Do you know the feeling of wanting to discover secrets that aren’t being spoken aloud?
For a while I thought it was an esoteric way of preserving knowledge. I imagined there were savants to seek out, to turn to.
And in search of traces, I became passionate about chasing and searching for the threads of various human cultures, intertwined for thousands of years, starting from the perspective of Sicily, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean.
At a certain point I began to realize that the secrets were no longer alive: the people were gone, without leaving a cultural legacy behind.
Impossible, you will say. Everyone leaves an enduring oral imprint on the people around them. And yet, through passages less emphatic than the burning of books, or the eradication of cultural witnesses, a culture may be overwhelmed and deleted by a dominant culture, leading to the progressive decay and then complete disappearance of a cultural legacy over a few generations.
We are the result of five thousand years of cultural imperialism, which has slowly led to the affirmation of the strongest and most violent group, which now presents itself as an international, global monoculture that has drastically overwhelmed all others. It is the culture of today’s contemporary globalized world: capitalist, patriarchal, monotheistic and consumerist, in which a few cultural differences found at various latitudes appear almost as commercial nuances – variations on stimulating consumption.
As soon as I realized that I was living in an era directed by a total cultural monopoly, I began frenziedly passing on, divulging, recomposing and reviving those shreds of a subaltern culture that I could find; whether they were dying, or perhaps already immortalized by a lone enthusiast, annotated and then recorded over the past centuries; although often in forms not suitable for preserving the enduring ferments in the material of oral tradition.
I sought the secrets “between the lines” of verses or stories: after all, we know that this way has always been used to preserve and pass on things: concealing them in a joke, a rhyme, a riddle, a bell, or a proto-memory.
I searched inside song traditions, oral stories, and in the repertoire of oral tradition, which they have not been able to completely eradicate from memory: precisely the songs of oral tradition which has the potential to preserve and pass on secrets about the meaning of life, the most important baggage that generations have the burden to pass on – at all costs and through all possible stratagems – in case of censorship and oppression.
Women’s Songs in the Sicilian Tradition
In the last few years I have been primarily interested in Women’s Song in the Sicilian tradition, which constitutes an even more fragile niche in the midst of the general fragility of the heritage of tradition, since it suffers in addition from the perpetual minority suffered by the patriarchal cultures that have followed one another since the third millennium B.C..
It is a repertoire scarcely paid attention to, liminal to other stronger and more manifest repertoires, more excavated and documented; and in any case predominantly investigated from a male perspective; from a point of view that is still and always hegemonic, in terms of the gender question.
This is the most fertile repertoire for those who, like me, are in search of handed-down secrets: women represent a particular segment of social reality, in which the needs of the private and family sphere interpenetrate uniquely with the needs of the public, socio-economic sphere; women have the task of ensuring the survival and growth of the social actors of the future, the children, and women, have the task of turning the economic wheel of the family micro-society. Always.
The musical repertoire of women is often a mixture of different genres that refer both to the classic cycle of life – including lullabies, engagement, wedding songs and funeral laments – and to the sphere of work, as well as to the religious sphere, in a diversified way according to the religion of reference.
Often the added value that we find in the fragments of female repertoire is that there is a greater purity and resistance to the assimilation of the hegemonic cultures, alongside a tendency towards fusion.
Having been maintained and handed down in an intimate and private setting, and almost always in the absence of musical instruments, they have not been subject to admixture and transformation to adapt to changing tastes and fashions, resulting in the loss of content and precision of message.
In the repertoire of female gender, the first place – cultural universal – is entrusted to the chapter of maternity. That is to the lullabies and dirges that women in every part of the world sing to their children to quieten them and accompany them in their sleep.
The lullaby is the song of intimacy and privacy, it remains contextualized to the intimacy of the mother-daughter relationship.
I am convinced that the valorization – the patrimonialisation of this enormous cultural baggage, immaterial heritage of the human race – restores strength, health and richness to the woman, and to her social role. It is a wide and shared documentation of this infinite repertoire, allowing for the patrimonialisation of a real hidden and almost unused treasure.
My two latest albums from 2019: Dormi, a matri. Ninne nel Mediterraneo and of 2020: Viva Santa Liberata. Sicilian Women Folksongs, are dedicated to the traditional female repertoire. They are the culmination of many years of research – an audio production project investigating, witnessing, and passing on this repertoire.
The path of research on lullabies has been going on for twenty years. It includes field research, the testimonies of women in the first person through intercultural workshops, archival research, and even authorship in some cases.
Above all it has come about in meetings, not only with women but also often with sensitive men who have a strong sense of the magical power of the lullaby.
The opportunity to record an album of lullabies presented itself in 2018. Thankfully, the idea received a warm welcome from the singer friends to whom I proposed a collaboration, under my artistic direction (Simona Di Gregorio, Costanza Paternò, Clara Salvo, the very young Rawen Laid).
Each had the task of testifying some traditional lullabies, not only Sicilian but looking to a wider Mediterranean culture for inspiration, with freedom of choice in the type of processing and repurposing; the disc: Dormi, a matri. Ninne nel Mediterraneo (2019) represents one more instrument with which to carry out the project.
VIVA SANTA LIBERATA is a record that was created as a tribute to women’s singing, in particular narrative singing, another branch of the female repertoire that has fallen into almost total disuse.
The songs of mothers and daughters, grandmothers and mothers-in-law, sisters and aunts, cummari, majare and soothsayers, midwives and nannies, complainers, healers; the song of girls and ‘teachers of water.’
The title was born from a provocative play on words in relation to the iconography of the feminine in Christian cultures, proposing a synthesis of the dualism between virginal sacrifice and chastity on the one hand, and self-determination and sexual freedom on the other.
Santa Liberata claims her atavistic freedom, starting from sexual freedom, the source of all her other powers connected to life and its balance, in the cyclical nature of time, and her source is the fountain of Living Water.
Santa Liberata (in Sicilian “Libbirata”) is the character that continues to guide my work in the last two years. She presents herself in appearance as the Catholic saints, and requires the usual celebrations reserved for the patron saints, such as Santa Rosalia in Palermo and Santa Agata in Catania, that is, required at the annual preparation of a Fistinu, in which her qualities and merits are magnified and her precepts divulged.
PART II – A World Music Festival in Sicily
But the Fistinu is not only this, it is an enterprise involving dozens of artists, workers and associations that have joined my adventurous proposal to build an event around the music, which puts at the centre the idea of a healthier community: a mixed community in which identities and traditions intersect, intertwine and develop; a concrete community that integrates with the natural world; that welcomes it in a symbiotic and non-competitive way, rebuilding the good traditional ecological practices.
So in 2020 the FISTINU DI SANTA LIBBIRATA – Musik Du Munn was born.
It is the heritage of our ancestors; a community of individuals aware of their right to well-being, to care for themselves according to their own free choice, as symbolized by the medicinal hemp, symbol and ornament of Santa Libbirata; an idea of liberation of conscience that starts from the liberation of women, and for this Santa Libbirata.
The Fistinu is an event in which people can find the beneficial dimmension of the participatory FESTIVAL, using the traditional techniques of music, song and dance.
The feast is an occasion in which people dance together, as a communal rite of reintegration of well-being ‘individual through the collective and collective through the individual.’
The popular or folk music has among its functions to bring together the community in a particular occasion, merging together in an experience of total participation, physical, mental and emotional, with the support of rhythm and song; each tradition retains its key to open the doors of participation through dance and song, a ritual and archaic dimension that helps to recreate social harmony and community well-being.
We endeavoured to recreate a tradition of FESTIVAL in Sicily, which in addition to supporting itself through the indigenous cultural traditions, such as the contradanza or the ballittu, inevitably recreates itself by opening and dialoguing with other musical traditions, the cultures that coexist in Sicily today, which can point a magnifying glass on the processes of migration and cultural metissage.
Looking at the past, centuries of real experience of cultural cross-fertilization between different and distant traditions – including Arabs, Vikings, Greeks, French, Turks and Americans – are the basis on which Sicily’s own musical tradition, the most archaic, has been constituted.
Looking at the present, Sicily is the junction and crossroads of the great migrations of the third millennium, on its territory different experiences and cultural languages continue to meet, dialogue and merge.
Since the third millennium A.D. began we have witnessed the transformation of the whole world. There are no longer borders for information, culture, fashions (unfortunately still too many borders for the dignity of human beings on the move): inevitably the transformation leads to global métissage.
The culture of global métissage is like a river in which everything is mixed; if the course is too wide, values sink and rot at the bottom, the surface becomes one sterile insignificant reality, enslaved to the market and the economic system; but if the course is alive, the identity of our ancestors does not fade in the midst of everything, but is enlivened alongside the others – roots that intertwine and strengthen each other.
Then the métissage becomes our strength, the new strength of the individual of the future.
SI LU CHIù FORTI A’SSIRI SCANNATU
LU CHIù DIBULIDDU E VOGGHIU ESSIRI
SI LA PETRA FERMA A’SSIRI MARTIDDATA
COMU ACQUA CHI CURRI E VOGGHIU ESSIRI
C’ARRIFRISCANNU SCURRI E UNN’è DI NUDDU
L’ACQUA CURRI SUPRA LA MUNTAGNA
SCURRI LENTA MA PASSANNU CANCIA
CANCIA IDDA E CANCIA LA MUNTAGNA
LENTAMENTI L’ACQUA LA TRASFORMA
The music of cultural identity, of the roots, the language and the words of our ancestors, contain within themselves a permanent force. This is like water that flows and slowly manages to shape even the rock, which can allow us women and men of today to face the contemporary world with love, to bring our positive contribution to the creation of the society that is currently getting out of hand.
That’s why I want to continue to sing in Sicilian, and not only in Sicily, in Italy, and in the whole world. The micro-identity doesn’t close, doesn’t stop and doesn’t die out, but can be offered to the world without fear, allowing us to open up and confront each other, bringing knowledge, esteem and enrichment that strengthens all our resolve.
And I want to meet and get to know closely your stories in your dialects and your songs and dances, to be able to see the strength of the recognition of the message: Acqua di stu chiaru fonti, that secret that has been handed down to us from the past of generations by our Ave.
CU VIVI ACQUA DI STU CHIARU FONTI
S’APRI LU CIELU E CALANU LI SANTI
FUNTANA DI BIDDIZZI E D’ACQUA CHIARA
CA CU CI BIVI CI LASSA LA MENTI
UNDI CAMINI TU L’ARIA SCARA
PERNI E DOMANTI SU LI TO SBANNENTI
DI TUTTI LI FUNTANI SI CHIù RARA
E SUNNU L’ACQUI TOI LI CHIù LUCENTI
PRI TIA LA TIRRA STISSA SI PRIPARA
LARGA LU MARI CISSANU LI VENTI
CU VIVI ACQUA DI STU CHIARU FONTI
S’APRI LU CIELU E CALANU LI SANTI
FUNTANA DI BILLIZZI ED ACQUI ARANCI
NA BEDDA COMU A VUI NUN SI PO PINCIRI
FUNTANA DI BILLIZZI ED ACQUI D’ANCILI
CUI PASSA DI STA STRATA LU FA MPINCIRI
TU SI FUNTANA DI TUTTI BILLIZZI
NTRA LU TO STICCHIU C’E LA MIDICINA
QUANTU MALATI C’è TANTU NNI SANA
C’A LI MALATI LIVATI LA SITI
A CHIDDI MORTI LI RISUSCITATI
CU VIVI ACQUA DI STU CHIARU FONTI
S’APRI LU CIELU E CALANU LI SANTI
Speaking to the Ancestors
But from what past are the ancestors speaking to us? Or rather, how far back is this past from which these rhymes emerge? The rhymes speak of a feminine entity superior to the human dimension, whom one addresses face to face, like a mother or a companion, but whose praises are sung in music, as to a Goddess. It is an emergence of the prehistoric Mediterranean Culture of Mothers.
Digging into history, I wondered when it happened, and how such an unbalanced way of life took over; I was lucky enough to discover the work of prehistoric archaeology by Marija Gimbutas, who reinterpreted prehistory, in particular the time period between 3000 and 2000 BC.
This was before a prolonged period of invasion, when a different culture was widespread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, up to Ireland. From the archaeological data, she concluded this was non-hierarchical, mutualistic, and based on the balance with the natural elements, in which women kept the most valuable skills related to survival, and were responsible for the welfare of the community.
Wayne Dyer called this Gilanic culture, joining equally the Greek roots: -gyn feminine and -an masculine with the unifying letter lambda.
There was a time when those who now pretend to be the original indigenous citizens of Europe were only the new comers, the ‘Extra-Europeans’ of the past. They established their presence by means of wars and violence, trying to destroy or to exploit for their own aims the civilisation they found. They have been trying since then to impose their own single set of truths, values, gods. Now we can say that they failed in doing so at least for two basic reasons: first, we are still here to prove the existence of that earlier civilization, the goddess civilization, because they cut and burnt the trees but didn’t eradicate their/our roots; secondly, what has been achieved through violence and a monocentric male paradigm of dominance is a society based on malaise, destruction and death without regeneration and growth. Now we need a new science, a new politics and a new history, that is no more just his–story.
What have been called disdainfully ‘matriarchal studies’ indicate that egalitarian forms of social structures have existed in the past and are still in existence today in some parts of the world. In ‘matriarchies’ women are at the centre of culture without ruling over other members of society: their aim is not to have power over other people and over the natural world, but to have the power to nurture cultural life based on mutual respect.
Our task, therefore, is to transform the hope originating from all these discoveries about our Archaic Past into bursting energy to Realize now, as Mary Daly calls it, our Archaic Future.
Luciana Percovich, Barcelona, 2003.
So I found the tangle of the skein, and what’s more, I found myself with the thread in my hand. When a woman finds herself with a thread in her hand, the archaic instinct is to start weaving.
And from time immemorial, you have to involve others to weave together, if the fabric is endlessly wide.
Weaving then, it is in that time that songs are born: it is there that the story is always made goddess.
This is what Percovich means by Her-story. But let’s go in order.
Tangle of the Skein
The tangle of the skein is in this nebulous prehistory, out of which for decades now has emerged a new truthful narrative that speaks of a better world, or at least another possible one, through the archaeological evidence of a culture that refers to and strongly overlaps with the Utopia of the twentieth century, a better world, Huxley’s Island.
It opens a glimmer of hope: they almost convinced us that we are losers, utopians for an equalitarian and mutualistic world, they corroded our confidence in the ideal, and instead we have the archaeological evidence of the Neolithic, up to the Minoan culture in Crete, as witnesses of a better world.
And we know that this culture that was its bearer has been overwhelmed and prevaricated by an invading culture, which continues to prevail.
Once we have assumed this fact, the rest is all downhill, we simply need to reinterpret all that we known, and all that we will still learn with a new key, free from the intent of the dominant culture to make us slaves and oppressed, forgetting our identity. We haven’t been taught and told where we really came from, now we have to sew up the whole thread of history, to regain strength and courage, and self-confidence, and build our better world. Our archaic-future.
The Culture of the Mothers
The thread, I was saying, I found it in my hand. Digging into the archaeology of Sicilian songs, we can find these poetic fragments clearly ascribable to the spirituality of this culture of the Mothers, gilanic, and connected to the cult of Water and Waters: they are the retropapiri of our spiritual and ritual repertoire!
They can be a nucleus around which to sew up the fragments of memories of songs that have managed to reach us from this archaic culture, and by recomposing a fabric, we contribute to the re-emergence of a cultural identity in which we can feel at ease and heartened by our true roots.
Sicily is like a cauldron, the seething cauldron in which the cultural interactions between the migrant populations of history and the wandering of the merchants in the Mediterranean have stratified: among the sediments there are traces of cultural persistence of an ancient, prehistoric culture that unites us and reflects us: the culture of the Mothers.
It is the land of the golden apples, perhaps here rests hidden the Fata Morgana. If she is resting here, she is resting behind a magic mirror, and Circe is singing to call back from sleep all the sirens of the sea and invite them to a feast.
Women, says the song, let’s take back our customs, the feast must be done at least once a year, the feast where we can sing and dance and meet to tell our stories and our songs. In order not to disappear, to prevent our culture from dying out.
It is for this reason that from Sicily SANTA LIBERATA SENDS AN APPEAL.
From Sicily to all the islands, both territorial and cultural: sisters we are, capitals of cultural persistence!
In us is the germ of resistance, if after so many millennia we can still resist with a memory of the stories, voices and songs of our ancestors, who handed down their island culture.
We bring together in a project a path of meetings of songs and sharing, a project of permanent chorus of the archaic feminine, we constitute an OPIRA OF PUPE.
Singers and performers, bearers of traditions, passionate, willing weavers, Santa Liberata is building the road, from Rome to Sicily. Spring 2022.
Contact me here.