I have a love for Italian music, which has become more intense over the past few years. In addition to collecting Italian 78 rpm records, I've been listening to more Italian folk music and my interest in traditional instruments like the friscalettu (cane whistle), zampogna (Italian bagpipes), and the chitarra battente has continued to grow.
|Lionel Bottari, Charlie Rutan & David Marker|
Much of what I've learned about traditional Italian music has been passed along by my friend David Marker. David is an Italian American who has made several trips to Italy and made some incredible field recordings and shot hundreds of hours of film of some of southern Italy's most traditional musicians. His wonderful film, "Zampogna, the Soul of Southern Italy", traces his journey from his family's home in Sicily to a zampogna festival in Scapoli, and introduces some of the players and builders he meets along the way.
Over the past few years David and I have been corresponding about the chitarra battente, an instrument which is typically used as a rhythm accompaniment to vocals or other instruments like the accordion or zampogna. Chitarra battente translates into "beating guitar", and it is usually played as such, with the right hand strumming the strings, at times using various finger rolls, and striking the top to add to the rhythm. In the past there were several different kinds of chitarra battente which reflected different regional variations. Some had four single strings, others five. There were also double string varieties with eight or ten strings. These days the typical chitarra battente is of the ten string variety, with five doubled courses.
|Marie DiCocco and Celeste DiPietropaolo|
|Charlie Rutan, Domenico Porco and Gianluca Zammarelli|
David was not really sure about the dimensions of the chitarra battente and there were no specifications available online. I emailed a couple people in Italy but was not really able to get any answers. I think the reason was that there is not really any "standard" for the instrument. They were folk instruments, and folks built them in their own way. There were regional variations, but for the most part, people did their own thing. As a result, I decided to do my own thing, using one of my existing body shapes and building it according to how I build. I used photos for reference, as well as a variety of videos.
The tuning for the chitarra battente also has regional variations. We tried a few different tunings on this instrument before settling on one that Gianlucca uses, E, A, F#, B. The top three string are usually fretted, while the E is usually unfretted and acts as a drone.
This was one of the more unusual projects I've undertaken, also one of the most rewarding. Gianlucca gave me his blessing, though he did suggest tweaking few finer points in the setup. It was great to hear it played by a master. So, here he is, Gianluca Zammarelli playing a couple songs from Catania, the first a "song of disdain" about lost love, the second a humorous song, full of double entendre and sexual inuendo.