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

© 2009 Michele Guelfucci-Glinatsis
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.