The Southern Sardinian Tradition of the Mutetu Longu: A Functional Analysis

Abstract

The mutetu longu is a traditional genre of Sardinian oral poetry that is still performed in the southern part of Sardinia. According to this tradition, three or more improvisers challenge one another on stage before an audience, singing stanzas accompanied by a guttural male chorus or by guitar. The first part of this article provides a description of the whole phenomenon, including some historical background and a brief explanation of the social context, followed by a discussion of the complexity of the metrical structure that strongly characterizes it. The latter section analyzes the way the inner mechanisms work, evaluating the functional reasons behind the mutetu’s particular metrical structure (which reaches high levels of formal complexity and redundancy), the relevance of memory in the elaboration of the poetic text, and the flow of time and its perception.

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Paulu Zedda in a public performance.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Map of southern Europe delineating Sardinia.

Graphic: Elaborated by the author.

Thematic map of Sardinia indicating the territories of main diffusion in reference to the four traditional systems.

Graphic: Elaborated by the author.

The events preceeding the performance at a typical Campidanese gathering (Festival of Santa Barbara in Sinnia).

Video: Marco Lutzu.

The front and inside pages of a booklet with the manual transcription of a cantada dated 1898.

Photo: From the private collection of Paulu Zedda.

Front and inside pages of a printed booklet reporting the transcription of a cantada held in 1947.

Photo: From the private collection of Paulu Zedda.

The audience of a cantada. In the front row are some devotees with their tape recorders.

Photo: Antoni Dessì.

Five cantadoris in 1926.

Photo: From the private collection of Paulu Zedda.

The audience of a cantada. Basciu e contra, the two-man chorus, is visible on the right.

Photo: Antoni Dessì.

Three devotees with their tape recorders in hand.

Photo: Antoni Dessì.

Some booklets arranged on a chair for sale during a performance.

Photo: Antoni Dessì.

A group of friends sing verses accompanied by a guitar at a familiar get-together.

Photo: Paolo Pilleri.

Pepuciu Loni, accompanied by a guitarist, improvises his versu on the stage.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Paulu Zedda, Robertu Zuncheddu, Marcu Melis, and Sarbadori Marras wait for the beginning of the cantada.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Basciu e contra, Giuanni Cogoni and Austinu Valdes.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

A set table is placed on the stage between the chairs and the microphone.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

A chair is set at the front of the stage behind the microphone. Manueli Saba stands behind it, resting his hands on the back of it as he performs.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Manueli Saba tunes the basciu e contra, the throat-singing male chorus.

Audio: Manueli Saba.

Robertu Zuncheddu.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Sabadori Marras.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Eliseu Vargiu.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Antoni Pani.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Pepuciu Loni.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Manueli Saba.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Mutetu in the shape it is performed.

Antoni Pani.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Pierpaulu Falqui.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Omeru Atza.

Photo: Marco Lutzu.

Paulu Zedda.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Pascuali Sanna accompanied on guitar by Antoneddu Pau.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Paulu Zedda.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Elaboration of the mutetu phase I.

Elaboration of the mutetu phase II.

Elaboration of the mutetu phase III.

Marcu Melis.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Marcu Melis.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Marcu Melis.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Antoni Pani, Pascuali Sanna, and Manueli Saba.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Antoneddu Orrù.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

The mutetu as it is performed.

Dichotomy between the opening section and the couplet.

Cantada for the feast of Santu Bartzolu, in Sinnia.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Marcu Melis.

Photo: Robertu Corona.

Mutetu in the shape it is performed.

Omeru Atza.

Photo: Marco Lutzu.

Omeru Atza.

Photo: Marco Lutzu.

Omeru Atza.

Photo: Marco Lutzu.

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