Cantu in paghjella, a secular and liturgical oral tradition of Corsica

Inscribed in 2009 (4.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

Country(ies): France



Cantu in paghjella, a secular and liturgical oral tradition of Corsica

The paghjella is a male Corsican singing tradition. It combines three vocal registers that always enter the song in the same order: a segonda, which begins, give the pitch and carries the main melody; u bassu, which follows, accompanies and supports it, and finally a terza, the highest placed, which enriches the song. Paghjella makes substantial use of echo and is sung a capella in a variety of languages including Corsican, Sardinian, Latin and Greek. As both a secular and liturgical oral tradition, it is performed on festive, social and religious occasions: in the bar or village square, as part of liturgical masses and processions and during agricultural fairs. The principle mode of transmission is oral, largely through observation and listening, imitation and immersion, commencing first as part of young boys’ daily liturgical offices and then later at adolescence through the local Church choir. Despite the efforts of its practitioners to revitalize its repertoires, paghjella has gradually diminished in vitality, due a sharp decline in intergenerational transmission caused by emigration of the younger generation and the consequent impoverishment of its repertoire. Unless action is taken, paghjella will cease to exist in its current form, surviving only as a tourist product devoid of the community links that give it real meaning.


Decision 4.COM 14.05

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, as follows:

  • U1: An emblem of Corsican identity deeply rooted in its agro-pastoral culture, the Cantu in paghjella is essential to the transmission of local cultural knowledge, an integral part of the social fabric of communities;
  • U2: While continuing to retain its character as an oral tradition and musical practice, and despite the persistence of traditional modes of transmission, the Cantu in paghjella is threatened by changes in the contexts of its performance and oral transmission, musical standardization and an impoverishment of its repertoire following commercialization and popularization, and the continuing demand for novelty from the tourist industry;
  • U3: An urgent safeguarding plan has been elaborated that underlines the priority of transmission, as well as activities of research, protection, promotion and raising awareness, demonstrating the will for an integrated intervention to benefit the viability of the Cantu in paghjella;
  • U4: The element has been nominated thanks to an active commitment and large participation of the community of practitioners, local officials and civil society during the process of elaborating the nomination file, based on the knowledge of several families of singers and supported by the awareness-raising of local media, and many practitioners have offered evidence of their free, prior and informed consent;
  • U5: The Cantu in paghjella is inscribed in the inventory of intangible cultural heritage present on the territory of France, managed and updated by the Direction for Architecture and Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.



© 2009 Michele Guelfucci-Glinatsis

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