“Let’s sound the bell clapper on the bell, I’ll show you how to play it”. This is the beginning of the Cerquetano vatocco, a two-voice song known in Cerqueto di Fano Adriano, a small village of shepherds and wool hand carders at the foot of the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountain, on a rocky slope on the southern side of the Alta Valle of the Vomano river. Loaded with expressive intensity and dissonance, performed with a tense voice, almost shouted, full of oscillations, with the two vocal parts intertwined in complex combinations of rhythms and distances, the song bears a message of love wrapped in mysterious contents, inspired by legends, shepherds’ stories, and ballads. Voices play and chase each other, constantly searching for a fragile, yet touching, harmony.
It is a type of particularly evocative descant, diaphony, identified in the Gran Sasso mountain area as a vatocco or a batocco song and also widely found in the Marche and Umbria, especially on the Adriatic side of the Apennines. The name evokes the image of the clapper that strikes the bell, which corresponds to the particular rhythm of the song; it used to be performed by two singers when going to the countryside and could occasionally be sung also in monodic form, thus losing its characteristic poly-vocal articulation. The versions documented in the Upper Vomano are the southernmost testimony of the diffusion of this original and expressive song form, transmitted in two melodic variations called aria alla narquatana (from Arquata del Tronto, in the Ascoli area) and aria alla romana. (from Rome).
The vatocco was known by Cerqueto farmers and shepherds, who perhaps learned it on their seasonal transfers towards the Marche and the Ager Romanus (a rural area surrounding the city of Rome), where they used to go to hand card the wool, to trade cattle and to graze the flocks during the winter, or by way of marriages and by the presence of women of Marche origins in the village from as early as the second half of the nineteenth century. Some families, like the Zaccagnini and Di Matteo families, were particularly good at singing it; we can now listen to their crossed voices in the recordings by Don Nicola Jobbi, Roberto Leydi and Diego Carpitella in 1964 and 1966.
WATCH THE VIDEO
Remember the "vatocco"
Teramo, 28 April 2012.
Video footage by Gianfranco Spitilli,
Don Nicola Jobbi Study Center Archive/Bambun.
Cultural transmission and protection
The song is currently extinct, in both the forms documented in the 1960s. At the time, in the Gran Sasso and Laga area, this chant was only known in the town of Cerqueto; today it is only referred to in fragments by some people who, however, are not able to execute it except in a few verses and in a strictly monodic form.
The song was documented in two different “arias” (melodic forms) by Don Nicola Jobbi in 1964, and later, only in the aria alla narquatana , by Roberto Leydi and Diego Carpitella in 1966; the sound documents are kept at the Leydi Fund of the Bellinzona Center for Dialectology and Ethnography, and one copy at the Jobbi Fund, at Centro Studi Don Nicola Jobbi of Teramo/Montorio al Vomano. Over the last few years, digitalization, restorations, publications and further documentation have been carried out with one of the performers of the time, Isabella Di Matteo (1920-2018). Some workshops have been run by anthropologists and ethnomusicologists with the community of Cerqueto and a group of local performers so as to bring attention to this kind of repertoire. Among others , it is worth mentioning , the Archivio Sonoro Abruzzo project, which allowed the online diffusion of these sound documents and the recovery of the images of Alberto Negrin in 1966 .