Album Review: Giuliano Gabriele – Madre (The Hypnotic Dance’s Time) [iCompany, 2015]

Madre (“mother” in Italian) is the second album by Italo-French artist Giuliano Gabriele, one of the leading figures of today’s Italian folk music renaissance. Madre is much more than a folk album though. It is rock, progressive, jazz; it is an experimental and contemporary take on old, long-standing musical traditions. The album has earned praise from some of the most prominent World Music reviewers and in 2015 won the Andrea Parodi Prize, the most important World Music award in Italy.

In Madre, Gabriele has managed to blend the sounds of South-Central Italy, from Lazio to Puglia, in one coherent project. He sings in Italian and in a number of Southern dialects, successfully harmonising the many forms of “tarantella”, the various folk music and dances characterised by a fast upbeat tempo, and is among the most recognised forms of traditional southern Italian music. Also along to help are fellow musicians Gabriele Russo, Goffredo Degli Espositi, Giuseppe Grassi, Francesco Loccisano and Antonio Infantino.

The album is opened by a recording of women singing an acapella tarantella song; a 28 second interlude named ‘Ohi Che Bell’Aria’ that sets the mood and defines the direction of the entire body of work. Gabriele then chimes in with his accordion and begins ‘Madre’, a rhythmic track in which he sings of a mother that can be connected with his musical roots and the popular music he is trying to revive. Madre is “ritmo su ritmo disperato” (frantic rhythm), “danza profana e sacra danza” (profane and holy dance), “armonie e potenti canti” (harmonies and powerful singing). The song is a manifesto, the explanation of the project behind the album and it is no wonder the whole work shares the same name.

“Harmonies and powerful singing” describe perfectly each song on Madre. ‘Tarantella di Sannicandro’ and ‘Tambureddu’ are splendid versions of Apulian Pizzica, the former having a distinct rock twist. The influence of the Italian singer-songwriter of the 1970s is felt in ‘Ballicrepa’, whereas ‘Malocchio’, the 11th and final song on the album has notes of Scottish bagpipe melodies, but then turns into a progressive piece.

Madre is a multifaceted and innovative work. It could hark back to old styles but in the end it is an extremely modern album, and one you would definitely like to dance to.