonstrated a uniquely bewildering vocal timbre. Elena touched again on the topical theme of migration in her Gaelic representation of a traditional Skye song, illustrating the professionally motivated journey from a hometown: saying goodbye to family, roots and the familiar, for new pathways and horizons. The Sardinian Ave Maria was her closing piece, both a personal and poignant choice, which, having been sung by her since the age of seven in her birth city, appropriately brought her musical journey full circle.
The third part of the evening was a screening of the 1964 Michaelangelo Antonioni film, Red Desert, which promised and delivered magnificent visual imagery of Sardinia’s remote, scenic beauty.
The first-rate bill I witnessed was utterly inspiring and professional yet comfortably informal, from start to finish. A musical, cultural and all-round educational evening and a credible publicity for why everybody should visit Sardinia - if this taster were anything to go by, it is undoubtable that the forthcoming LivItaly events will be worth attending.
2nd May 2015, Amy Flynn (final year student in Italian and French, University of Leeds)