Native American and Corsican Polyphonies

Alex E. Smith, Cheevers Toppah & Nitanas Landry -  Rain in July
Alex E. Smith, Cheevers Toppah & Nitanas Landry – Rain in July
Alex E. Smith, Cheevers Toppah & Nitanas Landry – Rain in July [Native American Vocal Harmony] (Canyon Records, 2009)

Barbara Furtuna -  In Santa Pace
Barbara Furtuna – In Santa Pace
Barbara Furtuna – In Santa Pace [Corsican Polyphonies] (Buda Musique, 2009)

As far as I know, "Rain in July" is Alex E. Smith, Cheevers’ Toppah’s and Nitanas Landry’s follow-up to the Native American trio’s "Harmony Nights" (2007). The Native American vocal harmonies that appear on "Rain in July" sound as lush as an alpine valley. These gifted vocalists weave their voices into tight harmonies while mostly singing vocables. However, a few of the love songs supply lyrics sung in English.

The most remarkable aspect of this trio is the inclusion of a female vocalist, Nitanas Landry who hails from Canada. Usually when you hear Native American harmonies, they involve two men vocalists. While the harmonies possess beauty in their own right, adding the feminine voice brings in a sacred balance that resonates well with the earth, and certainly with my body.

Navajo vocalist Louie Gonnie makes an appearance on "Swirling Smoke" in which he sings in the Diné dialect. Landry provides gorgeous harmonies to Gonnie’s healing baritone vocals. "Swirling Smoke" offers such a lovely respite from stress that it has quickly become my favorite song on the recording. The title track features Anthony Wakeman’s flute, conjuring up the image of smoke from sage and sweet grass swirling among trees. The harmonies on this song tingles the spine with beauty and reverence.

The vocalists provide us with 10 luscious tracks ending on a spirited note on "True Melodies". For listeners seeking mellow Native American vocals and lush polyphonies with traditional flute, "Rain in July" hits the spot. For the most part this recording supplies a cappella music without percussion. Yet, you might still hear the pulse of Mother Earth beating along with your heart.

In theory, the original inhabitants of the French island of Corsica could claim indigenous roots. Over the centuries, shepherds herding their sheep in the Corsican mountain ranges developed haunting vocal harmonies referred to as polyphony. The polyphony singers these days sing a cappella, with traditional and non-traditional instruments. Their repertoire is sacred and secular, ranging from 6 to 7 singer choirs, Jean-Paul Poletti and the Men’s Choir of Sartene for instance to smaller ensembles, such as the quartet Barbara Furtuna.

Barbara Furtuna’s recording "In Santa Pace" is the latest to be added to my small collection of Corsican recordings. I believe the vocalists sing in the Corso dialect on this recording, though there seems also to be some Latin text for the sacred hymns. The Corso dialect has origins in Italy, I believe the Genovese dialect, but I could be wrong. But I am not wrong to tell you that the razor sharp harmonies on "Santa Pace" burn with passion.

The four men singers, Maxime Merlandi, Andrè Dominici, Jean Pierre Marchetti and Jean Philippe Guissani sing with perfect intonation and their harmonies flow like honey off their tongues. Certainly this is one of those situations when describing the music provides a certain challenge. Corsican polyphony must be heard to comprehend. And even then, the magic this polyphony weaves defies words. The vocals bend time and touch the heart profoundly.

The bulk of this recording provides a cappella harmonies with the exception of "Veni O Bella" (with its Italian-like lilting melody), in which guitar and mandolin provide accompaniment. Solo vocals appear on that track offering a wonderful contrast to the polyphony. Another solo song with accompaniment, "Lamentu Chi Ti Cerca" sounds like a Provencal troubadour song with its plucked guitar resembling a lute and strains of a violin.

The closing song, "L’Innamurati" again brings in the plucked guitar and this time swirling accordion to accompany solo and duet vocals. The Dalmatian song, "Plavi Plutevi Mora" has been brought in to offer a different type of harmony, but for listeners, this collection of traditional, sacred, secular and contemporary compositions offer bountiful treasures to hungry ears.

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Patricia Herlevi hosts the healing music blog, The Whole Music Experience. She has been contributing to WMC since 2003.

Author: PatriciaHerlevi

Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.


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