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Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Conference

  • Omni Shoreham Hotel Washington, D.C USA (map)

I will be presenting a paper entitled "Rustic Chivalry: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Sicilian Marranzano".


Since the early 2000s, the Sicilian marranzano (jew’s harp) has been enjoying a revival. Rising from the ashes of the postwar “cultural grey-out” observed by Alan Lomax, who recorded a Sicilian marranzano song in 1954, the marranzano is being embraced as a symbol of Sicilian identity and cultural renewal. At the same time, the instrument’s resurgence is self-consciously cosmopolitan, and tethered to the transnational jew’s harp movement taking place around the globe. This new image for the marranzano, however, has not entirely superseded the instrument’s enduring mythology: that it was once the instrument of bandits, in particular, the outlaw hero Salvatore Giuliano. Was this association born of fact or fiction? Did Giuliano and his band really use the marranzano? And are such legends compatible with the urbane, activist bent of the present-day revival? Part ethnography and part historical ethnomusicology, this paper delves into the marranzano’s past and present. In the process, it uncovers a long tradition of criminal depictions of marranzano in Italian cinema, which, I argue, is at the heart of the instrument’s lasting legacy in local memory. Drawing on Bithell and Hill’s work on music revivals as activism (2014), I suggest that these popular representations are not wholly at odds with the anti-corruption advocacy of the present marranzano resurgence. Rather, they co-exist along the spectrum of rebellion, self-determination, and pastoral nostalgia that is a defining axis of Sicilian patrimony.

Earlier Event: November 3
AMS-SMT Joint Conference
Later Event: March 17
UBC School of Music Colloquium Talk