Studies in Italian American Folklore

By Luisa Del Giudice | Go to book overview

1
Tears of Blood: The Calabrian Villanella and Immigrant Epiphanies

Anna L. Chairetakis


INTRODUCTION

"We were clearing the fields for a landowner in the Sila,"1 recalls Raffaela De Franco of her adolescence during the post-World War II years. "We were all women, and we were singing. They always wanted me along because, young as I was, my voice was a trumpet, and I could both sing and throw the iettu. Suddenly, a man appeared with a large machine. It was a tape recorder, but at that time, none of us had ever seen one. We believed he was using an enchantment to steal our souls through our voices, and some of us talked of killing him on the spot."

Twenty-five years later, on the evening of February 23, 1975, I carried a tape recorder into the basement of Santa Rosalia Church in Brooklyn, New York, and found Mrs. De Franco and a group of her paesani (fellow townspeople) singing the villanella. At that moment I felt the way Heinrich Schliemann must have when he discovered Troy. I had been searching for Italian musicians to perform at the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C., that year and had thus far found few Italian Americans who knew or would claim their folk music. At last I had received a promising invitation from the sacristan of St. Rosalia's to hear "some of those little

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