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THE SONGS

The "coro a tenores CULTURA POPOLARE di Neoneli" was founded in September 1976, the initiative of Tonino Cau, the only one of the remaining founders who is still conducting his quartet.
The group was founded to save the only form of atavic tenor singing, or cuncordu a sa neunelesa that risked disappearing from everyone's memory, since even the old cantadores hardly sang anymore.
Thanks to the indispensable old cantadores guide it has been possible to rebuild exactly the most traditional forms, the technical originals of "su cuncordu neunelesu". Culturally speaking the group has channelled itself into a stream which in the sixties inaugurated the various Orgosolo choirs which gave an enormous contribution (thinking of people like Peppino Marotto, Pasquale Marotto, Giuseppe Rubanu, ....) to the revival of traditional tenor singing. Giving it back it's lost dignity and making it rise as a cultural and spectacular element capable of drawing attention to a vast and heterogeneous public.
It has always been said that group's formation thrives from these oral traditions (it has always been this way) of elements that find a starting point in daily life, in real society, therefore the traditional hereditary songs have to be protected and sung, especially if they are of poetic, stylistic value. But none the less it seemed, and seems more so today, that the best way to retain and bring to life the millenary tenor singing tradition is to put new and up-to date content into the songs' text, using musical forms codified throughout the years.
That is why i made reference to the Orgosolo choir: we have continued and developed this matter along these lines in perfect autonomy. Initially, the Neoneli choir prepared pieces written by the solo Tonino Cau, along with some traditional texts which they continue invariably to sing. This was already an innovation in itself, but afterwards all the members of the choir composed some texts attracted by the desire to write: for this reason, today the quartet is called (the poets choir) "il coro dei poeti".
Our songs talk about the environment and emigration, of drugs and discrimination, of pyromania and false balentes, of coastal havoc and charge of abuse, of peace, violence and old age, love, natural beauty, and so on.
Therefore to synthesise: traditional unchanged singing forms, some traditional text which we attained from oral traditions of unvalued beauty, and above all present texts written by us on the above mentioned subjects.
The group doesn't limit itself to re-proposing musical themes of historical memory: it has also invented happy melodies, tied to are etnophonic labyrinth, sometimes enriched by acoustics produced by traditional instruments (launeddas, trunfa, solitu) but also by modern instruments (guitars, mandolins, banjos, percussion instruments) played by artists who time after time take part in the concerts: This has allowed the group to beable to distinguish themselves, to hold concerts of two hours or more, varied and articulate, during which the tension drops only for an instance by virtue of the availability of multiple musical themes and melodies.
In 1979, the coro dei tenores di Neoneli, was the first choir to make a record, with a multinational ARION of Paris, which went round the world. Thanks to that record, today a CD, we have become known in id nations, as it can easily be proved.
In that record are pieces already talked of present events, even though they were sung with ancient sing-song. But we have since carried on, convinced that tenor singing could be enjoyed not only by fans, but by a more vast public of youngsters. So, slowly, slowly we have flanked our ancestral forms: su ballu tundu, su ballu torrau, su passu'e trese, su ballu tzopu, sos mutos, sa seria, sos gocios, and also, other musical forms interpreted singing accompanied by traditional and non-traditional instruments, obviously always within our choir. The remind me of our processions and the prayers which we then sang, wedding accompaniments, shepherd songs, typical rhythms of leuneddas etc.
It is in this way that even traditional, complimentary and other songs of present flair, may be accepted and appreciated by all kinds of public.
These credentials have made it possible for us to travel the world, presenting our traditions with great esteem, meeting different kinds of artists, giving us exceptional contamination (although if sometimes seemingly "daring"). Which, we can honestly and proudly say, we have never passively undergone or accepted without giving our contribution of ideas and creativity.
Those who know us, know very well our concerts, our projects, our "contamination" don't come about by change. Our choices are made gradually by wise, prudent people seeking for new ideas. Today, whoever listens to us understands that we have a rich and varied background, with a sound base and frequency. In fact, the Neoneli choir most attentive supporters won't find it difficult to remember our dated artistic collaboration with other Sardinian colleagues, above all the previously mentioned Peppino Marotto with whom we collaborated for 10 years, taking our songs round the world. Then it was Duo Puggioni's turn, who among other things sang many songs written by us, and then again Luigi Lai, of the Trio Cocco and Orlando Mascia. It has been a question of collaboration brought with enthusiasm and knowledge, which in the Sardinian's opinion have proved us to be an extremely versatile group, whilst still a strict guardian of authentic traditions. We have continued in this direction, pushing ourselves towards a contamination beyond suspicion, that has turned up the noses of some absent-minded observers. This is this case for example, of the meeting with Elio of the "Storie Tese" ("stretched stories"), going back to the summer of 1992.
We planned the first song to be sung, Amazzonia, together with Elio, the first non-Sardinian singer who sings in Sardinian, in quite a dignified manner, and then we even rewrote his ingenious "Terra dei cachi", which became the Sardinian Sa terra 'e su entu (the land of wind).
Obviously, in both the songs the choir doesn't exceed it's traditional canons: it result is that the choir is legibly included in a plot, restoring it with artistic dignity and making it appreciated by Caltanissetta in Bolzano, as happened during the ten concerts already held with Elio.
Another case of contamination with regards a project already brought to light by Oslo in 1996. A question of a musical idea in which three jazz musicians (Töre Brunborg, Arild Andersen, Paolo Vinaccia - an Italian percussionist who has been living in Oslo for more than 20 years, where he is a popular favourite of public fans) who were famous mainly in their circle (they have played and collaborate with the best jazz musicians in the world) after having studied for a few months concentrated the text and form of 10 Neoneli choir songs inventing the musical ceremony in jazz clef. The result was a concert in which the tenor singing came over enframed by a surely effective musical covering. This was enjoyed above all by the Norwegians, during our live concerts, then enjoyed at Polygram, the biggest record company world-wide, who produced the CD internationally. Thus, the CD 'MBARA BOOM (this is the title) is the group's second CD sold world-wide. If Paolo Vinaccia hadn't come across our second CD (brought out in Paris 1979) during one of his U.S.A. tours the 'MBARA BOOM project would never have existed.
Vinaccia found and bought our "Choeur de Neoneli, chants et musiques des bergers de Sardaigne", in a record shop in San Francisco. Then things sprung in to action, the desire to make a project, a concert. That is 'MBARA BOOM, the CD which has been praised by many nations.
Not bad for four chorists who way back in 1976 started timidly make their way in the world of the so called "folk-reproposal", to use a definition dear to poor old Franco Coggiola who died recently, he who was the first to foretell that the Neoneli choir would have a rich, satisfying artistic future, and the first to contribute to our achievement on an international scale.
Really not bad if one thinks of the stages performed on, the people met, the applause we received half way round the world, all starting from a kitchen in a small house in Carragu, an old district of Neoneli, where in summer 1976, we practised every day before to debut at the baptism of fire which was held on 25 September at Samugheo.

Performance 
When one speaks of "performance" in singular terms, to refer it to the Neoneli choir's concerts would be degrading. In fact every so often the quartet puts forward different proposals, different performances, depending on the occasion and on the organiser's needs. Those who are fans of unchanged and ancient traditions may listen to the Neoneli choir in it's smallest form, or rather just the tenor singers quartet.
In this case, as well as tenor singing, we propose Su ballu cantau accompanied by the rhythm of the Jew harp (sa trunfa). Having said that the group also performs on it's own, confirms that to give one's best may avail oneself to other artist's collaboration. Artists who contribute into making the concerts more interesting, should it be necessary. Musicians who play Launeddas, guitars, mandolins, percussion instruments, mouth harmonicas, benas, with first class techniques. Such artists also, accompany some of the groups polivocal songs, making them harmonically attractive and new, and therefore appreciated both by the young and the old. Songs in which the tenor singers' peculiar timbre is strictly unaltered, but enjoys the presence of different harmonies which make it, without a doubt, richer. These internal "contamination" tentatives arose from the fact that nowadays even tradition can and must be influenced by that which is made available by techniques and possibilities in comparison with other artistic expressions. Moreover, our concerts are never short of invented songs, that follow fashion, making the purely traditional pieces more enjoyable.
The Neoneli choir concerts provides traditional text but above all texts composed by us which speak about diverse subjects, which people appreciated very much: piromancy and environment, drugs, old age and childhood, love, bandits, exaltation of our naturalistic and touristic pearls.
Of course there are also both famous and less well-known songs included in our performance. The choice and placing of these songs during our concerts makes the public pay attention throughout the entire performance for example: "Su ballu 'e su fogu", "Barones sa tirannia", "Unu sonnu", "Anninnia", "Amore lontanu", "Finas a cando", "Nanneddu meu", "Su inu", "Epuru andat", "Amistade", "Fulanu", "Maumone", "Ite cheres chi ti cante", "Deus ti salvet Maria", "A ballu a ballu", "Ma comente", "Bella mia non bandes...", "Mutos", "Gocios a sa natura", "Tziu meu", "Mamma non cheret...", ecc..
When possible slides related to the songs being performed are shown during the concert, making "the Neoneli folklore tenor choir" more interesting and original.

The concerts

The Neoneli choir’s solution to the performance depends substantially on the number of people involved. One can say: the more musicians involved, the richer the performance.

The Neoneli Choir in concert

A tenore

The quartet sing tenor songs with some monodic songs accomplished with the accompanying triangle (triangulu) and the Jew harp (sa trunfa). A performance in which all the traditional rhythms of typical Neoneli tenor singing, together with other songs readapted by the group are presented. The group holds concerts alone, with this small formation, or otherwise participates in evening performances with other artists groups and tenores. The concert lasts about one hour and three-quarters.

Cunsònu

The group avails itself to the precious collaboration of polinstrumentalist Orlando Mascia, an excellent Launeddas player, and also an able trunfa, diatonic organ (organitu), solitu (shepherd’s flute), Sardinian tambourine (tumborro) and guitar (chiterra) player.
As a quintet, the formation is able to present some songs accompanied by Orlando’s instruments, but above all to perform others which are impossible to perform in four, this richens surprisingly the concert’s artistic number.
The word “Cunsònu” in Logudoresian means tenor singing but also harmony. What more are our solo voice songs, accompanied by the many instruments mentioned, if not but a harmonic sum of capable of intercepting the tastes of the old and the young?

Cunsònu
is an extremely varied concert in which different sounds, cadenza, rhythms and melodies alternate. The performance lasts about two hours.

A bogh’e ballu

For those who know the Sardinians and the tenor singing, the definition bogh’e ballu (literally: we dance with our voice) is refereed to as a “danceable” singing rhythm, and the adjective makes one immediately think of traditional dances, and that is to say passu torrau, ballu tundu, passu 'e trese, ballu tzopu, ecc.
The concert is richened by artistic contribution, besides Orlando Mascia, a duet the Cocco brothers of Narbolia, expert musicians and masters of the “plucking” guitar sound.
Obviously the choir, always presents classic songs from it’s repertoire. It begins invariably with the most pure tenor singing, but this time the concert is definitely richer and more varied. With guitars, mandolins, benas, launeddas, accordions, Jew harps and so on, we are in possession of a practically complete sample from the vast collection of the most widely known and used musical instruments.
The three hours fly by as we listen harmony in it’s pure state, yet the typical tenore a sa neunelesa songs come over as exciting and concise.
It is evident that with the variety of instrument used, the strongest parts of A bogh’e ballu are the dances, the Sardinian dances, capable of stirring the public warm enthusiasm.
 

àidos

The àidos (breccia, entrance) production confirms a rule which suits the Neoneli choir. When it met Nuoro “Istentales” group, the choir wanted to intercept the young public who support such a band, but at the same time propose variety to it’s fans, variety in which tenor singing, far from being mortified, was proposed in a more modern frame.
However, at the same time the Istentales rock music was placed in a container, and, since it was full of modern and old sounds, offers a varied public three hours of a real entertainment.
The name àidos means exactly “breccia”, “entrance”. Breccia relative both we and the Istentales intend to open a breccia, to go along a piece of road together. A road where we will come across very different experiences but which are united by the same love of our island’s culture and language.
Fans of traditional singing: don’t worry!: the classical songs will not change. The novelty of àidos is above all in the songs sung together, full of unusually energy. Furthermore, the presence of the polinstrumentalist Orlando Mascia, who plays the accordion and launeddas, shepherd’s flute and Jew harp, guarantees the severely ethnic trademark of the àidos project.
The last part of the concert is dedicated to contamination, of a pleasant and overwhelming kind. The launeddas will duet with the sax, the jew harp with the drums, the accordion with the electric guitar. A set where a series of well-known and admired folk dances are sung in traditional style, but where the musical accompaniment is a mixture of traditions and modernity, performed to the most heterogeneous public that one could imagine.  

NeonElio

Since 1996, as proposed by the Neoneli Choir, the original production named NeonElio, Neoneli+Elio, has become part of the performance. NeonElio based on the contribution of the ingenious Milanese singer “Elio delle Storie Tese”, who by now believes to be an acquired Sardinian, and can be considered to be a kind of “fifth element” to the tenores di Neoneli. Elio joins the A bogh’e ballus seven artists dressed in Neoneli costume, and interpreted over a dozen songs in excellent Sardinian Neonelesian and Logudoresian. In this way the concert changes significantly, but jealously maintains the prerogative to “always start with the uncontaminated, classic tenor singing”. NeonElio begins exactly in this way, with forty-five minutes of original Sardinian music without changing the kind. On the contrary, the second part provides a series of songs sung with Elio, with rhythms and sounds, that although coming from tradition, allow space for a contamination and a revival which are somewhat appreciated by the public.
For this reason NeonElio is always available as a production: we will offer it for as long as the public asks for it. Obviously, even the NeonElio project is enriched by some new songs every year, so as the privilege of being continually up-dated and revived.
With this project we have managed to “enter into” the passion of many adolescents who now support us and know everything about us: boys and girls not yet born when our adventure began. Apart from being an artist on his own, NeonElio has represented an absolute novelty in the sphere of Sardinian choirs: it’s the first time that a tenor singing group has planned a concert, lasting nearly three hours, based on the participation of many musicians and furthermore revolving on the contribution of a non-Sardinian artists. The figures that have accompanied the NeonElio Project during 1996-1998 are available for the statistic curious-minded. Hundreds of articles dedicated to production, thousands of CD’s solo in Italy, dozens of radio-television reviews, a concert, for the Guinness book of records of the records in the mines (10 August 1996) recaptured by all the national newspapers and on all the national TV news, and by thousands of people at each concert.

Other productions

Since it always has to achieve new objectives, new ideas to offer to the public and to it’s fans, one may come across the Neoneli Choir, whilst it opens a Francesco Guccini or Elio e le Storie Tese concert, or on stage with Francesco Baccini or together with Mauro Pagani, mythical violinist of the likewise mythical PFM, maybe with Angelo Branduardi or together with the legendary Irish Chieftains, or maybe with the Cuban Pablo Milanès, or even together with Tibetan singers or singers from the republic of Tuva or with Norwegian jazzists and others, without excluding, obviously, subsequent original production with real Sardinian artists.
In any case whichever of our productions you have seen us and seen us as leaders, in the past and in the future, our intention remains the same, to exalt and frame the canto a tenore, leaving it unaltered in it’s atavic and passionate beauty.
But if nothing can make us betray our original passion, nobody will be able to stop us from being artists, in the strongest sense of the term, and that is to say to also create songs with rhythms and timbres, sounds and zest decisively revolved around the third millennium. A certain man, named Diego Carpitella, who died a few years ago, distinguished researcher of folklore traditions, told us: “If you always present your traditions, if you have studied them and invented them, and if you are capable of creating new ideas, it’s your duty to do so. In this way the traditions maintain and gain new fans ...”.
We have studied them, recuperated them, invented them and recorded them. We always sing them, whatever the production which we star in, in that moment. This is exactly what the tenores do. As an extra, we invent new ideas: What’s so strange, why is it anomalous?
Doesn’t being an artist mean to create? That’s it, we have always liked creating, both texts and music. At first we only used our texts for singing songs musically anchored to the most antique  traditions, then spreading out, going elsewhere, inventing new songs to accompany those of classical tenor singing.

We like to be this way, like this we interpret our role and for this reason people like the
coro dei tenores di Neoneli too. Otherwise we would not have been in fashion uninterruptedly since 1976. And we will continue to follow this road.

The members

Tonino Cau

Born in 1955. Founder and group organiser. He still composes most of repertoires texts. He his co-ordinator of the ANAP professional formation school at Santa Giusta. In the choir he plays the role of the bass (su basciu). Author of the book VERSOS DE CUNCORDIA, Storia e canzoni del Coro di Neoneli”, “ISTEDDOS, Rimas e logos amenos”, “VITE FUORI, Storie sconosciute di sardi lontani (with Paolo Pillonca) and of the videocassetteTERRA NOSTRA, Coro di Neoneli: un contributo per l'ambiente”.

Nicola Loi

Born in 1958. He has been part of the group since 1977 and plays the role of contralto (sa contra). He is a builder by profession. He plays the Jew harp (sa trunfa) with exceptional skill and is author of some of the choir’s repertoire songs.

Ivo Marras

Born in 1954. He teach physical education. He his the mid-voice (sa mesu boghe) of the group, which he has been a member of since 1979. He, also, is a skilful trunfa and triangle (triangulu) player, author of some of the choir repertoire’s songs.

Peppeloisu Piras

Born in 1942. He’s a builder. Gifted with a warm intense attractive voice, pre-eminently Sardinian, he is in fact the soloist voice, sa boghe, determinant role. He also plays the sheperds flute, su solitu. He passes gracefully from classic tenor singing to songs to controalto. Some of the choir repertoire’s songs are his.

And tomorrow?

A CD

After presenting the “BARONES Project”, as an national preview at Sanremo, on the occasion of the Tenco Award 1998, together with Elio e le Storie Tese, Francesco Guccini and Francesco Baccini, which aroused enthusiastic critics, we will bring to light the homonymous CD, presently in phase of pre-production. Other already mentioned Francesco Guccini, Elio e le Storie Tese and Francesco Baccini, the mythic rocker Luciano Ligabue and the minstrel Angelo Branduardi will appear on the recording. They will all sing in Sardinian with the Neoneli choir, on a CD that’s already forseen to be extremely interesting and original.

Another CD

We will record another anthological CD which will include a synthesis of the dozens of texts which we have sung from 1976 until now. There will just be songs written by members of the Neoneli choir.

An anthologic video

After the two videos dedicated to environmental themes produced in 1994 and 1998, it’s time for an anthological video which will include the synthesis of our repertoire and of our rich artistic experience, from the beginning until now. It will not be short of testimonies on the Neoneli choir, expressed by important people who have collaborated with us over the years at different levels, from Peppino Marotto to Elio, From Guccini to Branduardi.

Another book

Another book, Balentìas, dedicated to false myths invented from the unspeakable and dangerous behaviour towards nature, could come to light. It will focus on degenerative aspects which cause environmental problems. On the wrong use of fires, revenge towards perpetuate persons striking nature (setting fire to an opponent’s pasture, cutting off an adversary’s plants, cutting the enemy’s beasts hocks) from poaching, from the habit of diffusing rubbish and carcasses (of cars and mopeds, household appliances, of every kind) all over the place. Tales and poems.

Journeys and tours

Some tours are foreseen which should allow us to perform in Cuba, in Canada, In Australia, Island, In Norvegia, in Finland, in Svezia, in Austria, In Latin America, in Italy.

But it’s not enough: other initiatives and collaboration are in the pipe line, journeys and publications which we will arrange to exalt the magical beauty of the traditions of this enchanting island, which has more to sell than sea and sun.

Sardinia is truly a continent to visit and discover, feel and admire with absolute respect, throbbing with marvels, which possesses a nature almost uncontaminated, of historical expression unique to the world, a folk patrimony of sounds, colours, dances, exceptional costumes which are envied everywhere. If tenor singing is among the expressions of the most singular and dazzling folk cultures. We will do are best not to lose everything to oblivion more than that, we will do our best, so that tenor singing is always able to provide more and more reasons and subjects to be studied analysed and interesting to an increasing number of people who take to heart the future of our dream island, which still so many beautiful things to offer to it’s inhabitants and visitors.

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Isola Sarda © 1997-2005 - Associazione Culturale Ciberterra - Responsabile: Giorgio Plazzotta
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