Michele Avolio & DisCanto: Preserving and Promoting Abruzzese Musical Traditions

The task of conserving one’s culture and traditions begins with acquiring physical relics and intangible elements from their predecessors, maintaining them during their lifetime and consigning it for the benefit of their posterity. Musicology is the in-depth study and detailed research of music and when the focus is based within a specific geographical context, it is more commonly referred to as ethnomusicology.
Italian musician, singer and composer Michele Avolio has dedicated over 30 years of his life to the perpetuation of popular traditional music from his beloved Abruzzo; the land of his birth and the base of his operations. The poly-instrumentalist is a self-taught musician who has mastered the guitar, bouzouki, ciaramella, and tambourine. He first started singing and playing the guitar in the late 1960s strictly for pleasure. During the 70s, he performed in various pop-rock outfits honing his technical and live performance skills. In time, Michele would be inexorably drawn to the acoustic-folk genre of music and in 1977 he joined the group Acquaragia. His participation yielded immediate dividends and his invaluable contribution helped the band evolve to Vico del Vecchio.
Vico del Vecchio remained active for nearly 20 years and during this time Michele began his scholarly analysis of the popular songs of the Peligna Valley area, located in central Abruzzo. His re-working of these tunes combined the original lyrics with the sounds of classical acoustic instruments such as guitar, mandolin, violin, cello, accordion, clarinet, tambourines, and bagpipes. The range of the compositions included both traditional and original music from Abruzzo, traditional songs from other southern regions and meridional ethnic music styles. Michele and the band performed in over 700 concerts, participating in numerous radio and television productions.
In 1995, he launched the DisCanto musica project. As musical director he was tasked with the formation of a band and an association that promulgated research, education, live performances, music production, and distribution. In the ensuing 25 years, Michele and different incarnations of the band have given over 300 concerts in Italy, France, Holland, Germany, and the U.S. DisCanto received invitations to festivals, musical events and national television shows.
Throughout his five-decade professional music career, Michele has collaborated with numerous theatrical companies and has scored many of their productions. His professional partnerships include composing music and authoring lyrics for documentaries, art exhibits, plays, and music recordings. Michele has also supplied vocal and instrumental contributions for his musical colleagues. Practical application of his musical talents includes providing instrumental instruction and vocal lessons. One of his most satisfying achievements occurred in 2003 as he offered music lessons to inmates incarcerated at the penal facility in Chieti. He has served as the artistic director for various seasonal ethnic music festivals throughout Abruzzo and has produced an annual music festival that promotes the rich cultural traditions of the region.
Over the years, Michele and DisCanto have sought to dispel misconceptions surrounding traditional Italian music. The group reinterprets the folk songs of the farmers and shepherds using traditional acoustic instrumentation and sings them in native dialect. These pieces reflect the influences that other cultures, including Arabic, Gypsy and Balkan to name a few, have had on the region. Lyrical themes range from lullabies to ballads, playful spite directed towards overbearing landowners and chants to ward off the malocchio (evil eye). The music is varied, vibrant and infectious. The group is composed of conservatory-trained musicians and veterans of the Italian folk-music scene who have become proud ambassadors of the traditions and culture of Abruzzo.
Michele has always surrounded himself with dedicated and quality personnel since its inception. The current lineup features Sara Ciancone, long-time celloist, percussionist and vocalist who has been with Michele since December of 1999. She was classically trained at the Conservatory of Music in L’Aquila, having graduated in 1995, specializing in the cello. She has played in many orchestras and is also an actress who has performed in theatrical productions. Sara has also been a member of pop music bands including an all-female band that presented musical arrangements of popular music from several southern Italian regions. Elena D’Ascenzo joined the group on 2013 and serves as vocalist and guitarist. She is partially self-trained and also received private lessons to refine her burgeoning musical talents. Elena has also collaborated on several theatrical projects and is involved in educational endeavors sharing her musical knowledge with other aspiring artists. Manuel D’Armi is a more recent addition to the band and is a talented piano and diatonic accordionist who is also adept with the zampogna (bagpipes). The fifth member, Antonello Di Mateo, is currently on sabbatical in the U.S., serving as a visiting collegiate music instructor. He is another poly-instrumentalist; classically trained on the clarinet and is also skilled on the zampogna, ciaramella, piano, and diatonic accordions. He has collaborated with noted Italian artists such as Francesco De Gregori, Simone Cristicchi and Ambrogio Sparagna. Other musicians who have served over the years in a touring or recording capacity with DisCanto include; Germana Rossi, violinist and accordionist, Danilo Avolio, double-bassist, Massimo Pacella, violinist, Massimo Domenicano, accordionist, Antonio Franciosa, percussionist, Doriana Legge, vocalist and guitarist, and Rosanna Di Lisio, vocalist. DisCanto have officially released the following five recordings: “Dindirindella” (2001), “Serenata fuori stagione” (2005), “A Collection” (2006), “Ride la luna” (2007), and “Allùmeme la vì” (2013). Songs from these recordings have been used in several DVD documentaries and have been aired over numerous Italian radio and television broadcasts. For more information you can visit their website at www.discanto.org.

Photos courtesy of www.discanto.org