Discovering cantu a tenore
- Published in: Blog
- Written by Claudia Vanini
In the magic Island of Sardegna there is an incredible musical style unknown to the majority of the world. describing music often ends up as references to other music, but that style, cantu a tenòre, sounds like a sort of a barbershop quartet mixed with a bar band. Cantu a tenòre is Sardinian throat singing, and it’s very, very cool.
This Sardinian tradition, amongst many others, is a rarity among rarities.
Two young maestro of this singing art, Giovanni Bortoluzzi and Ilaria Orefice, run the Sherden Overtone Singing School, the first and probably the only school for Sardinian throat singing in the world. You can try to explain the singing as a “metallic voice,” and it’s kind of hard to describe. It’s a sound that can’t be produced in any other way, but it’s immediately noticeable as something unusual.
Throat singing shows up in various musical traditions, the most famous of which is probably Tuvan, or from a remote Russian republic bordering Mongolia. For some reason, it seems to appear most often in the native music of cold-weather communities: the Sami people of Scandinavia, the Inuits in Canada, and Buddhists in Tibet. Sardinia seems to be an exception to this rule; its climate is as Mediterranean as you can get.
This makes the Sardinian tradition a rarity among rarities.
Nevertheless it is unlikely that throat singing, something so fundamental to Sardinian culture, could have been introduced. Instead it might have just been independently discovered or evolved, the same way it was in Canada or Tibet. One thing Sardinia does have in common with all of those other places, from Scandinavia to Tuva: wide open spaces. Throat singing is associated with herders and shepherds, possibly as a way to communicate over long distances, because the sound carries very far.
Cantu a tenòre is a quite rigid form, exclusively a capella. and almost always sung with four members. And it is always, always sung in Sardinian—never Italian. Because, as Sardinian connoisseurs have discovered, Sardinian identity as well as language is something deeply rooted and alive.
Cantu a tenòre and the hidden treasures of the Island feel ready for global discovery.