One week at the Marranzano World Fest in Catania/Sicily
I had imagined the first, since my youth longed trip to Sicily differently. Quite classic, a vacation with a partner, children and / or friends.
But it has now happened quite differently. Now the music brings me for the first time to this island full of myths and culture...
When my colleague Oli at Dan Moi a good month ago drew my attention to this year's Marranzano Music Festival in Catania, to follow it on social channels and possibly promote it on their own channel, a quiet longing seized me.
Longing for many things that have been lost in times of pandemic - Mediterranean collective lightness, community, diversity, the feeling of lightheartedness and freedom to travel again and being among people, in the wide world.
Longing for Sicily, its history and culture.
So one week later I was sitting on the plane, one hour away from Catania, full of anticipation and curiosity about the encounters and experiences around the festival in Catania and the impressions that the country and its people would leave on me.
The Marranzano World Fest in Catania, which is organized and held annually on a voluntary basis by a team of musician and ethnomusicologist Luca Recupero, could not be held last year due to the pandemic-related restrictions.
This year the team managed to organize another edition, the 12th. Nevertheless, the impact on the events could not be overlooked. The program was lean, the guests from abroad were rather an exception and most of the events and workshops were held exclusively in the Italian language. The main venue had to be moved to the "Anfiteatro Turi Ferro" in Gravina di Catania. This offered a spectacular backdrop, the smoking Etna in the background, but required a half hour drive from Catania, which was a hurdle for many potential visitors.
The pre-show was held in smaller squares around the Castello Ursino in Catania's old town, which, with its bustling, lava-stone-paved streets and Baroque architecture, provided an atmospheric and lively stage.
I plunged into the action around music, song and storytelling.
Music is language, language is music.
This is a music-philosophical theme that Nietzsche already made extensive use of.
Both are often closely linked, can stand alone independantly, complement, strengthen, accompany each other.
This was practically also the motto of this year's festival: the exploration of the boundaries between word and music. Where and when does the spoken word become music? The search began with traditional Sicilian singing, the cuntu, and followed the various forms of storytelling, the cantu, to the latest youth trends and the world of rap and hip hop.
The festival weekend was introduced a week before by various smaller events, lectures and workshops, which offered those interested the opportunity to approach this year's motto in a playful music-theoretical way.
Theoretical events and musical performances successfully alternated.
Theories were discussed, books were presented, stories were told, texts were recited powerfully, puppets were made to dance, the Jew's harp, traditional in Sicily, was played, music was made and sung.
During a conversation with the Sicilian singer Simona Di Gregorio, the many influences on Sicilian music became clear to me once again. Greek, Romanic, Arabic, Iberian and Norman elements and instruments are part of the inspiration and tradition of native music.
At the same time, strong emotions such as love, hate, jealousy, sadness and injustice are the main motifs that Sicilian folk singing deals with. It is full of contrasts and melancholy.
The songs are often accompanied by simple instruments such as the scacciapensieri, the Jew's harp called marranzanu in Sicily, various frame drums, the friscalettu, a small flute made of bamboo or reeds, and the ciaramedda, a kind of bagpipe.
Other accompanying instruments in Sicilian folk music are the guitar, the mandolin and the accordion.
I noticed that traditional music, at least in Sicily, is not a genre in which only older artists feel comfortable, but the tradition is gratefully and creatively taken up and developed by young musicians. In this process it became very clear to the viewer and listener how modern music can be created based on traditional music and traditional instruments.
I was most impressed by the Jew's harp virtuoso Aron Szilagyi, whose Jew's harp pieces, electronically amplified and processed, reminded me of synthesizer music, techno, acid, synth.
Or the unimaginable tones and rhythms that Gábor Kovács conjured with a small, Hungarian shepherd's flute, which gave me four-minute pulsating goose bumps.
In a time of extreme technical reproducibility, when music is felt to be inflationary and constantly available, and often seems replaceable and uniform, it was a refreshing and invigorating experience to witness people of diverse ages, backgrounds and histories, spontaneously and with so much joy, producing such diverse and vibrant music.
Music touches- which explains the many "goosebumps" moments during this musical week.
Music is expression- critical and provocative, as the young hip-hop musicians and rappers demonstrated to us eloquently and rhythmically, to the delight of hundreds of young listeners.
In everyday life, I often see how music serves as a demarcation, people walking through the day with headphones on, acoustically shielded and dwelling in their world. In Catania I experienced exactly the opposite.
Music connects; it is a universal language, which made people from different countries and age groups and with different musical and cultural backgrounds within a few days, to a multifaceted, musical unity.
This became clear at the end, when groups from Hungary (Zajnal), Serbia (Kurtautca) and Sicily (Jacarànda), who are part of the EU-funded TREMOLO project, which promotes multicultural exchange and mutual understanding and integration of different cultures, presented a wonderful concert after only a few joint rehearsals.
A common European cultural heritage, which in its diversity has been inspiring and fertilizing each other for more than two millennia now.
Indeed: music is language, language is music.
Let's stay in conversation.
Thank you for making the trip possible in such a spontaneous and uncomplicated way, thank you for the Sicilian hospitality, for the organization of the festival and to all the participating artists for their contribution. :)
Photos: © Emmanuel Poulakis, www.marranzanoworldfest.org, 2021