Everybody dance now …


On doing research about Norman and medieval Sicily, I stumbled across this gem on YouTube:

It’s by a band called Al Qantarah that specializes in Sicilian music. Having learned how to dance some debke and some bransles, my feet started twitching when I heard the rhythm.

So then, I did a little research into medieval Italian carole dances and the various versions of “In hoc anni circulo.” You can read about what I found out here, in another paper I did for the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The paper was written for the Artisan’s Challenge last November in Hartshorn-dale, where I first demonstrated the dance. At one point, we got a bunch of people to line dance around the chapel. The people who watched us, and even the ones dancing, found themselves experiencing a “medieval moment” when it became not a bunch of modern-day folks in funny clothes but something more real.

I taught the dance again at the last Noisemakers Schola in February. There was a little panic on some faces when they realized I was going to make them dance to the song they had just learned. Hee.  But everyone learned it so quickly we were able to run through it a few times and still join the jam session in an adjoining classroom.

The next thing I want to do is to get some people together to film this choreography. I’ve tried to write it out to make it understandable to non-dancers, but couldn’t do it – the dance includes a short grapevine sequence and a debke stomp, and that’s best taught visually.

I’m also fascinated by this piece Al Qantarah did, called “Montedoro”:

The mix of the Arabic oud and voice taqsim in the beginning along with the folksong (in a 9/8 rhythm, which makes it sound Turkish), is very interesting. Montedoro itself is a town in Sicily known for its vocal sacred music tradition. But I haven’t been able to find out anymore about the original folk song.

UPDATE: According to the liner notes of Al Qantarah’s CD, “Montedoro” came from “Corpus di musiche popolari siciliane,” a two-volume work that was published in the 1920s by ethnomusicologist Alberto Favara. I know there was another edition published at least in the 1950s.

Anyway, you can get a short biography of Alberto Favara here. Ironically, there is a band named after him in the town where he was born, Salemi, but they don’t seem to play any of his actual compositions.


About adelisasalernitana

This blog is the exploration of the life of a 12th century woman in the court of King Roger II of Sicily. Looking at the tripartite culture of the kingdom – Norman, Greek, and Muslim – how people dressed, the food they ate, the buildings that they lived in, and the remnants of Muslim culture in modern Sicilian language, food, music, and customs.

7 responses »

  1. Pingback: In motion … « siquillya

  2. Dear Friend, do you REALLY think that in A-Qantarah’s CDs you can hear Medieval Sicilian Music?
    There are nice folk songs dressed with medieval instruments sounds, of course. Besides, unfortunately, it is really UNCERTAIN that the famous Troparium Catane (in Madrid) was ever written in Sicily. Perhaps it was OWNED by a monastery in Catania, but, as many others still kept in Ursino-Recupero Library in Catania, they were written in Tuscany or elsewhere and then brought to Sicily…

    • Giuseppe, thank you for this information. Though the Troparium may have been written in Tuscany and brought to Sicily, what is certain is that the version of “In hoc anni circolo” in the Troparium is VERY different than the other versions in Continental Europe. And in my search for a possible piece for an early “carola” dance, it’s the best one I’ve ever found. Just as foods and architectural styles were brought to Sicily from elsewhere and transformed into something unique and native to the island, it would be rather silly to assume that the music brought to the island wasn’t similarly transformed.

  3. Pingback: A Sicilian medieval luthier and medieval Muslim figural painting « siquillya

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