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.