Unit 5: Sicilian Folk with Amos
Sicily, the “Island of the Sun,” was ruled by a succession of cultures and empires through several millennia, including Greece, Phoenicia, Rome, Carthage, and Byzantium, as well as Muslim, Norman, and Spanish rulers, before becoming part of the country of Italy. The result is a potent cultural melting pot, embodied in everything from Sicily’s unique language, to its food and its folk music. Sicilian folk songs were born out of the tapestry of daily life, from the singsong call of the fruit vendors and their squeaky street carts, to the beat of the hammer hitting the sulfur mines or the sound of seeds in a farmer’s basket. The songs in this unit are in an urban style known as “musica di sala,” sung in town squares, cafés, barber shops, and community celebrations. Full of pain and resilience as well as dark humor, they speak to a spirit of defiance in the face of life’s challenges.
Amos Libby is a musician, music educator, and social worker with over 20 years of experience performing, teaching, and researching traditional music from Sicily, the Middle East, and South Asia. Raised with both Sicilian and Marchigiano heritage, Amos is fluent in Italian and seven other languages. Amos’ family roots in Sicily are in the hilltop town of Mineo in the Calatino region of Catania province in southeastern Sicily, where he is a member of the village’s cultural preservation group, Centro Culturale Permanente Paulu Maura. Amos visits his cousins and friends in Mineo often, and maintains strong family, social, and cultural ties to the island.
Lesson 1: Learning “Rosa Cantu e Cuntu”
Students learn to sing “Rosa Cantu e Cuntu”; explore the parts of the Sicilian folk songs, including the verse, chorus and wordless refrain; and discover emotion and meaning in the lyrics.
Go to Lesson 1: Learning “Rosa Cantu e Cuntu” →
Lesson 2: Exploring “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”
Students will learn to sing “Cu Ti Lu Dissi,” learn 3/4 meter, dance the waltz, and discover Sicilian folk instruments.
Go to Lesson 2: Exploring “Cu Ti Lu Dissi”→
Learn about the following sub-genres of Sicilian folk music
- “Ballu da Curdedda”: In Sicily, this is an instrumental genre with the traditional Sicilian fischaletto, or small wooden flute heard in this recording, taking the place of a singer. In this tarantella, you can hear clearly some variations of the tamburello rhythm that are part of the curriculum.
- Zampogna di Monreale
- “Suonata for Bagpipe and Triangle”: Traditional pastoral music with the bagpipe
- “Carrittieri” (street-cart song) and “Surfataru” (sulfur-miner song): These are two different genres using the mouth or jaw harp.
- “La storia di Turi Giuliano” by Ciccio Busacca, the most famous “story-singer” of Sicily
- Musica di Sala
- “Cu Ti Lu Dissi” by Rosa Balistreri, one of the most important Sicilian folk singers
- “Ciuri Ciuri” by Tony Pagliano, a popular version of a famous Sicilian folk song
- “Si Maritau Rosa”
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola