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Cultural Analysis, Volume 14, 2015

The Tammorra Displaced:1 Music and Body Politics from Churchyards to Glocal Arenas in the Neapolitan Area

Augusto Ferraiuolo
Boston University
Boston, USA

Abstract: This article analyzes a Southern Italian dance and music called tammurriata. The origin of the name comes from the principal instrument used during the performances, a frame drum locally called tammorra. I study the displacement of the tammurriata from its original venues (churchyards, since the practice is very connected with Catholic devotions to the Madonna) to completely different arenas, such as stages and youth clubs. The process of displacement suggests different forms of body politics, from forms of prayer to political approaches to global issues.


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 balla’ ‘ncopp’o carro e steveme semp’abballa’. Sule quanne evem’a trasi’ rint’a chiesa ce fermaveme …chille e’ prievete nun vulevene …. Mo iamm’a tutt’e parte, chille po’ a Maronna e’ semp’a stessa. 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 belongs to the traditional repertory, not much different from what was reported by some of the great positivists at the end of nineteenth century. Scholars like Gaetano Amalfi, Antonio Borrelli, and the young Benedetto Croce were concerned about the possible vanishing of the tammurriate so they researched and published lyrics of tammurriate in their collections and many articles in reviews like "Giambattista Basile,” published in Naples (1882-1906) and directed by Luigi Molinaro del Chiaro.

The lyrics were and are organized in quatrains of hendecasyllables, named stroppole, from the point of view of the logical content of the text. Here is an example:

Bella figliola che te chiamme Rosa
Che belle nomme mammete t’’a mise
T’a mis’’o nomme re tutte li rose
‘o meglie fiore che sta ‘nparadise

Beautiful girl called Rosa
What a beautiful name your mother gave you
She gave you the name of all the roses
The best flowers that are in heaven.

In reality they are sung in a different way: in distich, with a musical structure that stops at the end of the second line. I make this example, quoting Roberto De Simone, (1979) with the first distich, which can be sung:

a) Both the lines

Bella figliola che te chiamme Rosa
Che belle nomme mammete t’ ’a mise

b) Repeating the first line

Bella figliola che te chiamme Rosa
Bella figliola che te chiamme Rosa

Breaking the line, usually the second, and with the increase of short and stereotyped phrases
Bella figiola che te chiamme Rosa
Che belle nomme mammete e vo’ veni’ and ghiamme ia’
Che belle nomme mammete t’’a mise

Often the singer executes these stereotyped phrases after the melismatic cadence of the votata. Usually they have ironic content and sexual meaning such as "Chella vo' fa' vo' fa' vo' fa'" (She wants to do it), "O' piglia ' n mano ' o votta ' n terra" (He brings on his hand and he throws to the ground). At other times, he can use free expressions like "Ue' Maro', Maro', Maro'", or sounds that imitate animals such as the braying of the mule, the barking of the dog, etc.

Ethnomusicologists have argued about the expressive freedom and capability of improvisation by the singer. Improvisation seems not to be practiced very much, but surely variation does exist. In the circle of tammurriate, I have never heard a creation ex novo of a text. I have heard singers with the capability of arranging more or less stroppole, coming from a common encyclopedia. A good singer will know many stroppole. This is what Diego Carpitella called “modular organization of the song.”16Biagio, another young informant, told me

I’ sacce nu sacch’e stroppole, pure Marco, e Tatonno! Ma nun ce stanne sante,
nun puo’ sape’ tutt’e stroppole. O’ meglio cantante ne po’ sape’ tutte ma
mancante una. Sul’o riavule e’ sape tutte quante.

I know a lot of strophe, like Marco, and Tony! But it is impossible, you cannot
know every strophe. The best singer can know every strophe but one. Only the
devil knows all the strophes.

Tammurriata as a Prayer

The tammurriata was and still is performed during a specific series of religious events in the Neapolitan area. This festive cycle starts with the already named Madonna dell’Arco —perhaps the most important of the religious popular feasts in Campania. It happens on Easter Monday in Sant' Anastasia. Other pilgrimages connected with the tammurriata include those to the shrines of Santa Maria al Monte in Nocera Inferiore (Easter Tuesday), Madonna di Castello in Somma Vesuviana (Saturday after Easter), Madonna di Villa di Briano (Sunday after Easter) in Villa di Briano, Madonna delle Galline in Pagani (the same day), Materdomini in Nocera Inferiore, Madonna dei Bagni in Scafati, Madonna Avvocata in Maiori, Madonna della Neve in Torre Annunziata, traditionally ending September 12th with the pilgrimage to the Madonna di Montevergine, in Montevergine, called in dialect ‘a juta (the voyage) or‘ a sagliuta (the ascent). Another pilgrimage is the great festivity at the shrine of Sant'Anna in Lettere, which indirectly belongs to the Madonna’s cycle, being dedicated to Mary’s mother, Saint Anne. Another pilgrimage to the Madonna di Montevergine , decidedly more selective, occurs on February 2, the so-called Candelora.17

The tammurriata as a form of prayer, indissolubly bound with the ceremonial and ritual times of these specific Catholic feasts, can be seen as a form of what Robert Orsi (1985, 1993, 1995) calls “religion of the streets” suggesting a distance from the official religion.18 The tammurriata is undoubtedly an expression of the religion of the street, as inflected in the Neapolitan area, and very often the clergy stands against these performances, labeling them as “pagan.” This difference between vernacular and official religion in this area, and more in generally, in southern Italy can be expressed by the emblematic position of Carlo Levi (1945,102):

Nel mondo dei contadini non c’e’ posto per la ragione, per la religione e per la storia.
Non c’e’ posto per la religione appunto perche’ tutto partecipa della divinita’, perche’
tutto e’, realmente e non simbolicamente, divino, il cielo come gli animali, Cristo come la
capra. Tutto e’ magia naturale. Anche le cerimonie della chiesa rientrano nei riti pagani,
celebratori della indifferenziata esistenza delle cose, degli infiniti terrestri dei del

There is no place for reason, for religion, and for history in the farmer’s world. There is
no place for religion simply because everything participates in the divine; everything is,
realistically and symbolically, divine, the sky like the animals, Christ like the goat.
Everything is natural magic. Even church ceremonies are pagan rituals, celebrating the
undifferentiated existence of things, and the infinity of village deities.

The perspective suggested by Levi revolves around four main concepts: a) the “irrational” and magic mark of a basically primitive religion; b) ancientness, privileging the idea of “relics” or vestige indebted with the nineteenth-century folkloric survivalism (Hodgen, 1936); c) the syncretic character of subaltern religion, combining Catholicism with previous religions; d) the familistic relationship with the divine, based on pragmatic exchanges: “the southerner instituted a custom of making all manner of up-front bargains with saints or the Madonna” (Primeggia 2000, 83).19 Furthermore, following Marxist theoretician Antonio Gramsci’s (1929-1935) perspective, folklore (therefore popular religion) contrasts with the official, dominant, and hegemonic culture (and religion) because of its position in the social dynamic, but they are both defined by this dialectic. In other words, according to Stewart (1991) stressing the opposition between folk and official religion does not reveal the breadth and coherence of the religiosity of the street. In this dialectic tension, not surprisingly the idea of prayer is very different: the formalized expression of devotion, imposed by Church hierarchies, is far from the individual moment of contact with God. Within this dialectic, dance and music is also considered a sin by priests, while considered a way to pray by believers.20

The tammurriata contains a constant symbol. I am talking about the circle, a figure continuously proposed and re-proposed. It is a circle that the hands of the dancers construct and it is a circle that the steps of the dancers will draw on the ground. The performance unfolds inside of a circle as well, one made by the spectators to delineate the ritual space of the song and the dance. The pilgrimage itself, as a ritual, involves circularity. It is a journey involving going and returning, year after year. I would suggest a linguistic example: in Italian language the journey is go and return. Not in English. If I buy a train ticket in Italy, I will buy a ticket to go and return, if I buy a train ticket in United States it will be, more symbolically, a round trip. In this case, English gives a better way to explain what I am trying to say.

The tammurriata in its complexity implies a perpetual return. This is one of its functions, the evocation of immortality for the cyclical scansion of the festivity. What the dancers will write on the space (the circle of the dance on the ground) they will do on the time (the circle of the ritual journey). It would be interesting to analyze better the hypothesis of the circular organization of the time in the southern Italian subaltern classes. But here it is enough to say that it will need to wait for the return of the festive recurrence the next year, to complete the circle and start again: an expectation from what is called daily time in contrast to what is called festive time, donated by the god (in the Christian tradition of the Old Testament) or however connected to it (for instance, in all the Greek-Roman world).

The festive institution happens inside this particular organization of time, ritual, and the exceptional, while at the same time it contains inside it other specific times, like the tammurriata, also ritual and exceptional. With the first beat on the drum there begins an ephemeral temporality, as would be defined by philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard (1980), that will keep on until the last sound of the cymbals. A temporality where enculturation and socialization (you will see always children in the tammurriate), transmission of competences and values, communications towards the god and the approach to him become possible, for an ecstatic component that sociologist Cazeneuve (1974) would call depaysement, or the estranging effect. In the tammurriata, the hic et nunc does not exist: it is a temporality that happens on a meta-historic horizon. This is what makes the tammurriata a performance unavoidably ecstatic—in its etymological meaning of displacement of the soul.

Additionally, we need to remember that the tammurriata is also a “survival” of the dances of the Greek and the Roman world. the tammurriata conserves the two fundamental movements of the cheironomia (the importance of the hands during the dance) and of jumping, present, for example, in the dance of the satyrs (sìkinnis). It was danced inside a divine temple as the Bacchic dance (with the rhythmic elevation of the arms), executed from the baccanti during the rituals of fertility. These cults were certainly widespread in the area, as demonstrated by several ruins of specific temples or archeological finds in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The dance has, therefore, characteristics of prayer as a communication to God, allowing contact with God that was possible only outside ordinary time and stasis. But more importantly, insiders themselves suggest the idea of tammurriata as a prayer. For example: once in Pagani, during the Madonna delle Galline feast, they all were ready to dance, but they waited for the best dancer to start. This man did not want to dance, as a few days before there had been a death in his family. Finally, after being pressed by the group, he decided to dance, saying: "Va buo' ' o faccio pecche' aggi' a pria' a’ Maronna,” or “Ok, I will do it because I need to pray to the Madonna.”

The idea of tammurriata as a prayer is further evident when the peculiar structure of the performance and its occurrence in proximity of the sanctuary are considered. While approaching the entrance of the church and even more when pilgrims come closer to the icon of the Madonna inside the church, the tammurriata is often preceded by another kind of song, the so-called canto a figliola. It is a song without cadency, dedicated to the young girl (figliola), or the Madonna. A typical canto a figliola is, “Chi e’ devotea Maronn’e ll’Arche” (“Who is devoted to the Madonna dell’Arco”). Furthermore, many informants report this idea of the tammurriata as a way to pray to the Madonna. Antonio Esposito—also one of the most influential singers of the area—said:

Non puoi capire cosa significa la tammurriata se non sei un contadino e se non
hai la devozione per la Madonna. Le due cose stann’assieme. Se non sei
contadino non puoi capire il rapporto con la terra, ma proprio quella che tocchi
con le mani e con i piedi, non puoi capire quanto costa lavorare nei campi e quindi
apprezzare il frutto di quello che fai. E se non hai la devozione per la Madonna non puoi
capire che tutto questo è grazia di Dio. Che se ce l’hai è perché la Madonna lo vuole. E
allora l’unica cosa che puoi fare è ringraziarla, col tuo lavoro e con le tue canzoni. Per
questo motivo tutti i gesti delle tammurriate ricordano i lavori dei campi, il prendere i
frutti dagli alberi e lo zappare la terra. Quanne staie o’ santuario e balli, quello che fai
e’ pregare la Madonna. La tammurriata è la danza della terra.

You cannot understand the tammurriata if you are not a farmer and if you are not
devout to the Madonna. The two things are intertwined. If you are not a farmer,
you cannot understand the relationship with the earth, the ground that you touch
with your hands and feet, you cannot understand how much it costs to work in
the field and then appreciate the outcome of what you do. And if you are not
devout to the Madonna, you cannot understand that all this is the grace of God. If
you have it, it is because the Madonna wants it. Then the only thing you can do is
to thank Her, with your work, with your songs. For this reason all the gestures of
the tammurriate remind you of the work on the field, when you harvest fruits from
the trees or when you dig the dirt. When you are at the sanctuary and you dance,
what you do is just to pray to the Madonna. The tammurriata is the dance of the

G.C., an informant from Pagani, near Naples expresses a similar interpretation:

A gente pensa che quanne stamm’a balla’ ce stamm’a diverti’. Chill’e’ ‘o
vero’ ce stamm’a diverti’ ma nun e’ sule cheste, stamm’o santuario,
stamme vicin’a Maronna, stamme cherenne ‘e grazie o stamm’a
ringrazia’ pe’ chille ch’amme avute. Pe’ me e’ na preghiera, ma no ‘e
chelle che m’agg’a battere ‘npiette. A Maronn’o sape chelle che sto a fa’.

People think that when we are dancing we are just having fun. Yes, we
are having fun, but not only this, we are at the sanctuary, we are close to
the Madonna, we are asking for a grace or we are giving thanks for the
graces we have had. For me it is a prayer, but not like the ones where
you need to beat your chest. The Madonna knows what I am doing.

The idea of prayer expressed here by the dancers is completely different from the one suggested by the Catholic Church, who might be said to “own” the cult and therefore the ritual. These different attitudes means only that we have a conflict, a dynamic between an institutional perspective of the cult and a folk approach to the same. In other words, the separation between church, where the official ritual is performed, and the courtyard of the sanctuary where the dances are performed, does not relate to a distinction between secular and sacred, but between two different ideas of sacred. It also sets the battlefield between hegemonic power and subaltern resistance. For instance, the struggles between the Dominicans of the sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Arco and the religious associations spread all over Naples’ outskirts mostly concern music and dance: in the last twenty years (I first attended this pilgrimage was in 1988) they progressively prohibited performing the canto a figliola with the following tammurriata, then the canto a figliola itself, then the canto a figliola inside the church, then the tammurriata in the immediate proximity of the sanctuary. It is a real as well as metaphoric mechanism of expulsion, in which official clerics sent dancers and musicians as far as possible from the church, allowing only the orthodox devout inside.

The Tammurriata Far Off the Churchyard

Displacing folklore, as in this case, the tammurriata was and is not unusual. Performances of the tammurriata in different contexts and with different purposes, and often by performers out of the peculiar social scenario of vernacular religion, are well documented at least starting in the twentieth century. The following examples emphasize such displacement:21

a) One of the tammurriata’s first displacements was staged in the United States in 1934. The artist Gilda Mignonette (1970) performed a song called Tammurriata Americana (American Tammurriata), first in Naples then in New York City (often with the Italian American singer Farfariello).The song was written by Libero Bovio and Ernesto Tagliaferri, well-known authors of classical Neapolitan songs. Gilda Mignonette was called the “Queen of Emigrants.” After a debut in the café-chantant in Naples, she moved in 1924 to New York City and she soon became a successful international singer. The Tammurriata Americana musically has little to do with a traditional tammurriata but suggests through its lyrics a blend of Neapolitan and American elements, for example,“Tammorre e sax, trummette e benge, chitarre e gezz,” (“Tammorre and sax, trumpet and banjos, guitar and jazz”). It was an international hit.

b) A second moment of displacement can be exemplified by Tammurriata Nera (Black Tammurriata), written in 1944 by E. A. Mario and Edoardo Nicolardi and performed by many singers immediately after WWII, such as Vera Nandi and Roberto Murolo. Renato Carusone (1982) made it very popular in the 1950s. The lyrics tell the story of a woman that gave birth to a black baby boy in the aftermath of WWII. Interestingly one of the lines is a Neapolitan translation of an American song, “Pistol Packing Mama” by Al Dexter. It says, “E levate 'a pistuldà uè e levate 'a pistuldà, e pisti pakin mama e levate 'a pistuldà” (“Lay that pistol down, babe, Lay that pistol down. Pistol packin’ mama, Lay that pistol down”). The song signifies the struggles of a society coming out of the war and the relationship with the liberation army.

c) In the 1970s, following the international movement that started a decade earlier in the UK and the US, a folk music revival, itself suggesting a form of cultural resistance, began in the Neapolitan area. On the one hand, the work of the influential musician Roberto De Simone, performing with the ensemble Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, was more aesthetically and philologically-oriented toward research on the field of folk music. On the other hand, groups like E’ Zezi, formed by workers from area automotive factories and directly involved with political interpretation of folk music, were the double-soul of this reinvented tradition. In both cases, tammurriate became an important part of their repertoire.

d) Finally, in the 1990s, another moment of displacement of tammuriata took place, this time adopted with political perspective that was anti-global. The following section analyzes the specific connection between performance and social commitment, bringing again the tammurriata into a political scenario, and the following transformations.

Tammurriata as Resistance

In the midst of the political turmoil of the 1970s and in the previously described tensions between institutional aspects and popular approaches to religion (i.e., within a hegemonic/counterhegemonic dialectic), it became easy to displace the tammurriata toward a different meaning: no longer simply a prayer, it could be performed as an instrument of cultural resistance. This made possible a peculiar reading of the influential pages of Gramsci, Osservazioni sul Folklore (1975, 188-190):

Folklore should instead be studied as a “conception of the world and life” implicit to a large extent in determinate (in time and space) strata of society and in opposition (also for the most part implicit, mechanical, and objective) to the “official” of the world (or in a broader sense, the conceptions of the cultured parts of historically determinate societies) that have succeeded one another in the historical process.

It is clear that for Gramsci subaltern groups have a fragmentary, incoherent, and contradictory conception of the world and life. But in that peculiar historical moment and social context it was more instrumentally interesting (or politically relevant) to underline folklore as an opposition against dominant classes, even if “implicit, mechanical, and objective.” In other words, folklore, by position and default, is a form of resistance and it is revolutionary (see for instance, Luigi Lombardi Satriani 1974). Therefore folk music, like the tammurriata, literally became the soundtrack of all the left-wing political groups.22 As simplistic as it can look, this was the process of folk revival in the area. It is important to keep in mind that the area surrounding Naples was the center of a fast and traumatic industrialization process starting in 1968 with the project of the car factory AlfaSud in Pomigliano d’Arco. The need for unskilled workers was fulfilled with local farmers. Almost inevitably, the process of unionization, as well as political communications, used cultural forms recognizable by the local workers. As suggested by Gammella (2009) the tammurriata was one of these forms, perhaps the most important one. Musical bands like Gruppo Operaio E’ Zezi, the Collettivo Nacchere Rosse and the Gruppo Folk d’Asilia were formed,mostly by workers from the AlfaSud. Their music was profoundly in debt with local folk music even when they produced new songs. Notably the first work of Gruppo Operaio E’ Zezi was called Tammurriata dell’AlfaSud (1976).23

However, the connection with the pilgrimages was not lost. As Marcello Colasurdo, a founder member of the Zezi and now a professional folk singer, said,

Nuie faticaveme rint’a fabbica e magnaveme pane e politica. Ma i’ nunn’agge mai
perso nu pellegrinagge. La’ agge ‘mparate a canta’ e la’ torno, ogni volta. Comunista e’
buono, ‘a Maronna e’ ll’arche e’ pure pe’ me.

We worked in the factory and we ate bread and politics. But I never missed a pilgrimage.
I learned how to sing there and I went back there, every time. I can be Communist, but
the Madonna is for me too.

An analysis (even if short and superficial) of the period is not complete if I do not take into consideration another aspect of the folk music revival of the 1970s. A pivotal figure of this movement was Roberto De Simone, a classical trained pianist and composer. In 1967, he founded the “Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare,” undoubtedly the most popular folk music band of the time. Roberto De Simone (1977), also involved in the political process I have described, suggested a different path for folk music revival more oriented toward fieldwork, research, and re-elaboration of oral traditional music informed by elements of different traditions that were, more written, bourgeois and cultured. The aesthetic product was (and is) at the same time refined and popular, easy-listening and complex, politically oriented but available for everybody. This explains why it has lasted in time much more than other productions. Even today the “Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare,” even without Roberto De Simone, is still considered a fundamental moment of folk music. For the economy of this paper, it is important to note that the aesthetic products of Roberto De Simone survived the political turmoil of the 1970s. In other words, if the tammurriata as a resistance did not survive the social changes and political readjustment of the 1980s, the folk music revival suggested by Roberto De Simone was still very influential for a new generation, with an important consequence: the tammurriata did not fall down again in a sort of oblivion. It was no more relegated to the churchyard and not even in the occupied factories, but still maintained aspects of interesting musical production and of political declensions.

The Glocal Tammurriata, or the Tammurriata as Political Commitment 24

At the end of the political turmoil, roughly around the middle of the 1980s, the tammurriata as well as the more general folk revival fell out of broad interest, even if it was still of scholarly focus and niche interests for enthusiasts. After almost a decade of neglect, an event in the area boosted again the interest in this kind of performance. In Naples on July 8, 1994, the 20th G7 summit opened at the Royal Palace in Piazza Plebiscito. The leaders of Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States met to discuss economy, environment, job, trades, and other topics. At the same time, the record label Novenove released the CD Cantanapoli Antifascista (1994), bringing together ten of the most important Neapolitan groups in a musical assault on neofascism. The band 99 Posse performed a song named “G7.” These are the lyrics of the first strophe:

Ho fatto un sogno non era divertente
non mi è piaciuto per niente:
C'erano 7 persone sedute ad una tavola
in un pranzo da favola imbandito per loro: E
mangiavano, mangiavano,
Come dei PORCI.

I had a dream it wasn’t fun
I did not like it at all
They were seven people around a table
Having a fantastic lunch made for them
And they were eating, eating, eating
Like PIGS.

On the same CD the 99 Posse sings "Sant'Antonio Sant' Antonio / 'o remico r' 'o demonio" (“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, the devil fighter”) in a clear tammurriata style. But by adding "o demonio e' ' a polizia / Sant' Anto’ portala via" (“the devil is the police / Saint Anthony take it away”) they dragged the tammurriata out of the churchyard, the usual scenario of this kind of performance, and drove it into the proletarian ghettos of Naples. Around this time, another Neapolitan band Almamegretta released the CD Sanacore, containing the song bearing the same name, a dub version of a folk song, a very popular tammurriata:

Io quanne me ‘nzuraje ero guaglione
ue comm’era sapurita la mogliera
la primma notte che me ce cuccaje
ne a me venette ‘o friddo e a essa ‘a

When I got married I was a young boy
My wife was so savory and tasty!
The first night I slept with her
I got cold and she got feverish

This CD was probably the most significant and lasting outcome of the Neapolitan anti-global movement, whose spontaneous and unstructured character generally expressed itself during happenings and events organized around the so-called Centri Sociali, social clubs self-promoted by youth groups.25 In Naples, Officina 99, a center situated in the subaltern ghetto of Gianturco, was the center of youth proletarian movements. Several bands such as the already mentioned 99 Posse and Almamegretta, and artists like Bisca, Daniele Sepe, and Speaker Cenzu performed their dissent against institutions considered oppressive and hegemonic. Dubstep, rap, and also jazz, electronic, and new music in general were played alongside folk music proposed by historic bands like Nacchere Rosse, E’ Zezi (one of the most influential bands during the folk revival of the 1970s, with a strong political component) or traditional singers and musicians such as Marcello Colasurdo, and many others. The tammurriata soon became the perfect instrument to express social dissent against globalization and the G7 in Naples was the ideal moment and scenario to do so. The tammurriata, obviously a cultural production peculiar to the area, almost inevitably could be used as a symbol against globalization, evoking the dichotomy between local and global. Performed in a new way, contaminated by other musical genres like hip hop or dubstep, clearly borrowed from an international context, the tammurriata became the expression of the city as world territory, in a perspective where the local is interacting actively with a wider milieu.

The popularity of the tammurriata raised the interests to see it not just in vitro (in a concert setting or as a part of political events) but also in the natural context of religious events. A new generation of curious observers, amateur field researchers as well as trained anthropologists and ethnomusicologists, young proletarians of Centri Sociali—looking for alternative way to make music, but also for a different spirituality—began to attend the pilgrimages and the rituals.

Luca D., a new graduate in sociology told me:

Mi piace andare ai santuari per le feste. Non sono credente ma la spiritualità che si
respira durante i pellegrinaggi è particolare. E poi quando partono i cerchi delle
tammurriate … allora si che si avverte ancora di più. Per me è una botta di energia.

I like to go to the shrines for the feasts. I am not a believer but you can breathe a
peculiar spirituality. And when the tammurriata’s circles start … then you can
really feel it even more. To me it is a blast of energy.

Carmine P., a young Neapolitan musician classically trained said:

Per me andare alle tammurriate e’ una boccata di aria fresca. E’ una musica
diversa, che sento mia. E mi piace il contesto, che si suoni per i pellegrinaggi, a
meta’ tra profano e scaro. Bello

To me, going to the tammurriate is a breath of fresh air. It is a different music, I
feel it is more mine. And I like the context, the fact that it is played at the
pilgrimages, somewhere in the middle of profane and sacred. Beautiful.

Marco G., a student belonging to the Centro Sociale Officina 99, made this comment about differences between old musicians (such as the quoted Uncle Fedele), very much involved into the religious aspect of the tammurriata, and the new ones, like himself, not at all interested on religion:

Io con la Chiesa non ho niente a che fare, chille so na mass’’e strunze. Pure
quann’abballamm’’a fora ro santuario vengono e rompono i coglioni. L’anno
passato (2008, my note) a Materdomini nun c’hanne fatt’abballa’ annanz’a
chiesa. Ma nuie steveme la’ e abbiamo ballato lo stesso. Io alle 2 di notte sono
entrato con gli anziani in chiesa a salutare la Madonna, Zi’ Fedele ha cantato per
la Madonna, e poi abbiamo suonato fino all’alba.

I have nothing to do with the Church, they are such a bunch of stupid people.
Even when we dance outside the sanctuary, they come and burst our nuts. The
last year (2008) in Materdomini they do not let us dance outside the church. But
we were there and we dance the same. At 2 a.m. I went inside the church with
the old people to honor the Madonna, Uncle Fedele sung for the Madonna, and
then we played music until dawn.

It is important to note that the cultural and political frame of the late 1980s and 1990s saw, on the one hand the crisis of old political formations such as political parties and groups, and, on the other hand, the burst of social tensions around global/local dynamics. If global perspectives were under critique by youth movements, claims for localism, such as the ones proposed by the Lega Nord for the Independence of Padania in Northern Italy, were considered racist and deeply offensive.26

The G7 Summit held in Naples in 1994 was therefore the occasion to stage political dissent at the same time against institutional global politics and rising localist approach based on ethnic and racial differences. The tammurriata was appropriate for this purpose because it presented the following three fundamental aspects:

a) it is a local folk practice immediately recognizable as Neapolitan. Every symbol of the tammurriata is peculiar to this area: the music, the dance, the drum, the dialect, even the color of the drum, and the ribbon of the castanets;

b) it has a history, even if a short one, as a protest song, already used for political purposes speaking to non-local interests;

c) it is a spiritual performance enacted within groups and thus suggesting its role in defining group identity, as continuously shown during pilgrimages and religious feasts. According to Turino (2008: 111-120) it is possible to call groups like this “cultural cohorts”: political, as well as religious, beliefs and activities shaping social groups. In this case, the fundamental shared habit is also performing the tammurriata.

These three aspects, connected with the international dimension associated with the G7 Summit, made the tammurriata a very useful instrument for the glocal agenda expressed against the institution.

When I have asked Marco G. why they dance the tammurriata also in different places, he answered me, underlying the political aspects of the tammurriata, especially the feeling of cohesion between members of left–wing movements:

Ballare ti fa stare bene insieme. Ma nuie nun simme tipe ‘e discoteca. Ma te
lo immagini io a ballare in discoteca? E chella e’ music’’e merda, tutta
mercificata. Ballo la tammurriata, e’ il mio ballo, fa parte di me e delle mie radici,
e fa parte di me perche’ e’ una danza del popolo e io sono del popolo. Chesta e’
na musica e nu ballo che ci contraddistingue, ma c’amma a’ fa cu sta tecno tutta
merda uguale e omogeneizzata? E sta sicuro che miezz’e tammurriate ce stanne
nu sacch’e cumpagne.

Dancing makes you feel better between other people. But we are not the kind of
people that go to the disco. Can you image me dancing at the disco? That’s crap
music, made just for business. I dance the tammurriata, it is my dance, it belongs
to me and it is my roots, and it belongs to me because it is a people’s dance, and
I belong to the people. This is a music and a dance that make us different. What
we can do with all this techno music, all the same homogenized shit? And you
can bet that in the middle of the tammurriate there are also a lot of comrades.

So far it is possible to see the following dynamics in the social expression of the tammurriata:

1. Between different religious perspectives: on the one hand, the official position, with a long history of hegemonic prohibition, of expulsion and condemnation; and, on the other hand, an expression of what I have called (with Orsi) “religion of the streets,” with different (and counter-hegemonic) symbols, manipulated by different officiants and representing different relationship of power. For instance, the real issue about dance is not if it is sinful or a different form of prayer, but about religious authority. It is a subaltern orthodoxy (correct belief) dialectally contrasting the official one.

2. Between the tammurriata as a prayer and as an instrument of resistance: as I have already said, the tammurriate can become an instrument of political resistance because of their ever-present counter-hegemonic aspects. But this does not represent a moment of fracture or distance: as contradictory as they can be, tammurriate are performed during the pilgrimage as well as during worker’s strikes or the G7 Summit.

Contemporary Tammurriate: From Orthodoxy to Orthopraxy

The aftermath of the G7—in terms of glocal cultural resistance—saw a progressive interest toward this folk performance. Nowadays tammurriate is performed not only during the ritual time of pilgrimages or political events, but also everywhere in the region.

G.M., one of organizer of Bagaria, a tammurriata happening in Caserta, underlines:

Oggi come oggi le tammurriate si fanno dovunque. E non impari più a ballare o a
suonare durante i pellegrinaggi, ma vai ai workshops che si fanno nei dintorni. Lì trovi
qualcuno che ti dirà che quello è il passo appropriato per la scafatese o la giuglianese,
come se la cosa ha importanza. E trovi pure quelli che noi di Bagaria chiamiamo i
“portatori sani della tradizione”, giocando sul fatto che non esiste questo concetto. La
tradizione è bella perchè è viva e in continua trasformazione. Se tenti di fissarla in
codici, sei fottuto, o meglio la tradizione ti fotterà. Se vuoi si è perso un sapore di
autenticità, ma ancora una volta…chi se frega. Quello che si è guadagnato è una
circolazione delle tammuriate contemporanee infinitamente piè grande di prima.

Nowadays you can find tammurriate everywhere. And you do not learn how to
dance or how to play also during the pilgrimages, you go also to the many
workshops around. There you find somebody who will tell you this is the right
step for the scafatese or the giuglianese, as it is important. And you
can find also who we from Bagaria ironically call “healthy bearers of tradition,”
mocking them because this concept does not exist. The tradition is beautiful
because it is alive and continuously changing. If you try to fix it in codes, you will
be screwed, or better tradition will screw you. If you like we can have lost a flavor
of authenticity, but again…who cares? What we gain is a circulation of
contemporary tammurriate much bigger than before.

From this perspective, the process of change visible in the tammurriata seems to have two aspects (not mutually exclusive: as a matter of fact they can be seen at the same time, but in different cultural cohorts):

a) tammurriata as a performance for non-traditional purposes, but still referring to orthodoxy as a prayer and/or as instrument of resistance;

b) tammurriata as a performance for non-traditional purposes, where orthopraxy is prevalent.

If I stress the idea that the tammurriata is a form of prayer or instrument of resistance, then it is correct to state that the contemporary tammurriata can be interpreted as a displacement from an original orthodoxy, the "correct" belief, or the "conformity to an official formulation or truth, especially in religious belief or practice," toward a new orthopraxy, the "correct" practices, the creation and perpetuation of ritual forms "considered" as correct, a level that can be called orthopraxy.27 Orthopraxy is intimately related to a process I have called stylization (Ferraiuolo, 2009): the creation of a "style" (in this case a pattern of practices) and conformity to a "style" (in this case respect for officially correct practices).

The process of stylization stresses more on formal local differences, but at the same time, suggests a diffused knowledge: nowadays a dancer or a drummer certainly is trained to perform the various styles of tammurriata. The result is a detachment from the original liturgical ritual: the devotion to a particular saint or Madonna is no longer requested. It may be even an obstacle for mastering the tammurriata’s several different styles. The performance-centered events (workshops, happening, but also the pilgrimages) tend to propose the tammurriata as a whole. In terms of identity, the cultural cohorts become even more the participative model, with bonds that are not only political, but also aesthetic and performative.

Anthropologist Susan Reed (2009) analyzes a similar process concerning the Kandyan dances. She uses E. Valentine Daniel’s opposition (1996) ontic versus epistemic, suggested for Sri Lanka’s religious feasts: “the categories of ontic and epistemic delineate two modes of orientation to the world. The ontic represents a mode of being in the world, while the epistemic is a mode of seeing the world. The ontic is more closely aligned with ritual and mythic interpretation of the past, while the epistemic can be said to characterize theater and a (European) historic orientation. In Daniel’s analysis of Sri Lankan pilgrimage sites he notes that several have undergone a transformation from an ontic “being” to and epistemic “seeing” and shift from participation to observation, congregation to audience, and ritual to theater” (Reed, 2009: 176).

I see similarities with my proposed coupling of orthodoxy/orthopraxy: orthodoxy, as well as the ontic, relates to being in the world, connected with beliefs, while orthopraxy, as well as epistemic, is somehow connected with seeing the world, privileging a practice. But I also see fundamental differences in the tammurriata, when the shift from participation to observation and from congregation to audience is never so sharp. People attending the pilgrimages, with various degrees of participation, suggests a more nuanced situation. And if they also attend workshops to learn the correct way to dance, this engagement does not seem to be an opposition, but a completion. The discussion, therefore, is about different degrees of being and seeing in the world. If there is any shift, it is a shift not from participation to observation, but within a participation involving no longer a deep belief, but a correct practice, through which a cultural cohort still identifies itself. Thus nowadays, and more than ever, its significance is expressed by these exemplar lyrics, suggesting the correct practice:

Abballate abballate,
femmene vecchie e maretate,
e si nun ballate buone
non vi cante e nun vi sono.

Let’s dance let’s dance,
old married women,
and if you do not dance correctly
I will not sing and play for you.


1 The Tammorra Displaced is also the title of a documentary, directed by Paolo Favero and Augusto Ferraiuolo, filmed in 2005. [ Return to the article ]

2 I did fieldwork on the tammurriata in the mentioned area on several occasions starting from my thesis’ work in the middle of the 1970s. For a long time I was a regular attendant as observer as well as musician. My last presence in the field was in 2015 at the Sanctuary of Villa di Briano. [ Return to the article ]

3 It would be more appropriate, according to Mazzacane (1987) to talk about festive institute, a term that immediately suggests the consolidation of the religious feast in a social institute, with symbolic meaning, social functions, and motivations in the social group [ Return to the article ]

4 The fundamental element of the pilgrimage is the journey: a journey between a profane place and a sacred place and towards God in the ritual time of the festivity followed by a return towards the daily time of the daily life. A song that is executed for the festivity of Montevergine expresses very well the idea of this ritual journey. The pilgrims sing: Simme ghiute and simme venute quant e' razie ch’ imm' avuto (We came and we came back, how many graces we have obtained). In this lyric is expressed both the topic of the journey, in its round-trip movement, and the deep motivation, that is, the demand and the attainment of grace from God, through the intercession of a saint. [ Return to the article ]

5 The shrine of Montevergine is located in the village of Mercogliano, near Avellino. The devotion for this particular Madonna is spread all over the region. Many pilgrims will still walk the almost 35 miles from Naples to pay respect to the Madonna. [ Return to the article ]

6 This and all translations in this essay are mine. [ Return to the article ]

7 Paranza is a term borrowed from the Southern Italian sailors’ slang. It comes from the dialect paro which means “couple” and indicates two fishing boats proceeding together and using the trawl-net. It also indicates a specific boat, typical of central Adriatic. By extension, the term designates a group of people working together for the same goal. Capoparanza is the leader of the group. [ Return to the article ]

8 The Irish bodhran is a frame drum traditionally made with a wooden body and a goat-skin head. It is played not with hands but with a double-headed stick called a cipín, tipper, or beater. The Brazilian pandeiro is a frame drum smaller than the tammorra. Nowadays the head is often made with synthetic skin, and the frame is loaded with metal jingles, called platinetas. Sound is generally produced by alternating thumb, fingers, palm of the hand and by shaking the drum, holding it with the head up. [ Return to the article ]

9 The bendir is a frame drum similar to the Def, another drum very common in Eastern areas. It is played by hand, holding the drum inserting the thumb in a hole placed on the frame. Inside the drum, there are attached strings in order to produce a snare effect. [ Return to the article ]

10 It can be argued that in the past the use of the tammorra was entrusted exclusively to women. In many cults of the ancient Rome, the officiants were mostly women. There are iconographic evidences about it. We have also other iconographic testimony (such as a Pompeian mosaic at Archaeological Museum of Naples and one Pompeian style fresco at Royal Palace in Caserta) that illustrates the use of the tammorra between men. [ Return to the article ]

11 In the Neapolitan area and, more in general, in Southern Italy the tarantella is considered the folk dance par excellence. The etymology of the term suggests the connection with the spider (taranta) and its function as musical exorcism against the disease produced, at least in folk medicine, by spider’s bites. [ Return to the article ]

12 One example of Montemarano’s tarantella is included in the Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella field recording (1958). [ Return to the article ]

13 The castagnette are composed of two concave parts of wood (approximately 3-4 inches long) and inlaid in different ways on the external surface. They are tied together with a string, where they put one or two fingers, usually index and/or middle finger, that causes the beat. Often the castagnette are adorned with colorful ribbons.
[ Return to the article ]

14 Folklore (and, of course, dance) have often been used as exploitable symbols of ethnic and national identity. It would be enough to remind the romantic use of folklore in Germany and Scotland in the 18th century, in Ireland (19th century), and also contemporary ethnic claims based on, or supported by, folklore (Greece, 20th century). On this topic see for instance Cirese (1976), and Kirschenblatt-Gimblett (1998). [ Return to the article ]

15 Susan Reed (2009: 81) analyzes this pattern in Kandyan dances: distinctions between the three regional dances (Kandy, Kurunegala, and Kegalle) have become less significant. [ Return to the article ]

16 On this topic see for instance Maurizio Agamennone and L. Di Mitra (2003) [ Return to the article ]

17 This last feast deserves a specific study (or better attention) because it has a procedure and participation absolutely atypical since it happens at dawn and it belongs to the femminielli, the Neapolitan transvestites.
[ Return to the article ]

18 Robert Orsi (1985: XIV) uses the concept of religion of the streets to broaden and deepen the understanding of the phenomenon of popular religion that he saw as narrow and limited. I agree with Orsi about the necessity to fully analyze the concept. I am using the term “popular” here only because I need to contextualize the phenomenon historically and geographically (Italy after the World War II, and the scholarly approach of Carlo Levi, 1945). [ Return to the article ]

19 Levi’s perspective, while suggesting an opposition between official and vernacular religions, misses the dynamic between a hegemonic group and a subaltern one engaged in continuous dialogue and influencing each other, even if in different measures. Subaltern religion does not stand by itself. [ Return to the article ]

20 Dance in Southern Italy can be considered as a memory of ancient Greek and Roman cults, as I will address later in the paper. It is well known that dance as form of religious ritual is present in several societies, as Susan Reed (2009) suggests in her very interesting recent works. [ Return to the article ]

21 These examples constitute by no means any sort of thorough list. My intention here is simply to suggest that displacement of the tammurriata is not a new phenomenon. [ Return to the article ]

22 The tammurriata as instrument of resistance offers an important sense of oneness for subaltern groups, reinforced by a common political understanding, above in this period of time. The feeling of oneness with others shaped by dance is studied by William H. McNeill (1995). He suggests the term “muscular bonding” for this peculiar feeling. Thomas Turino (2008) (uses the term “sonic bonding” where music is also involved. Both authors recognize a direct reference to Gregory Bateson (1972). [ Return to the article ]

23 The album contained also what is probably the most notable song of that period: ‘A Flobert, narrating the explosion in a toy factory in 1975. Twelve young workers died in the explosion. [ Return to the article ]

24 Glocal is a term indicating how local aspects interfere with global dynamics. The term was popularized by Roland Robertson (1995). Also see for instance, Zygmunt Bauman, “On Glocalization: or Globalization for Some, and Localization for Others,” Thesis Eleven, Vol. 54, No. 1. (1 August 1998), pp. 37-49. [ Return to the article ]

25 A first expression of the anti-global movement can be considered the riots during the IMF and World Bank annual meeting hold in Berlin, in 1988. The growth of this movement was clearly evident during the J18 – Carnival against Capitalism in 1999 (London, Eugene, OR - USA, and several other cities all over the world), the N30, in Seattle, WA – USA, for the WTO meetings. In 2001 during the riots against the G8 in Genoa, Italy, policemen killed a young man. [ Return to the article ]

26 The existing bibliography on this topic is continuously growing. Just as examples I would suggest: Allen B. and M. Russo (1997); Biorcio R., (1997). On the other hand, for a view of peculiarity of Southern Italy, I would suggest Jane Schneider (1998). [ Return to the article ]

27 The definitions of orthodoxy and orthopraxy I am using here as a starting point comes from the Webster's Third International Dictionary of the English Language. [ Return to the article ]

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Response: The Tammorra Displaced: Music and Body Politics from Churchyards to Glocal Arenas in Neapolitan’s Area

Luisa Del Giudice
Independent Scholar
Los Angeles, USA

This beautifully laid-out essay considers the multifaceted and venerable tammurriata (music, song, dance, and Marian devotional ritual—all rolled into one) found in the Campania region of Southern Italy, through its various transformations and displacements in a historic arc which begins in the Ancient world. While maintaining many parts of its core as a devotional practice and marker of local identity, in modern contexts it has taken on a new political role, from the 1970’s folk music revival to the chance happenings of the G7 meeting in Naples on July 8, 1994. This event ignited a proletarian tammurriata movement resonating out from the social centers of Naples to performances on concert stages by groups such as 99 Posse, Almamagretta, a displacement which moved it from folk culture to global/glocal politics, but not necessarily displacing it from the former. The theoretical framework is rich and Ferriauolo’s focus on orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy (roughly correlating with old vs. new tammurriata practices) is particularly interesting. Further, his ethnographic fieldwork is sound and well-grounded. He is as at ease with academics, as he is sensitive to musicians, dancers, and little old ladies. Dialect texts are aptly chosen and accurately transcribed (although a more careful distinction between apostrophes and accents should have been made). The essay also treats the vexed question of academic vs. less mediated approaches to these musical forms and practices (i.e., rigid “codifiers” vs. more fluid grassroots practitioners; dogmatic Clerical exclusions vs. people’s devotional preferences). But its greatest strength is getting inside the complex, personal meanings of the tammurriata—wherein Marx and the Madonna may unapologetically coexist in this “religion of the streets.” It also shifts away from high/low, official/folk dichotomies, to focus instead on turf wars over means and spaces of participation.

We have witnessed a similar (sometimes politicized) musical scenario with the better known pizzica-pizzica (the music of neo-tarantismo or therapeutic spider dance ritual) in another Southern Italian region: Puglia. This music exploded on the global scene at the end of the 1990’s, and has been helped along in our age of social media. One might expect the same for the tammurriata in time. Therefore, this essay will be vital to mapping these musical trajectories throughout the South and on the world stage. Read in conjunction with forthcoming volumes—Incoronata (Nadia) Inserra, Reimagining the Italian South in Italy and the U.S.: The Transnational Circulation of Tarantella Folk Music and Dances, University of Illinois Press (with a special focus on women; in English); and Goffredo Plastino and Franco Fabbri (eds.), Il Folk Music Revival in Italia, Il Saggiatore (in Italian)—it will be possible to gain an even more complete picture of this music’s peregrinations and impact.