Italy Today

What foreigners (should) know about Italian Music

Discovering tamburello’s history and secrets

What foreigners (should) know about Italian Music

Claudia Astarita

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A new column titled "Soggetti Sonori", sounding subjects, was recently launched by the Italo-Australian magazine Segmento. Salvatore Rossano explains that the stereotype of tarantella tends to dominate abroad, at the expense of the great variety of Italian music.

Aiming at giving clues on how, why, when and where a broad variety of Italian instruments are played, Mr Rossano starts his journey of musical discovery with one of the most common percussion instrument used in the country, the tamburello, or Italian framedrum.

The real tamburello has noting to do with "tambourines made with skins of paper and painted with Sicilian carts of landscapes of the Vesuvious. Those toys are for tourists and nobody plays those". This instrument comes "from the family of membranophones and consist of a circle of wood, usually beech, covered by an animal skin. This is usually goat but sometimes mule, dog or cat. The frame is perforated to hold a variable number of jingles, usually made with recycled materials: oilcans, beer caps, canned tomatoes".

Introduced by people coming from both Greece and Asia Maior, in Italy tamburello used to be a ritual instrument and it is now accompanying several traditional dances: the saltarello in the Marche, Molise, Abruzzo and Lazio; the tammurriata in Campania and the famous tarantella in the rest of the South.

In the summers of southern Italy it is frequent to hear the sound of tamburello skins enriching festive nights together with laughter and the clinking of glasses, confirming that tamburello is for Italy a magic entity more than a simple instrument, a treasure box where "passions, ambitions, adventures and wishes" can be deposited, and something that, Mr Rossano concludes, "changes the lives of those who play them and those who listen".

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