Once upon a time, there was no important moment in life or in the changing cycle of the seasons that was not accompanied by and celebrated with music. A profound bond, one with the sacred and profane aspects of everyday life that has changed but still continues today, on special occasions, when the sound of musical instruments, symbols of each community’s traditions, can be heard. The occasions are patron saint celebrations, events linked to local identity and big festivals, from the celebration of Sant’Efisio in Cagliari to the Cavalcata Sarda (Sardinian Cavalcade) in Sassari, as well as the festival of the Redeemer in Nuoro and during the rituals of Holy Week in numerous Sardinian towns.
The roots of the bond between Sardinia and music lie in the intimate relationship with nature, the protector and provider of what is needed to sustain the family. It is no coincidence that the material used to build the instruments comes from nature: reeds, wood, cork and animal skins. The knowledge necessary to procure and process the materials is also linked to nature. Knowledge, sometimes surrounded by a mystical aura, such as waiting for the right phase of the moon, propitious for cutting the reeds for wind instruments. Skill, materials and feast days led to each territory developing an original musical identity, different from village to village.
According to some, they date as far back as the Nuragic age. The ‘Ithyphallic bronze figurine’ found in Ittiri and on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari. One certainty is that the launeddas have been a part of tradition in numerous central-southern Sardinian villages since the 17th century, particularly Cabras, San Vito, Villaputzu and the villages of the Trexenta region. Playing the launeddas was a profession until a few decades ago: the musicians carried out their profession by accompanying processions, masses and civil and religious celebrations. In fact, the instrument requires a lot of study and possessing special knowledge, such as the circular breathing technique, necessary for making the instrument play continuously, using the mouth for ‘storing’ air.
Three pipes: su tumbu, the longest, without holes, releases a single continuous note. Sa mancosa is linked to it, accompanying the melody, with four holes played with the fingers and one free hole. The same holes appear on sa mancosedda, separate from the others and used with the right hand, with which the melodies are played. An ancestor of the launeddas is sa bena, a reed flute closed by a knot at the top and with the reed that, unlike the launeddas, is peeled. What could be better than music to tackle the boredom of endless days in the pastures? Su pipiolu (or sulittu) is the ‘classic’ shepherd’s instrument, also made from a piece of reed. They say that all shepherds are capable of making themselves one of them.
In Gavoi, the name changes slightly. It is su pipaiolu and, along with su triangulu and a particular drum, represents the trio of instruments typical of carnival. They are played during carnival’s ‘Fat Thursday’ with sa sortilla ‘e tumbarinos, the rally of drummers. They are made of goat or sheep skins, subjected to a special process: they are sprinkled with ashes and buried for 15 days, then they are rinsed and dried to remove any hairs more easily. The body can be made of cork or made from old sieves or wooden moulds used to make pecorino cheese. Much smaller and more widespread throughout the Island is sa trunfa, a metal Jew’s-harp known as zampurra in Gallura, sa biurdana in Campidano and su sona-sona in Logudoro.