Sancto Ianne - Trase
It's been seven years since Sancto Ianne released their last album, Mo' Siente, which established them as a premier band on Italy's neo-folk scene. On their new Trase, the sextet continues on the same path, blending traditional and contemporary styles, Italian and otherwise, but with even greater assurance and mastery.
One of the things I love most about Sancto Ianne is how they use tradition as a foundation to build something fresh and original, instead of embracing a reactionary preservationism tied to outmoded and exclusionary ideas of culture and local identity. You'll hear the insistent, pounding rhythms of Campanian tamurriata on Trase, but also rock and rap, Arabic sounds and Balkan beats. The band melds all these influences into an earthy and passionate style that, while reminiscent of the pioneering Neapolitan ensemble Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare (NCCP), is entirely their own.
Sancto Ianne, founded in 1995, are from the inland area between Rome and Naples known as the Sannio. (Their name is Late Latin for San Giovanni; their hometown in the province of Benevento is San Giovanni di Ceppaloni.) They're deeply rooted in their territory, its history and culture, and their songs, written by guitarist Ciro Maria Schettino, are sharply observed portraits of Sannio life, past and present.
The sanniti have a history of rebellion and resistance to oppressive rule – in antiquity they even fought off Rome's legions. Centuries later, peasants and laborers led anarchist and socialist movements against exploitative landowners. Sancto Ianne's music and iconography is infused with that rebel spirit – their logo includes a portrait of Michelina de Cesare, a peasant leader known as “the lioness of the South” who fought Northern Italian occupiers of Campania during the 19th century. Sancto Ianne's first album, Tante bannere tanti padruni (2000) featured her fierce image on its cover.
Trase includes four songs (“Valani,” “Si vo' Dio,” “No pe' mme” and “Voglio vede' pazzia”) about a terrible era in Sannio history that persisted until the mid-twentieth century – the sale of children by their impoverished parents to latifondisti (big landowners) in exchange for a few lire and a sack of inferior quality wheat. The children, seven to 13 years old, were called valani, and their exploitation as farm laborers is the subject of a theatrical production of the same name for which Sancto Ianne wrote the music.
"No pe' mme"
On “Si vo' Dio” (If God Wishes) a mother who is going to sell her child as a farm worker begs God for help; “Voglio vede pazzia” (I Want to See Some Craziness) insists on the right of children to be children –to play, be educated and well cared for, and not, like the valani, have their childhood stolen by adults.
"'A Ballata dell'emergenza"
Other tracks take up more contemporary concerns – “'A Ballata dell'emergenza” (Emergency Ballad) deplores human-made environmental disasters while “Acqua Ferma” (Still Water) condemns Italy's key power centers -- politics, the Catholic Church, business lobbies and corrupt media that sow idiocy and confusion. “'A forma 'ell' acqua” (The Shape of Water) insists on water as a common good, opposing privatization of this essential resource. (In 2011, Italians voted in a referendum to overturn a law backed by Silvio Berlusconi's government permitting private companies to buy up public water utilities and guaranteeing them a return on their investments, which would have resulted in rate hikes.) “Guardame sienteme” (See me, Hear me) deplores the rampant unemployment in southern Italy and the dangerous work the jobless often take on to survive; midway through there's a rap by Shark Emcee in the persona of a youth who “has lost all trust in this nation.” “Chi more e chi campa” considers the different paths taken by “those who die and those who get by.”
Though many of Ciro Maria Schettino's songs are deeply sad and poignant, the band makes them a pleasure to hear. Schettino is a resourceful guitarist and mandolinist adept in Campanian folk styles but not limited to them. Electric bass and piano, played respectively by Massimo Amoriello and Sergio Napolitano (who doubles on accordion) give the band's sound ballast, as well as melodic and harmonic variety. Alfonso Coviello deftly builds the songs' rhythmic infrastructures with southern Italian hand drums, tammorre and tamburelli, and other percussion. Raffaele Tiseo, on violin, viola, ribeca and digital programming, seamlessly blends folk, jazz and classical stylings. Gianni Principe, the voice of Sancto Ianne, brings a virile soulfulness to Schettino's material, sorrowful and world-weary one minute, ebulliently defiant the next.
A popular act on the Italian and European folk and world music circuit, Sancto Ianne now have four albums to their credit, each one building on its predecessor as the band perfects its unique brand of forward-looking traditionalism. I can only hope that the wait for their next one won't last as long as the seven-year gap between Mo' Siente and Trase. - George de Stefano
Listen to the song "No 'pe mme" and some other excerpts.
You can read a more detailed history of the band in a previous RootsWorld article:
Visit the band's web site: www.sanctoianne.com
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