The Orbi Tradition: Blind Street Singers in Sicily

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In Sicily, the street music was primarily entrusted to a class of professional singers and players called orbi (“blind”). In 1661 orbi gathered in Palermo at the brotherhood of the Immaculate Conception under the protection of the Jesuits, marking their first official appearance in the historical record. The testimonies of the activity of orbi between the 18th and 19th centuries offers a detailed account of both their repertoire – composed mainly of sacred songs, but also of storii (“narrative songs”), canzuni (“songs”), ditties and dance music – and their performative contecxts. For instance, they were called to perform at religious celebrations, weddings and convivial events, serenades, and performances of the Sicilian puppet theatre (Opera dei pupi). The blind players usually performed as a duo: a violinist and a player of citarruni (small three-stringed bass or adapted cello, in the twentieth century gradually replaced by the guitar). These street musicians – not all necessarily blind – were particularly active in the widespread dissemination of devotional poems of ecclesiastical origin in the Sicilian dialect.This important musical tradition is widely documented for Palermo but was not as well studied in Messina and Catania, the main cities of Eastern Sicily. This article takes into account historic and contemporary evidence of orbi activities, with a special attention for devotional celebrations and puppet theatre performances.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteStreet Music and Narrative Traditions
Numero di pagine42
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2019

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