La Cantiga de la Serena: Music knows no boundaries

8 March 2023, 1:00

La Cantiga de la Serena: Music knows no boundaries

La Cantiga de la Serena is a trio from southern Italy, focusing on the music of the Mediterranean, seen as a bridge between the West and the East. The ensemble's repertoire consists of medieval dances and songs, sacred songs including pilgrim songs, medieval secular songs, and songs of the Sephardic Jews who had to leave what is now Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century. In 2021, the group released its third and most recent album to date, La Mar, and in the summer of 2022 performed in Brno at the Maraton Hudby festival. You can even recall the concert thanks to this interview. Our questions are answered by Fabrizio Piepoli, who sings and plays the Italian battente chitarra, as well as Giorgia Santoro, who plays a variety of flutes and whistles, including the Indian bansuri and Irish tin whistle, and the Celtic harp. Finally, the third member is Adolfo La Volpe, who plays the Arabic lute, classical guitar and Irish bouzouki.

How did you get together as a trio?

Adolfo: I can talk about this because I'm the link between my two teammates. With Fabrizio, I've been doing research on Mediterranean music for twenty-five years. And besides that, I've been playing in different projects with Giorgia for twenty years. So, at the beginning of our journey together was the three of us getting together. The basic idea of the band is our common love for Mediterranean music, which on the one hand we respect, but on the other hand we try to have our own distinctive view of it. We mix different elements of this music – with a certain amount of freedom, but above all with a lot of respect.

Your latest album is called La Mar and is dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea, perceived as a place that brings people together. But the sea also divides..

Fabrizio: As I said at the concert in Brno, for the three of us the Mediterranean is a way of life. The way we live, breathe, eat... our way of seeing the world... all of this is the Mediterranean for us, which we don't perceive strictly geographically. But what you say is a very interesting perspective. The sea can really divide and unite people. But distance is not in itself a bad thing. What is wrong, though, is distance combined with ignorance. Geographical distance encourages a healthy curiosity and desire for knowledge. This desire for knowledge leads us to explore the music of the different peoples of the Mediterranean. And this is the basic idea of our band: curiosity, integration, communication, and peacefulness. Our goal is to live in peace and connect with other people. Politics, religion, and other things bring problems. Music brings people together.

Giorgia: I totally agree. We're trying to find our own way. We started with our folk music, but now we're trying to explore other areas of the Mediterranean. We like to combine our music with the music of Greece, Macedonia, and many other countries. Our musical languages are actually very similar in the end.

You put music from different regions of the Mediterranean side by side. But does the southern Italian tarantella dance have anything in common with the music of northern Algeria? And when you sometimes go to other parts of Europe on your albums, do you find points of contact there as well?

Fabrizio: All these types of folk music have a common groove. For example, the southern Italian pizzica dance is similar in many ways to the jigs and reels from the north of Ireland. The important thing is not so much what you play, but how you play it. If you play a Southern Italian tarantella and if you play rhythms from Egypt, Turkey, or the Maghreb, you'll feel a certain relaxation there. All this music works with energy, with a strong rhythm, but at the same time it has a touch of a relaxed mood. And that's exactly what you'll find in other musical genres that have African roots, such as soul, jazz, or blues. And that is – at least I think so – as important as the melody itself. In a way, Italian pizzica is similar to songs from northern Algeria because it works very similarly with rhythm and melody. And you don't find that anywhere else in the world.

Your “geographical” scope is also emphasized by the number of musical instruments you use.

Adolfo: Yes, we use a lot of musical instruments, but when we travel we can only bring some of them. But the choice of instruments is related to what Fabrizio was talking about. It's not that there are boundaries somewhere and beyond them a particular instrument doesn't exist. Boundaries are a fictional thing and instruments have always crossed them, just as songs have crossed them. And on their journey they have changed over time. And so you might find a particular musical instrument in one area and a few miles away a similar instrument was used, just slightly altered. So when we study the musical traditions of different countries, we find that there are actually no borders. Culture travels and changes independently of borders.

Giorgia, you also use flutes from outside the Mediterranean region, for example from India or China. How do you choose what to play in which song?

Giorgia: I have to find my sound. I use the instrument as a voice and I always try to find its true essence. Then it doesn't matter to me if the flute I play comes from China or India. You can't put music in a box. I like the sound of wooden flutes, but I also play – when travel allows – the Celtic harp, for example. I'm always looking for the ideal sound to express what I feel.

Your latest album La Mar (2021) is the third part of a trilogy. It was preceded by La Fortuna (2019) and La Serena (2016). So what does the listener find on these recordings?

Fabrizio: It's a trip in three chapters, a trip around the Mediterranean, but not only there. In fact, many of our songs have elements from Celtic songs, which Giorgia can play beautifully on the flutes and tin whistle. As I said before, this Mediterranean journey is more a state of mind or a way of life for us. When we prepared this trilogy, we thought of the sea, which brings love, joy, sadness, and hope. We sailed through this sea, which is actually much bigger than the Mediterranean, and in doing so we discovered ourselves and our roots. There wasn't much of our region, Puglia, on the first album. But this third chapter is very much about our music and our roots. Of course, when we recorded the first album, we had no idea that it would be a trilogy. It just happened. It wasn't until we did the third album that we realized in retrospect that it was actually a trilogy. And that we really learned a lot in the making of it.

Photo by Giuseppe Pezzulla

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