CBMR Digest is a publication of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago

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CBMR Digest

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ISSN # 2168-3301spring 2012 | Volume 25, No. 1

Gianpaolo Chiriacò Begins Two-Year Residency at the CBMR

Afro-Vocality: Cultural Depiction of Voices within the African Diasporas

Gianpaolo Chiriacò, from the University of Salento in Lecce, Italy, returned to the CBMR in July to begin a two-year research residency as part of a three-year project. Chiriacò was in residence during July and August 2011 to research field hollers as part of his project “Where the Echoes Shine: The Legacy of Field Hollers in African-American Contemporary Vocal Performances,” a project that addressed the persistence of this archaic vocal form, beyond blues, in contemporary African-American vocal styles (see CBMR Digest vol. 24, no. 2, Fall 2011, 7–8). His 2011 residency was supported with a fellowship awarded by the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, which is headquartered at the University of Chicago. With funding from the European Union (Marie Curie-International Outgoing Fellowship), he is continuing his work through a project titled “The Role of Traditional Vocal Styles in Reshaping Cultural Identities Related to African Diasporas in America and Europe” (ROTVOSCIAME). The project’s main objectives are (1) to track the presence of vocal traditions that originated in the African continent but which developed differently in America and Europe; (2) to analyze how African-related vocal styles have been (and are) functional in reshaping new cultural identities within the framework of African diasporas; and (3) to consider the singing voice as a complex means of expression (not only a musical instrument nor just a vehicle for the language) as the ultimate locus where cultural connections still exist and operate.

Chiriacò summarizes his project as follows.

The Singing Voice

Research will draw upon the work of scholars who have dealt with articulate and multidisciplinary analyses of the voice. In particular, it will be considered that “voice has a kind of primacy in the formation of true communities of men, groups of individuals constituted by shared awareness” (Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1967, 124).

Even more specifically, vocality will be defined, as pointed out by Paul Zumthor, as the entirety of values and activities which are peculiar to the voice, independent of the language (Zumthor, Paul. In the Foreword to Bologna Corrado. Flatus Vocis. Metafisica e antropologia della voce. Bologna: Mulino, 2000, vii). Using this perspective as a guideline, the investigation will be concerned with the necessity of classifications and precise definitions of different vocal styles and techniques. It is of no less importance that, according to historical accounts, within the African-American context, a distinct use of the voice allowed exceptional individuals to negotiate relationships within the communities. Field work, on the other hand, will deal with the social roles of the most talented performers in the contemporary scenario.

African-American Vocality

The preliminary inquiry into the archaic African-American vocal form of field hollers revealed that vocal attributes and techniques, such as the use of falsetto, yodeling, humming, groans, voice intonation influenced by tonal languages, shouts, etc., have rarely been objects of investigation. During the American phase of the research, project ROTVOSCIAME will continue to be based at the Center for Black Music Research, whose astonishing archives will be intensively explored. The CBMR also provides a perfect methodological framework, since it “promotes understanding of the common roots of the music, musicians, and composers of the global African diaspora.” In fact, the project research looks at the vernacular styles and techniques as a complex variety of messages addressed by the human voice within the context of the African diaspora.

Afro-European Vocality

The University of Salento has already begun an ambitious project which aims to describe the cultural effects of the African diaspora in Europe across different ages (from the Roman Empire to the modern era). ROTVOSCIAME, in its European phase, should be seen as a complementary section of a larger project. The focus of the research will be on vocal performers with African origins (musicians from Africa or progeny of African immigrants), who are currently operating in Italy. The role of singers, both professional and non professional, within the context of the so-called contemporary diaspora will be analysed while a negotiation of cultural identities and ethnic (racial) differencies is still in process.

Gianpaolo Chiriacò

Gianpaolo Chiriacò has been awarded a Marie Curie Fellowship for the project ROTVOSCIAME. Chiriacò, who has earned the MA degree in Music Journalism and Criticism, has primary interest in African-American Music in Europe, specifically in the Mediterranean region, and vocal techniques. His Ph.D. dissertation (University of Salento, 2010) is titled “The Cultural Heritage of Moresca. African Presence and Stylizations in Italian Renaissance Music.” Among his recent publications are “Re Sounds: Music, Words, Discs and Social Network” (Unisalento Press, 2011) and “Syd Barrett’s Chant: From Naughtiness to Silence” (Stampa Alternativa, 2012).

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