Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

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

Academic journal article Cultural Analysis

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

Article excerpt

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. …

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