Is there an island in the Mediterranean more recognizable for its music? Now, I can’t say that I’ve traveled to every one, nor have I listened to folk music in every corner of the middle sea, but if there is an island more musical than Sicily, I have not found one yet.
As a country that only ‘united’ in the 1860s, all of the regional differences of Italy, cuisine, dialect, lifestyle, music, all of them are still very pronounced. Cultural homogenization has not yet occurred as it has to an extent in Britain or in France – countries that have been unified far longer.
As an island, Sicily has seen waves of settlement from Greece, Rome, North Africa, Normandy, Germany and Spain; each culture has left its own mark on the language, the folklore, the architecture, the cuisine and – of course – its music.
Folk music all over the world expresses the joys, the loves, the fears and the worries of the indigenous population. An island controlled almost throughout its history by peoples other than themselves have considerably more worries than most. The songs that are sung and the music that underlies it are tinged with the cadences of almost every civilization of the Mediterranean.
It means that music is everywhere – bus drivers sing as the locals queue up to buy tickets, mothers hum as they hang the washing outside their windows, waiters trill snatches of ditties as they deliver an order; radio stations are playing in shops, in bars, in taxis, in buses; liturgical or choral music is almost constantly seeping through the doors of local churches.
But what is Sicilian music? With so many different influences from the auletes of the Ancient Greeks to the zithers of the Arabs it is very difficult to say, but every time you hear the stirring chords of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana or Rota’s and Copolla’s enormously evocative music for The Godfather, you think one thing: ‘That’s Sicilian!’.
There is not much of a ‘Great Classical’ tradition because for the Sicilian music is not the for the cultured literati, music is for everyone, music is life. A tour of Sicily is always full of music, a musical tour of Sicily is full of life, because the Sicilians are as full of music as they are of life itself.