Alberto Balia, Antonio Pani, Enrico Frongia, Massimo Perra

Baxiu e Contra - bass and baritone
a meeting between Sardinian poetry and music

Tronos AB01

1. Brama;  2. Mutos de Brama;  3. Cumbidu;  4. Un'arxia i'est cuada;  5. Iandi, Mirņ e Nai;  6. La Ballata del Conte Ugolino;  7. Mora Bagadia;  8. Pedras;  9. Perdu Simoni.
I've been interested in, and excited by, the work of Alberto Balia (guitars, clarinet, benas, voice) and Enrico Frongia (voice and guitar) since I met them in England in the mid-1980s.  In 1985 these two Sardinian musicians named their group and musical project Argia and produced an inspired record combining traditional Sardinian music and their own original compositions.  It was re-released by Felmay on CD in 1993.  The group also included Riccardo Tesi on accordion, and in 1986 they added Daniele Craighead (reeds) to the mix, and produced the absolutely wonderful group and LP - Ritmia: forse il mare.  It was released on the old Robi Droli label, and later re-released as a CD by Felmay, which I reviewed in these pages..  In 2003 I was overjoyed to hear that Felmay had agreed to let Snatch'd from Oblivion Records do a UK re-release, and that MT Records is able to let you have a copy for just £5.00.

As is so often the case, merely doing something wonderful doesn't necessarily bring you fame and fortune, and no new record releases (that I'm aware of) have followed the bright star that was Ritmia.  So I was surprised, and gladdened, to hear from Alberto last year in an email telling me:

And here it is, in all its glory.  As Alberto implied, it's not another Ritmia record, but it certainly has its moments; here's the start of Track 1, Brama.  So, lots of scintillating guitar and emotional singing, then - but what about the accordion?  Where's Tesi?  Well, you don't get Riccardo - but he's by no means the only good organettista in Italy - here's Massimo Perra on track 5, Iandi, Mirņ e Nai in duet with Alberto.

To explain the CD's subtitle 'a meeting between Sardinian poetry and music', I should tell you that the main singer, Antonio Pani, is also a poet, and has written many of the texts you hear here, or put them together from pre-existing Sard poetry both composed and traditional.  Enrico Frongia, as far as I can tell with my limited Italian, takes the role of a splendid harmony singer on the six tracks in which he appears.

So what about the Baxiu e Contra - the bass and baritone of the CD's title?  They are two of the three parts of the chorus part of the cantu a tenores, the extraordinary vocal polyphony genre found in central Sardinia.  Readers of these pages will have found me going into ecstasies about this music in reviews of several CDs I've been lucky enough to hear - but I've only rarely heard anything like this.  Alessio Manca (contra) and Antonio Mei (baxiu) appear only on the last two tracks, but are well worth waiting for - listen to a bit of Pedras.  It seems barely conceivable that this baxiu e contra sound is made by two human beings, if you haven't heard it done before!

To conclude - this is a wonderful CD.  I would guess that it would be a 'must have' for any of the thousands of people who have heard the Ritmia record in its LP or CD versions ... indeed, for anyone interested in good music.  Let's finish with a bit of the final track, Perdu Simoni, where everyone gets a look-in.  Despite the fact that it has no distributor, I'm pleased to be able to offer it to readers of MT on our Records pages, for just £12.00.

Rod Stradling - 14.3.13

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