Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy

Friend and faithful reader Gil recently sent me a notice about the screening of Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy at the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute; I wasn’t able to make it to NYC for the event, but I did love the trailer:

Those unfamiliar with southern Italian music may be surprised to hear bagpipes, which are more closely associated with Scotland, in the mix, but indeed the “zampogna” tells you you’re in southern Italy as well. Although they are most commonly heard at Christmas, le zampogne also show up at many festivals, including this summer’s Tarantella Power in Badolato:

Traditionally shepherds played the zampogna — the bag part of the instruments used to be made exclusively with goat or sheep hide — but, much like the various dialects that run through southern Italy, so do the type of zampogne; some are meant mostly for the tarantella, some are double- or single-reeded, etc.

Zampogna by sanbeiji (Joe Lewis) on Flickr

Zampogna by sanbeiji (Joe Lewis) on Flickr

If you aren’t used to hearing bagpipes, the sound may be jarring at first, but please do give it a few seconds to speak to you.

Let yourself fall into its trance and imagine the humble southern Italian shepherd walking on foot to the church from his pasture, miles outside of town, with nothing more to offer than the rhythm and melodies of his music through an instrument crafted from his life’s work with his own hands.

Let the sounds reverberate through your body, reaching deep into the Earth, carrying you along with each note on that same journey, grateful for all you have, appreciative of each day for all it brings, and knowing that so long as you have a chunk of pecorino, some homemade bread, and a roof to keep out the winter rain and wind, life is pretty darn good.

Evviva la zampogna!

17 Beans of Wisdom to “Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy”
  1. joanne at frutto della passione

    I’m having a momentary memory block. Sometime during the winter (can’t remember exactly when or for which Saint) it is tradtional in Celano (AQ – the town my husband is from in Abruzzo) for groups of singers/musicians to roam the streets and go door to door performing and (hopefully) receiving something in return. The prominent instrument is the bagpipe and they wear traditional costumes. Wish I could be more specific but my husband won’t answer his phone! He probably thinks I’m calling to tell him to buy milk or something πŸ˜‰

    Haha…sounds like a great tradition!

  2. 10.04.2010

    Beautiful post, Michelle…

    A remembers the shepards coming down out of the hills in the wintertime.

    Thanks AmyEmilia πŸ™‚

    Judy Reply:

    I remember living in Rome as a child, hearing the shepherds’ bagpipes from our third floor apartment on Via Francesco Saverio Nitti. They would herd their sheep through the outskirts of the city. I would run down to be close to them to hear them play. I loved hearing them play and seeing their sheep. Those were magical times!

    michelle Reply:

    Sounds so lovely, Judy! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

    Judy Reply:

    You’re welcome! Your pictures mirror the world (early 60s) I fondly remember. I love your website.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks so much, Judy!

  3. Michelle around Christmas you can hear them in Rome as well. Not sure what part of the country the players are from.

    I don’t think we actually have anyone from our village who still plays…sad!

  4. This was a nice post, Michelle. I wish I could have attended the screening, as well.


    I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for when it’s available online!

  5. awedree

    Michelle, this was lovely! I really enjoyed the clip and seeing how gracefully these people live their lives and make so much out of so little…a lesson we all need reenforced from time to time. Grazie πŸ™‚

    Thanks for reading and listening Awedree πŸ™‚

  6. 10.04.2010

    I enjoyed listening to bagpipes in Ireland, Michelle, but I did not hear them playing live in Italy as we did not visit during festival time.. hopefully someday!
    My husband wants to ask you if the town of Santa Andrea in is still the barter town in the area? He remembers going there with his mother where she would exchange her handiwork for food. It was long ago so I imagine it may not be that way any longer.

    I don’t really know, Pat, but it’s an interesting question!

  7. Gil

    Glad you could use the link! Thanks…

    Thank *you* Gil!

  8. 10.05.2010

    Love this! I am in Tuscany but in the 1st video it says “with Passion you can do ANYTHING” and didn’t that resinate through the video, your post, your blog & expats! May the music play on!

    Woohoo! I love that part too πŸ™‚

  9. Caterina B

    Wonderful! Makes me think of the “gaita” from Galicia. I know they are similar. I am increasingly curious about Calabria, Michelle. My first (now deceased) husband’s family came from Reggio de Calabria. That’s all I know right now but I am going to research it. I want to take my adult son to Italy one day to know his family there.

    I hope you find the info you’re seeking, Caterina, and if you come this way, do let me know πŸ™‚

  10. In Valentino’s hometown of Itri they still having strolling bands! They are so wonderful! The local shepherds (of mostly goats I might add πŸ˜‰ ) told me that the bags were often made of wolf pelts turned inside out – they were trophies after killing the wolves that hunted their flocks and herds!

    I’ve heard they pretty much eradicated wolves around here too — don’t know what they did with the pelts though πŸ˜‰

  11. don’t you think it would be weird to hug a sheep’s body- shaped skin to make music?

    I love this music πŸ™‚

    Well I hug goat bodies all the time πŸ˜‰ Hahahaha

  12. 10.23.2010

    Hi, I am David Marker, the director of the film Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy. Thank you for all the positive comments regarding the trailer. My Italian family is from Sicily and Campania, but I feel like an adopted Calabrese because I have some many wonderful friends in that area, all of whom are amazing musicians. Calabria is a gold mine of folk music and culture. The guy playing the bagpipe throughout the my film trailer is from Catanzaro. My movie is currently not available for sale online yet, but I hope to have it so in the near future. The film is 80 minutes long and takes the viewer on a journey from Sicily through Calabria, Campania and Molise introducing you to the peasants, farmers, shepherds and musicians who bring the culture to life. Meeting these people and filming them was a humbling experience. It filled me with a lifetimes of creative energy and inspiration. I had a very good screening at the Calandra Institute and I played the zampogna afterwords. It is an instrument that is always best heard in person. Grazie a tutti!


    Thanks so much for the additional info David…and best of luck!

  13. 01.02.2011

    I heard the bagpipes played (or whatever you’d call it) in Rotonda Pollino a couple of years back, and what struck me – apart from the noise – was their artless, natural design (they still had legs). Is that feature still in fashion for current zampogna design?

    I’m not sure; I know they’re made differently in different places though, so it would be an interesting thing to investigate πŸ™‚



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