Celestino Fogu – Ballo Sardo Tradizionale

In the years since I last posted a Sardinian disc, I’ve been lucky to acquire quite a few 78s featuring the masterful and sometimes brash cantu e chiterra performers such as Gavino de Lunas and Giovanni Cuccuru, and the triple-pipe (llauneddas) master Efisio Melis. But, there are of course other folk music forms in Sardinia, so here’s a scarce disc featuring an example of traditional dance music on the local diatonic accordion, or fisarmonica. I first heard something similar on Paul Vernon’s In Dialetto Sardo CD performed by singer Gavino de Lunas and Pietro Porcu on the fisarmonica. I somehow managed to find a new copy of that record, but never anything else resembling it – until recently.

Ballo means “dance” in Italian, and in Sardinian it’s more properly spelled ballu. Evidence of Sardinian dance goes back to 3,200 BCE. There are several types of Sardinian folk dances, although the title of this track is generic enough that I’m not sure which it refers to (if any). These are dances performed, often in local costume, at festivals. Some have intricate footwork and are circle dances that move clockwise (ballu tundu, for instance – also known as ballu sardu) with dancers holding hands.

Celestino Fogu was born in 1882 in the small village of Osilo, located in the northwest of Sardinia near the larger town of Sassari. Little is known about his life except that he was short in stature, and a bricklayer by trade on top of being an itinerant musician. After the First World War, Fogu was apparently a sought-after local performer, as he was expert in animating the dance with satirical lyrics, rustic double entendres, and comical faces. It appears that Fogu did not appear on disc much before he died in 1959, although he did accompany performers in the early 1930s on the Excelsius, Fonotecnica, and Fonola labels, and recorded solo for Odeon in 1938. This “traditional Sardinian dance” is from those 1938 sessions. It’s seen a few plays, but hey.

Unlike island neighbor Corsica, which saw almost no traditional folk music recorded during the 78 rpm era, Sardinia saw the Gramophone Company’s Italian branch (La Voce del Padrone), Columbia, Odeon, and local labels like Fonotecnica/Fonola of Milan, pressing discs of Sardinian folk music. The earliest Sardinian performances on commercial 78s were made in the early 1920s by ethnomusicologist Gavino Gabriel (1881-1980), himself from Sassari province – and they’re quite good. By the late 1920s, however, local artists were regularly traveling to Milan to record, and their discs were kept in print long after World War II.

Celestino Fogu – Ballo Sardo Tradizionale

Label: Odeon
Issue Number: GO 19305
Matrix Number: Mo 7601

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