Italian folk music is rich with history and cultural influences. Regional influences can be found throughout the music providing a complex texture that is unique. One of the reasons for such strong regional influences is that the Italian peninsula was not nationally unified until very late.
This meant there were hundreds of different and unique cultures that were producing their own type of folk music. Italy’s geographic location also influenced the development of the country’s folks music. Hints of many cultures from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are heard in the music. All of these factors led to the creation of a rich and diverse brand of folk music.
Italian folk songs are about celebrations and events. They include lullabies, ballads, epic songs, serenades, and songs for children. Gianni Bosio opened the Instituto Ernesto de Martino in 1966 and helped revive the folk music of Italy.
Italy’s folk music can be categorized into several geographical categories. The first is the Central and Northern regions. This area historically indicated Slavic and Celtic influences in its music. Known for the beautiful medieval poetry that was sung by traveling troubadours,the music and lyrics often addressed social or political issues. This region is also known for the saltarello dance.
In the 1970s, the roots revivalists brought jazz influences to the music. These songs were accompanied by acoustic instruments and created a new form of folk music.
Another strong regional influence is from Southern Italy. The folk music from this area is strongly influenced by religious music. There is also a strong Greek influence from the many ethnic Greeks who inhabit this region. Much of this folk music is diverse and consists of harvest folks songs, religious and devotional folks songs, and peasant folks songs. Southern Italy is also home to the zampogna. This is an instrument that is a type of bagpipe. These instruments were originally played by shepherds and can still be heard in the mountainous areas of Sicily and Southern Italy.
Sicily also played a key role in the development of Italian folks songs. Much of this regional music is again religious, including devotional songs meant to be sung acapella. The folk songs of Sicily also include harvest songs and songs sung while peasants work the land.
One of the most culturally diverse areas in Italy is Sardinia. This is an isolated island that is famous for its polyphonic chants. Much of this area’s music is accompanied by a triple clarinet. This folk music which consists of complex variations of just a few melodic phrases has received international acclaim
Almost all Italian folk songs are accompanied by some type of instrument. Many are for religious occasions or are heard only during certain religious holidays. The instruments include strings, wind, and percussion. Many of the songs will also have a dance element and some are even used for the courting dance.
Italian folk music is a beautiful combination of several regional influences. Each region provided its own special characteristics resulting in a rich, complex and culturally diverse type of music.