The way of the drum – Parthenope-Cuba and Afrocubanìa – Interview with Giovanni Imparato

In the last issue you have met ‘A Madonna d’ and Rrose, celebrated with a series of events and parades that involved the locals who participated by playing tammurriate and dancing in her honor.

Now let’s go back to the 1st century BC. The poet Catullus, in the heartbreaking poem 63 of his Liber describes the celebrations to Cybele, the Great Mother, which took place by beating the drum. As for Cybele and the ancient divinities of the time, so, as still today, for the Madonna of Montevergine (Mamma Schiavona), and for the other Madonnas or even for some Saints, the devotees, through singing pray and dance to the fast rhythm of the drum, cymbali and bells.

The sacredness of the drum and the importance it has in religious ceremonials can be found everywhere and in various historical period. For example, in shamanic culture, through the drum the shaman makes an ecstatic journey to the “center of the world”, transcending space and time and recovering the original condition in connection with the ancient spirits. The spirit already exists, it is inherent in the drum and the shaman is the one who can make it express. In Yoruba culture, from Western Africa, the drum has an equal importance.

Parthenope-Cuba and Afrocubanìa – Interview with Giovanni Imparato

In this article we move between times and places in a chat with musician Giovanni Imparato who tells about the beginning of his journey and his endless research through the vibrations of the drum. Through this artichle you will find a few hints of Afrocubanìa, his next book. Giovanni will help us understand something more about the relationship between the drum and the earth, between Cuba and Parthenope.

As a boy he sang but he was shy and introverted. He poured his shyness into drawing and attended art school. However, he realized that percussion was able to make him overcome all communication and relational difficulties. Unfortunately the conservatory only offered symphonic percussion in which he did not feel particular interest.

Q – What did you do then?-

GI – The preponderant and decisive choice towards music was triggered following a very serious existential crisis, thanks to which I unscrupulously chose music without conditioning. I started playing on the street, because I needed an “open space and h24” public, in culturally unsuspected times compared to the common phenomena of today’s baskers, it was the 70s. I was performing with a sign that explained the reasons for my need. I asked for a collaboration in order to pay for my percussion lessons and psychotherapy sessions. Given my eyes closed perpetually, everyone had an idea of me, someone thought I was even blind! I realized that it was for me a prayer and an active meditation, to this my unconscious question, Parthenope answered me. Yes she did!Those were very intense years. My playing without limits and with a constant and free audience caused an extraordinary result. I realized that I was going to other moods. I felt involved in flows of information that came to me. Just like a catalyzing radio antenna, I developed a receptivity to new rhythms and songs that I had never heard before. About this I romantically affirm that Parthenope has passed on her suggestions to me. Even today, through my arms the extension of the heart and of myself, simply by moving the hands on the drum, causes in my brain a special activation of thought and intelligence. I can only take note of this. I will never know exactly what happens , I just be grateful to OLòFI / OLòKUN / Parthenope and benefit from it .-

So as a musician he traveled to Africa, Brazil, Europe, the United States but it was in Cuba that he found his identity in playing the drums. In the largest Island of the West Indies, he found his artistic, cultural and religious identity that he developed in the contamination of Neapolitan and Cuban culture, translating it into the Parthenope-Cuba project. For Giovanni the process of searching never stops and subsequently led him to another contamination involving Tammorra and Rumba that he has called Tammumba. The first drum that Giovanni touched was a bongò that ahis childhood friend brought as a souvenir from Venezuela. Giovanni immediately tried to play. What came out was surprising for both his friend and himself. At that moment the way forward was clear to him. That way was the way of the drum. In fact, he had already started this path since he was a baby, in his cradle. Unable to sleep due to the absence of his mother, who died prematurely, he tried to calm down by producing a rhythm in the cradle. The regularity of these impulses relaxed him and he fell asleep, reassured.

GI- The obsessive regularity of these impulses, rubbed on the mattress, on the sheets and on the repetitive kinetic perception, is as if he had “saved” me, inventing an abreator vibration, my mind was sinking, and slowly this flow calms my unconscious tension . This is why I then romantically affirm that Parthenope in a vacuum of maternal power, offered his support, her remedy, how can we not be grateful for this process? How can I not dedicate myself to the cult of the seven Madonnas of Campania? –

Speaking of Neapolitan origins, fundamental to his training is the “existential” aspect therefore the ethno-anthropological-religious one. Regardless of the fact that he is Neapolitan because he was born and raised in Napoli, and excluding clichés, he says that he needed to cognitively and psychologically investigate the fact of being connoted as a Neapolitan almost “Sui generis”. Since he was a child, his peers looked at him with an exotic eye, perhaps because of his colors (Giovanni has fair skin and light eyes) and because of his attitude. Indeed he is a very uncommon man, so sensitive and energetic and definitely beyond the common conception that one can have of a percussionist. He is connected so he is a natural percussionist.

GI – “In this moment, as an adult, I finally enjoy” the meaning “of my character that cannot be cataloged across the board, because since I was a child I was looking for a condition that would allow me to be myself. I took refuge in drawing, then in playing percussion. I was looking for an archaic and archetypal rituality expressed: singing and dancing on the drum, integrating both the profane and the cult aspects. –

Q – What do origins mean to you? –

GI – In a person, the deepest and most characteristic considerations of his identity” origin “can be enclosed in two complementary aspects: one is internal:” soul-psychological-spiritual, having less subjective connotations such as “species, is more external “human (heredity: phylogenetic, biological, cultural, anthropological) that is influenced and connotable by environmental factors external to the person himself. Sometimes awareness of one’s origins (in some cultures) can turn into a discriminatory element. Look at the story. . I believe, if one were lucky enough to belong to a lineage (ethnic-anthropological-cultural-religious-philosophical-political-economic-socio-psychological) capable of being able to safeguard the “centrality of existence”: “we would be grateful and it would be welcomed as a “blessing” and quintessence of “wisdom”! Otherwise the “awareness of one’s origins” can only be transmuted into a nostalgic redundancy of values and conditions that have disappeared in the authentic “self” of each one. Therefore, in my opinion, the cliché of “one’s origins” should be consciously reset, as well as legitimized, to the point of adhering to the useful and necessary hinges for an authentic evolution of the whole human species. However, I definitely feel and am Neapolitan, I had a great-grandfather, Gaetano, from whom I believe I inherited the light colors. The Neapolitan melodies, the Bourbon harmony, the heavenly land of Napoli, its magical sea, the graceful shape of the gulf, its pure and abundant water sources, the taste of its fish and the fragrant products of its land, its underground magma and its volcano, more than anything else. Neapolitan people might not always be up to such divine perfection.  As a boy I felt a lot of discomfort, realizing that I had a sensitive and sophisticated nature, and that I could hardly find any “ordinary” reference for my training as a percussionist and musician in / of the land of Parthenope. I bless my first visible and flesh-and-blood Masters such as Salvatore Valletta, Bruno Mauro, Walter Scotti, Karl Potter, Roberto Evangelisti, and many others who have passed on their research imprint to me, simply by “looking at them”. Unknowingly my exasperated state urged me to look for unusual cognitive directions, in fact later, with several meditative and overthinking excursions, I noticed that “the spirits” were my main prompts and assistants ! And this happened in Napoli! I always carry in my heart the teaching that took shape in my cradle, on the streets of Napoli and in the former monastery of Vico Paradiso alla Salute 4, where I lived and lived a fluid communication, often half asleep, with the benevolent spirit presence of the place. In addition to being a practice that I have never stopped feeding … that of experiencing music, first of all as a channel of “connection” with non-ordinary reality, coexisting with the “not visible” world logically-rationally “, with this I formalized my inspirational and creative path.-

Q –  Can you describe the Napoli of your adolescence? –

GI – Napoli that has often taken the form of Parthenope, the “siren” Goddess who originated this blessed land, never quite deserved by its inhabitants. I agree with poet Benedetto Croce’s considerations: ” a paradise inhabited by devils “. Parthenope is the only one who has replaced my biological mother, who died too soon! In Afrocubanìa “Inle Oguère” she is Mother Earth, for us she would correspond to the Black Madonna of Montevergine; the sea and the fire underground have seasoned my learning, colored by comforting sunny days and special dishes in smell and taste … all the oleography possible to imagine, participated entirely in giving me knowledge of this exceptional territory, which even at a distance and with dedicated thought, it strengthens my “etheric” umbilical cord.-

Q –  What prompted you to reach Cuba? –

The pulsation, the drum, the language, in Cuba have a precise identification, so that there is a real “religious order” dedicated to the drum and the pulsation. Obviously this starts from Africa, but the distillate made in Cuba is for me, unique in the world, I speak from the point of view of musical-philosophical-religious depth and depth. In fact, it is perfectly adaptable to the interests of my syncretic research. Very unknowingly, the tammorràri dedicated to the Madonna would do the same but it is not possible to formalize a deepening of a cult, if not “inside” oneself. I would have liked to find in Napoli itself an identification of groove, of language, of a unitary code between drum, song and dance. Napoli has it but it has survived too little compared to what could have been there. For me it was not satisfactory the musical background available from which to draw, from which to be inspired. In fact, having consciously avoided the classic vein to share (I do not say this with disdain, but as an observation of my reality) there was only jazz, Brazilian music, pop, Neapolitan songs, rock.

Q –  What do Napoli and Cuba represent for you? –

GI – Napoli as Parthenope, with her multiple aspects, represents the mother, and the father is not the land of Cuba itself but the background that summarizes what for me today is “Afrocubanìa”, because they are not indigenous and original cultures. If anything, through the three “rules”, dedicated to Music (Añà), to Archetypes (Òsha), to IFÁ (the wise literature “guide” of the genesis of the existing, in the past, present and future), as well as the indissoluble indispensability of “Ashe” (magic, ether). It’s like saying I like Napoli but not the cliché of the average Neapolitan, I like Cuba but absolutely not the cliché of the average Cuban culture. –

Q – Can you tell us about the strong Cuba-Napoli cultural relationship that you experience in your project? –

GI – I embody this relationship not by my conscious will, but by an inevitable belonging of physical and spiritual DNA. I am constantly looking for these two entities, the absolute precursor, most famous was Renato Carosone, not least in Cuban soil in the nineteenth century a certain (needless to do it on purpose) “Esposito” who went around the streets of Habana with a guitar singing and playing Neapolitan songs! As in any “syncretic” project, a constant fusion takes place that manages to survive the other confrontations and distill their musical “physiognomy”. The “condicio sine qua non” is to conscientiously verify one’s truthfulness in the instant of the compositional and executive interpretation, as well as if you need more foundation and roots, immerging yourself in the cults of the two religious entities. I considered it instinctive to move in the aforementioned area, not surprisingly I am a Christian, a Catholic by passive inheritance (and I am disappointed for the importance relegated to the native expressions of: drum, song and dance) and also babalàwo initiated to the rule of Ifá, babalòsha “santèro” initiated at the regla de Òsha, olubatà initiated at the regla de “Añà” (or Ayàn). In the strong relationship between Cuba and Napoli, the task I have given myself is to restore the “cultural value” that exists in the further cognitive dichotomy at our disposal, as in the ordinary dimension: what is seen with open eyes; therefore in the attitude logical-rational, as well as in the non-ordinary dimension: what you “see” with your eyes closed. Thus placing myself in an intuitive-unlimited attitude of experimenting musically the inspirations that come (in your own heart) to reawaken the energetic and soul connotation of the whole. Where I fail to do it on purpose there is Parthenope which corresponds to Olòkun, who is the patroness of the center of the earth and of the law of gravity, in this regard patroness of the principle evoked in the creative force of the “pulsation”, as if it evinced the meaning depth of “Afrocentric” percussion and devolved to dance, which also (Afrocentrically) is based on the relationship of one’s own body and the force of gravity of “Inle Oguère” the Earth Mother. Thus our tammurriàte bells unwittingly celebrated the same sacred rituals dedicated to the seven Madonne from Campania, like the “tambòr” batà dedicated to the Afro-Cuban cosmogonic pantheon. While with us the tammurriàta formally in both sacred and profane meaning does not change, in Cuba instead, a clear border is defined between sacred liturgical ceremonies and profane folklore manifestations, differing in everything.

An equal aspect is in the profane dimension, of socio-psycho-ethno-anthropological rituals: the Montemaranese tarantella can be associated and compared to the Cuban carnival, in terms of “conga” (Santiago de Cuba) and “appearance” (Habanera); the Tammurriàta then is perfectly superimposable to the Cuban Rumba, in fact there are the same comparative stylistic tripartitions of these genres (obvious in song, drum and dance):
1) tammurriàta “’AMamma e tutt ‘e Màmme, Nera, Mamm’ ‘e muntuérgene” / Yambù (theme: slow, majestic, dance ” ‘e ‘na vota” the oldest born from a remote liturgical abreaction , but which has become folkloric and profane);
2) tammurriàta “‘A Màmma d’ ‘e ggalline” / Guaguancò (theme: medium-fast, courtship dance and description of the newspaper, socio-political protest);
3) tammurriàta “’A Ggiugianese” / Columbia (theme: war dance, challenge, if too violent not in pairs, to avoid “disturbed”, urban and rural existential stress).
The name of this mixture is Tammúmba (Tammurriàta and Rumba) which has become my syncretic brand. In 2007 and 2009 from Italy I took my project to the “Timbalaye” international festival in Cuba, an event dedicated to Cuban rumba and its influences, in fact, winning several prizes, the project has also participated in other live events. –

In our “Western” society the important role of the drum has been minimized. Its history has been obscured. In schools students learn that science, medicine and technology are sufficient for the evolution of man and everything that belongs to the sacred tradition is considered as “stupid mythological fantasies”. If they considered the facts, however, they would realize that the most advanced cultures, those that really try to take steps towards a good evolution, are those most connected with the earth, those that know how to listen to the bowels of the earth, the memory of mother earth.
Unfortunately, we Europeans, together with our dear “healthy bearers of democracy”, have a problem which is that of looking at things only from one point of view. At most two, since the binary system is the only one conceivable by this society. The function of the drum in history is also important with regard to spiritual, social, ethno-anthropological perspectives. For example the role and its historical and cultural significance in relation to the slave trade where landowners in America prohibited them from playing. Despite this, the drum that lives on its own spirit has always accompanied black slaves wherever they went.

GI- Both the European and North American “academic subculture” has conditioned us en masse. It deliberately and totally ignores these real alive ethno-anthropological processes. It is too busy with herself.
The problem is inherent in the background of symphonic percussion which has remained limited only to the supposedly cultured, asphyxiated and opinionated classical European and Northern European culture. The military drum (military in fact) is the only one with band percussion that has managed to be used during and after the slave diaspora.
The whole other part of the world, full of ethnicities alive and well, was not mentioned. It did not enter the cultural census outside the European and North American view of the multinational lobbies.-

It is customary for colonialists who are healthy bearers of democracy and civilization to visit a country, take an interest in indigenous peoples, take their customs and traditions, art, technique … they modify them and “clean up” them to their own use and pleasure and to convince the whole world, even the indigenous people themselves to follow the “official” line. And here, as in the case of classical dance which is proposed as the first “official” source with respect to the popular dances of the Mediterranean, in the same way the drum set is proposed with respect to the drum as the “official” source of modern music. Everything is forgotten, everything is filtered out. And with this type of propaganda, the sticks have become for many representative of evolution despite having seen representative paintings or read ancient poems. We forget everything too soon.

GI: – Burundians have been playing with drumsticks for millennia, it is not a question of evolution or not, but of American marketing image criteria. The exasperated sense of speculative exploitation, with profit and business is always clear as a goal.
Since the battery was born in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century. North America does not miss any possibility of cultural hegemony in the so-called “Western” world. Here is that the image of “modern” music (gospel, blues, jazz, rock, pop and under various marketable developments) has limited as a percussive icon to the drum set and that’s it. As if the drums were born from nothing, plus ignoring everything possible in the past!
There are two psycho-anthropological reasons adopted: the first one is based on the omission of historical memory. Precisely for the same mechanism of self-legitimizing a vast territory, according to them “virgin”. In reality we all know that the so-called “natives” would have dutifully deserved a consideration of real landlords, expropriated, exiled and therefore should be considered for the whole world (involutively globalized).
The second reason is based on their belief that the land was deserved to them. So completely blinded by hedonistic self-consideration, by disproportionate self-esteem. In fact, “Trumpism” has brought to the surface all the structural distortion with the status symbol of thought is: “my model is not only the only one, he is also unquestionably the best”. Imagine if they were racists and perverse territorialists, they would “brandize” drums of authentic Afrocentric origin! It would mean recognizing gratitude towards other ethnic groups besides their own. For North Americans it would have been an affront to marry a cultural icon they considered poor.-

Q – Traditional African societies recognize that the drum has a spirit and a character that are both clearly observable. Is there anything you can say about it? –

GI – Ayàn (Añà) is the breath of the universe, it arrives on earth through Ozàin which is Nature itself, Ozàin is also, symbolically, our nature, and will be the patron and tutor (flanked by èshu / elegbwà) of the drum BATÁ consecrated (there are 4 hourglass drums, bimembranophones, three of these go out to ceremonies, one, elekotò stays with Ozàin in his room, also consecrated). AYàN is physically propitiated inside the BATà. They represent a family, they are: mother and two children, the father is symbolized by the Olùbata, the priest who is allowed to play these. There is a long and sophisticated apprenticeship, as the literature played traces the genesis of the existing, through the most influential hinges (Òsha). –

This is just an introduction to Giovanni Imparato’s research and inner evolution through the leading voice of the ancient experience. There are other questions about present and past; technology and tradition for obvious reasons of space we will publish them in next issue.

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