6. The broader implications of creative evolution

Having offered some insights into the way in which, at a practical level, ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ elements have been combined to form a musical product which can be seen as representative  -  in part, at least  -  of the aesthetic characterizing professional and semi-professional musical activity in Corsica in the 1990s, I return now to a more theoretical consideration of the arguments relating to the evolution of the tradition, as cited earlier, and to a discussion of their implications in the broader context of the culture as a whole.

While the arguments that any restriction of creativity is negative and that evolution and progress are facts of life are in many ways valid, others have voiced equally valid concerns regarding the direction which many groups appear to be taking, consciously or otherwise.  In this respect, practical, aesthetic, ideological and sociological aspects clearly need to be kept in separate compartments.  Judged on its own merits, there is no doubt as to the accomplishment of much of the new material being produced: its creators have succeeded in proving that Corsica’s output is well qualified to occupy the same stage as the best in Europe.  Nonetheless, at the level of the evolution of the insular musical culture recent activity raises certain questions which, from the standpoint of ‘the tradition’, certainly merit further exploration.

One of the most obvious considerations omitted from a number of the arguments in favor of evolution is that of function.  When performers refer to the tradition, they are usually thinking in terms of the material itself rather than the performance context: they are primarily concerned with the musical fabric in isolation and not with the wider question of the place of music in society and more particularly its role in the everyday lives of the general population.  Clearly, there is a difference between music as a popular form of expression, closely allied to a particular activity or ritual, and music as an artistic enterprise.  This distinction is not, however, maintained as clearly as it might be, the media in particular embracing a rhetoric which cites the dynamism of the stage culture as proof of the vitality of the culture as a whole. 

At a strictly musical level, some form of evolution is undoubtedly inevitable.  There is, however, a significant difference between natural, organic evolution and a conscious and active courting of modernity.  There is nothing to prevent singers and musicians from following an ever more experimental path, but confusion is inevitably caused when groups attempt to retain their ‘traditional’ identity while developing in a manner that entails a radical adaptation, if not an entirely new departure.  In a description of a group’s output such as the following, for example, it is difficult to imagine what exactly might remain, in concrete musical terms, of the ‘traditional roots’: “Orizonte, in the likeness of the best of the insular ensembles, has succeeded in achieving the compromise between the modern essence of the music and the roots of the tradition.  Each song has its own coloration since the rhythm is now evocative of Greek rhythms, now of Peruvian or jazz”  (Corse Matin, 17.4.95).  Some native bystanders worry that when young people who are ignorant of the grassroots living tradition hear these groups they will say: ‘that’s the tradition’.

Salini has expressed serious reservations about the most catholic developments whilst at the same time questioning how radical, creative or original these endeavors really are.  Rather than celebrating true creativity which, in her estimation, should subvert rather than follow ‘the ephemeral fashion of taste’ (1996:199),  the current surfeit of musical activity may, she suggests, in fact be seen to represent a divergence in favour of neo-contemporary adaptations where the use of modern technological tools is juxtaposed to the supposedly entrenched nature of traditional forms (1996:207): what in many cases passes for creativity is rather the promotion of a musical idiom that is already stereotypical and banal, dressed in the rhetoric of ecumenism (1996:199, 207). 

These concerns aside, whether many of the new compositions could, at some point in the future, qualify as traditional is debatable.   If we were to gloss ‘traditional’ as ‘folk’, then a number of different considerations would enter into the equation relating to such matters as degree of diffusion in the oral tradition, accessibility regardless of the level of musical literacy, lack of self-conscious motivation or calculation, and dissociation from a commercial framework.  Clearly these are not the parameters within which many of today’s groups are operating.  Whereas the semi-literary songs disseminated via the cultural journals of the inter-war years which used traditional textual formats set to variants of popular tunes were supremely accessible in musical terms and could easily be re-sung by ordinary singers at grassroots level, this is not necessarily true of contemporary compositions. 

Only the simpler songs with limited accompaniment lend themselves to being easily learnt and resung in this way.  Many of the early Canta songs of the 1970s and early 1980s have now become firmly incorporated into the repertoires of individual singers who sing them in bars and at social gatherings, many accompanying themselves on the guitar.  These songs now tend to be described by the younger generations as ‘traditional’.  Jean-Paul Poletti’s ‘Corsica Nostra’ from Canta’s first disc has now become, in the words of one singer, ‘part of the polyphonic patrimony’.  In cases such as this, it was not only a matter of the melodies resembling those of traditional songs.  The political relevance of the songs also played an important part in securing their popularity: the singers spoke on behalf of a significant proportion of the population. 

In a few cases, a cappella polyphonic compositions using liturgical or new religious texts have also taken on a real function in the musical life of the community and passed into the repertoires of other singers.  Some groups, such as A Filetta, have devised original settings for parts of the Ordinary of the Mass (retaining the Latin texts) on the occasion of the marriage or funeral of a friend.  There is no reason why these pieces, which do not depart in any radical way from the familiar musical idiom, might not also be learnt from their discs by other singers in the same way as they might learn more traditional mass settings from recordings.  It remains to be seen, however, how many of the more complex chansons and polyphonic compositions  -  particularly those which appear on recordings with elaborate instrumentation  -  will be adopted into the popular repertoire.  Despite assertions such as that by Cinqui Sú that they aim above all to produce "a popular music", attempting to avoid entering into ‘an elitist system’ which can be appreciated only by a minority of people (interview, 1995), a significant proportion of the material produced in recent years is considered by the average singer too complex to be an easy candidate for adoption into the popular canon: it can be listened to and appreciated at a popular level, but from the perspective of reproduction it is judged  to be too savant  -  that is, too close to art music  -  and as such too difficult to sing (11).

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