by Gabriele Albanese
Playing the Marranzano Jew's harp has had a strong effect on my career as a musician. It was love at first sight. As I was getting familiar with this instrument and having felt its strong passionate energy, I was powerfully attracted to it. I owe this introduction mainly to my professional collaboration and friendship with Mimmo Cavallaro. Thanks to him I approached the instruments of Mediterranean folk tradition.
In my opinion the marranzano (Sicilian name), known in Italy as scacciapensieri, and in my region of origin, Calabria, malarruni, holds a special place which makes it a bit different from all the other instruments I play and with which I am used to be challenged. I can make this statement for many reasons. First of all, in spite of being seen as an instrument only found in Sicily, it is actually part of the cultural heritage of several countries all over the world. Anglo-Saxon musicians are familiar with it (they call it Jew’s Harp) and is quite constantly present also in Asia and in the music of the Balkans. It is thus a signature instrument of World Music and as such has helped me immensely in my sound explorations, allowing me to learn not only a new way of making music, but also giving me access to an entire cultural universe that until then I perceived as distant and inaccessible.
Behind this thin vibrating blade, mounted in shapes and materials which vary from metal to wood (some of them are even made of bamboo), there's a long and complex manufacturing process which requires extreme technique and a meticulous attention to details.
I had the chance to witness the creation of a Marranzano Jew's harp in Sicily, in Monterosso Almo, during a day I spent with Carmelo Buscema, a true and well known expert in the field. After showing my musician friends who accompanied me and me some of the Marranzano Jew's harps he had made, Carmelo gave further proof of his extraordinary ability by modelling a beautiful wrought iron leaf before my astonished eyes. He gave it to me as a gift and I still carry it with me. It was exactly during that afternoon that I believe I decided to perform a comprehensive study on this instrument, focusing not only on its technical features, but also on the historical and social context in which it originated.
Since then, the Marranzano Jew's harp has became a crucial part of my artistic expression. It is not just an instrument of traditional study, it is an essential starting point for anyone who wants to experiment with original rhythmical and melodic combinations, and apply them with versatility to various musical genres, from pop to rock, from techno to dance music, to name a few.
It can produce enchanting sounds. It sends shivers through your soul.