Calabrian Bagpipes with Jewish Roots

by | Jan 5, 2019 | Blog

The Zampogna
Calabrian Bagpipes with Jewish Roots

Life in my tiny Calabrian village of Serrastretta offers a unique perspective on the ancient traditions of our mountain home. These traditions are our treasures and the sound of the zampogna is one of the most special. The zampogna (pronounced “zam-pone-ya”) is one of the world’s oldest musical instruments that dates back to the Babylonian period,  about 500 BCE. In fact we find the zampogna mentioned in the Bible (Tanak) in the Book of Daniel where it is described in Arabic as “sum-pon-yah.” Although in Chapter 3  of the Book of Daniel the bagpipe is mistranslated as “dulcimer,” historians believe that the biblical word “sumponyah” describes the forerunner of what became the zampogna in ancient Calabria. Legend has it that the zampogna was perfected by sheperds who, when their nomadic life took them far from home, organized evening “concerts” where they played ancient musical instruments including the zampogna the reed flute, the tambourine and a mini-accordion called an organetto. These ancient musicians played to breach their solitude and create bonds of friendship. From biblical Babylonia to the mountains of Calabria – a highly possible Jewish connection!

So imagine how thrilled we were when the earthy sounds of the zampogna came to this rabbi’s door! It happened several nights ago when local Serrastretta musicians, each one with a folk instrument including the zampogna,in hand,  rang our bell and began to play. As our ancestors had done in centuries past, our local musicians wandered the tiny passageways of our mountain village and stopped to play at houses along the way. When our Serrastrettesi musicians arrived at our home, in addition to serenading us with traditional Italian music, we were honored to hear “Avinu Shalom Aleichem” played so beautifully on the zampogna!  Mille Grazie and Todah Rabissimo to our wonderful village musicians who are dedicated to keeping our ancient Calabrian traditions alive.

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