It rings out from the mountains of Barbagia to the Buttes of Ogliastra, from the plateau of Marghine and of Planargia to the valleys of Montiferru, from the granite landscapes of Gallura to the hills of Logudoro. The canto a tenore is the transposition of the agro-pastoral world into sound, in symbiosis with nature and its many voices imitated by su tenore. Its origins are mysterious, poorly documented and certainly very ancient. The subjects range from bucolic and amorous poetry to social and topical issues, always maintaining unchanging characteristics: four voices, standing in a circle, united by the desire to share the passion for the deepest traditions.
‘Tenore’ indicates both the song and the group of four voices that interpret it. They are led by sa oche (or boghe), the ‘soloist’, who interprets the poetic text and provides rhythm and tonality. Su bassu sings the basic note, with a guttural and vibrato sound and harmonises with sa contra: together, they sing monosyllabic nonsense. Lastly, sa mesu oche (or boghe) attenuates the harshness of the guttural sounds and is the only voice that continuously varies the melody and enriches it with virtuosity, sas giradas. There are three types of song: the boghe ‘e notte, perhaps taken from the nightly serenades, the muttos, with amorous or humorous themes; and the boghe ‘e ballu that accompany traditional dances.
Cussertu in Mamoiada and high up in Baronia, cuncordu in Barbagia of Ollolai, in Neoneli and in Santu Lussurgiu, cuntrattu in Seneghe and in Abbasanta. To indicate the art of “canto a tenore” the names vary and each has its own ‘code’, su trattu. An example? Around the Supramonte area, in Orgosolo and Oliena, the “canto” is sung with open syllables, while in the area around Orune you will hear that they are more closed and rounder, creating a gloomier effect. The timbres also change. In fact, one thing that makes su tenore so enchanting is precisely in grasping the different nuances from one village to another.
There are plenty of chances to listen to it. The informal occasions are often at the end of social events like sas rebottas, which are light meals based on typical local products, or during friendly gatherings in sos tzilleris, the little village bars. Then there are the ‘official’ occasions, during festivals, religious celebrations and cultural events in the villages where the tradition is strongest. For an ‘immersion’ in this intangible cultural heritage declared by UNESCO, in Bitti, there is the multimedia museum of Canto a Tenore: thanks to multimedia tools, you can listen to the single voices, observe the group performances and, why not, you can also learn the dance steps that accompany sos cantusu.