The tammorra displaced: music and body politics from churchyards to glocal arenas in the Neapolitan area.

Author:Ferraiuolo, Augusto
Position:Report

The tammurriata (plural: tammurriate) dance and music was a kind of performance spread throughout the Vesuvian area around Naples, (2) indissolubly connected to Catholic religious devotions, mostly for the Madonna, that were venerated in several shrines. (3) These shrines were the destination of pilgrimages that performed a particular form of bodily atonement--a penitential behavior connected to the mechanism of the "votum fecit gratia accepit," the votive offering--from throughout the entire Campania region and, in some cases, from all over Southern Italy (such as the pilgrimage for Madonna dell'Arco in the village of Sant'Anastasia). (4) Sometimes this journey toward the shrine and, symbolically, toward God was made by walking. Marco L., a Neapolitan tammurriata singer and dancer very well known in the area stated to me:

Augu', ogni anno i' agg'a i' a Montevergine. Nonnema me riceva che quanne ere guaglione i' steve malate assaie. E se mettettere a pria 'a Maronna e Essa m'ha sarvato! Ra allora pozze sta male comm'a che ma vache 'o santuario. Prima ce iev'a pere, ma mo so vecchierelle, nun c'a facce. Vache c"o sciaraballo, cu l'ate vecchierelle. Pero' ancora abballamme! Augu', every year I have to go to Montevergine. (5) My grandma told me that when I was a kid I was so sick that they prayed to the Madonna to save me, and She did it! Since then I can be sick as hell but I will go to the sanctuary. I used to walk there, but now I am getting old, I cannot do anymore. So I take the cart, with the other old folks. But we still dance! (6) Some pilgrims used to walk to the sanctuary, but more often the journey was made on a ritual float once hauled by oxen or horses adorned with palm branches and flowers (today, many use tractors). The dialectal name of the ritual float is sciaraballo and comes from the French char a bal, which means cart for dance. On the sciaraballo, pilgrims began to play and perform the tammurriata, based on the pulsing rhythm of a frame drum: the tammorra. What happened on the float would happen at the sacred place of the sanctuary and it would happen again when the group (the dialectal term is paranza) came back. (7) In other words, the ritual behavior of tammurriata crossed the entire festive institute. Clearly the tammurriata was not an accessory, but a fundamental component of the ritual.

Etymologically speaking, the term tammurriata comes from tammorra, the hand drum that is the main instrument of the performance. The term simultaneously indicates the rhythm, the dance, and the song on the drum. Thus, tammurriata can be defined as a complex musical, choral, and symbolic performance. It is simultaneously a song, a dance, and a prayer; a sound, a rhythm, and symbolically, an ecstasy, defined by Falassi (1985) as a "time out of time." All these aspects were indissolubly bound to each other and, also, they were indissolubly bound with the ceremonial and ritual times of specific religious Catholic feasts. Historically, the tammurriata was an important component of the complex ritual connected with pilgrimages to the local sanctuaries. Only in recent time has the tammurriata witnessed a displacement toward other social arenas: from the churchyards of Catholic sanctuaries were it was performed as a form of vernacular prayer, to secular stages where it became political symbols for subaltern classes, and then a commodity for folk consumers.

Tammurriata: the Drum, the Dance, and the Song

The tammorra, as a frame drum, is made from a wrap of wood shaped in a circle and covered with a goatskin, which is stretched very tightly. The only way to stretch the skin is to warm up the drum on heat sources. It is not unusual to see people coming to the feast with candles and matches: they are not heroin addicts, but only members of the paranza ready to perform a tammurriata.

The circular wraps of wood have between six to ten holes, plus one for the grip. The number of holes depends on the dimensions of the tammorra and on the depth of sonority that the musician wants to obtain. Here they will place the cymbals, which are made from cutting tin boxes. One of most famous constructors of tammorre was a fisherman, Tatonno ' o' Baccalaiuolo, (his nickname is 'Tony the Stock Fish'). His tammorre were, and still are, recognizable for their great quality and for their colors: blue, red, and white--the colors of the Madonna. But they were, and still are, recognizable also for the smell, because Tatonno used the boxes of conserved fish to make cymbals. Every musician changes the disposition, the number and the shape of these cymbals, depending on the sonority that he or she wants to obtain. We can also have the tammorra muta (silent tammorra), very similar to the Irish bodhran, or the tammorre loaded with cymbals like the Brazilian pandeiro. (8) The closest relationship seems to be the bendir of Arabic culture. (9)

The technique used to play the tammorra is complex despite appearances. The musician handles the tammorra with the left hand and beats the skin with the right. This way to play is called the "male way," while the grip with the right is called the "female way." (10) The hand that grips the tammorra has a constant movement of the wrist; the other hand alternates beats on the middle of skin for full sound and with beats on the skin near the edge for metallic sound. Additionally, beats with the tip of the fingers and beats with the full palm or complete spins of the hand are part of the technical skills. Just as every tammorra has its own sound, every player has his or her own style.

The rhythmical figures of the tammurriata are exclusively binary, usually in 4/4, and this fact constitutes an important difference with another local popular dance tarantella, which is faster and consists of different scansions (triplets), usually in 6/8. (11) Another difference is the choreographic moment: the tammurriata is a couples dance, whereas the tarantella is a single or processional dance. This can be still seen in two villages not far from Naples, Piazza di Pandola and, above all, Montemarano, during Carnival time. (12) The greatest difference is in the social dimension: the tammurriata is a product of subaltern social classes. The tarantella may have the same remote origin, but it developed in an urban and hegemonic social classes. The example of lithographer Giovan Battista Gatti and engraver Gaetano Dura is famous. In 1834 they printed a book, Tarantella--Ballo Napolitano, in which they illustrated and codified the steps for Neapolitan court use.

On the binary rhythm of the drum and on the proposal of the song, begins the dance. Someone grips the castagnette (castanets) and beats time. (13) They start the dance staying still, with only a circular movement of the wrist and the hand, towards the inside, then towards the outside, first down, then up.

Once this beating rhythm begins, those who want to dance look for a partner. They form the couple--whether man/woman, man/man, woman/woman, regardless of age--and the dance begins. In the first phase, the couple is far apart and they make very few movements, almost exclusively with the arms. This distance is reduced with circular movements when one of the two assumes a more aggressive behavior and begins to approach the other partner. This behavior can be a courting or a challenge. The partner can refuse by withdrawing or can accept the courtship or duel. This phase culminates in the so-called votata, emphasized by very strong beats on the drum. In this phase the two dancers are now very close and their bodies are touching in various configurations: flank to flank, knees and shoulders, back against back. This is a moment of temporal suspension. The tammorra underlines the downbeats, the voice sings an extended note with melismatic course or adds short and always rhythmical lyrics on the beat, following the movement of the dancers. They turn, attached. They interlace knees, arms, or--back against back--head on shoulder. When the votata is finished, the couple extends the distance, ready to start again.

It is important to note that there exist many geographic varieties of the tammurriata: the paganese, which includes more hopping and is therefore similar to the tarantella; the avvocata, played with a great number of tammorre; the scafatese, the most popular variation, with soft and fluid movements, very sensual; and, finally, the giuglianese, the most energetic and aggressive. In fact, while the tammurriata in general can be seen as a courtship dance, the giuglianese resembles more of a duel. In the past, specific tammurriata was performed only during a specific pilgrimage and for a specific saint; nowadays every sanctuary is the theater for the various tammurriata. This is perhaps not only a sign of weakened devotion, but also a sign of improved cultural circulation. Territorial boundaries are becoming malleable and negotiable. Dancers may still suggest local distinctions, suggesting a negotiation of identities, as suggested by Reed (1988), Taylor (1998) and Wulff (2007). (14) Yet now they learn more than one style, a clear sign of the decline of bounded tradition. (15) J.C., a dancer from a village near Naples called Scafati, clarifies this point:

Quann'ere guagliona ieveme sul'a Maronn'e ll'Arco. Abbiaveme a baila' 'ncopp'o carro e steveme semp'abballa'. Sule quanne evem'a trasi'rint'a chiesa cefermaveme ... chille e' prievete nun vulevene.... Mo iamm'a tutt'e parte, chille po'aMaronna e'semp'astessa. E po' che fa ... A nuie ce piace abballa'. When I was young we used to go only to the sanctuary of Madonna dell'Arco. We started to dance on the cart and we were continuously dancing. We could stop only when we were ready to go inside the church, and the priests did not want that. Now we go everywhere, the Madonna is always the same. And ... it doesn't matter ... we like to dance. The tammurriata, distinct from the tarantella, always expects a song, which...

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