A culture proud of its identity
Corsican music and song
These songs resonate powerfully throughout the towns and villages! The elders like to imagine that the island is a type of Cathedral that vibrates to the sounds of daily life. Corsican song is assuredly the guardian of this proud culture and identity, and the polyphonies are its greatest ambassadors. The Corsican « paghella » is classified by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Legend tells that these songs that raise the spirits were inspired by the shepherds that recounted stories of their daily life. Still today, they can be heard everywhere and numerous groups, such as A Filetta, Canta u Populu Corsu, I Chjami Aghjalesi and I Muvrini, carry on this oral tradition by making their voices heard on some of the greatest stages in the world. Visitors to the island in September should rendezvous in Calvi at the Rencontres Polyphoniques, one of the island’s most convivial get-togethers. And when you come to visit during the summer, and stroll through a lively little side street, you will surely hear young people gathering to sing a « paghella », a song based on the marriage of 3 harmonious voices. Make sure you take a moment to stop and listen. In this way you will be able to understand all the humanity that these songs have managed to communicate since ancient times.
Corsican music, essentially polyphonic, is part of the island’s culture and identity and is renowned throughout France and even across Europe. Polyphonic songs (the pulifunia Corsa) grew out of the songs of the shepherds who, while they were out on the hillsides, used to sing the “paghjelle” (or a “paghjella” in its singular form). These paghjelle served primarily as a means of retelling stories of everyday life, before they became a way of communicating the culture, traditions and history of the island. It is in this way, for example, that the defeat of the Corsican army of Pascal Paoli at the hands of the French army of King Louis XV, at the Battle of Ponte Novu (Ponte Novo in Italian and « Pont Neuf » in French), is still recounted today in song through the many “Paghjelle di Ponte Novu”.
Following the success of the group I Muvrini (the little Mouflon sheep) across the continent, Corsican polyphony has found a new public outside of Corsica and away from expatriate Corsican communities.
New and more audacious groups, such as Alba, have been quick to reinvent Corsican polyphony by using musical instruments and composing new pieces that are still inspired by tradition, but are more accessible to modern listeners.
Certain groups such as I muvrini or even L'Arcusgi have also blended different styles, instruments and cultures in order to create a style of their own that is further removed from the traditional roots of polyphony.
It is possible to see that certain polyphonic groups have moved closer in style to other traditional music groups, such as L'Arcusgi have done on many occasions with their combination of the Corsican and Basque languages (cf. their song "Askatasunera"), for example.
Just like they did in the very beginning, today a great many polyphonic songs communicate certain ideas and values that are close to the hearts of the Corsican people, and indeed others. The best example of this is the song Surella d'Irlanda (Sister of Ireland), written by the group Canta u Popolu Corsu in protest at the British presence in Northern Ireland. Others evoke the artist’s desire for freedom and identity.
Well known polyphonic songs and groups.
Corsica has a long tradition of Catholic religious music: Prayer vigils, pilgrimages, village festivals.
The most famous Corsican polyphonic song is without doubt Diu vi salvi Regina (God save you, our Queen) which is a song that is sung at church but, most of all, is a hymn which has been loved by the Corsican people since 1735.
Since the 1980s, there have been a number of polyphonic groups that have found fame in France and across Europe, such as:
Patrizia Gattaceca en solo
Musical instruments (cetera, pivana, cialamella…) are also an integral part of this musical heritage, although their role is minor when compared with that of the human voice. Singing has played an important part in all manner of special occasions (banquets, festivals, vigils, religious celebrations…) since ancient times.