I Muvrini: Polyphonic dreams from Corsica | Music | DW | 10.10.2012
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I Muvrini: Polyphonic dreams from Corsica

They sing about compassion, freedom and respecting nature. For 35 years, I Muvrini have cultivated the traditional, multi-voice singing style of their ancestors and infused it with pop elements.

Jean-Francois and Alain Bernadini began their careers in the tiny village of Tagliu Isulaccia, high in the mountains of Corsica. Their grandfather had passed on the complex technique of traditional Corsican song to his son Ghjuliu, who then passed it on to his own sons.

As teenagers, the brothers were anything but excited about taking the stage together with their dad, as Jean-Francois Bernadini recalls: "When we started singing polyphony, there would be maybe 30 people who would come. I was too embarrassed to tell my classmates about it," he reacalls. "Corsicans back then were listening to the same music as the tourists, and our songs were seen as the stuff of country folk."

Crossover success

Jean-Francois and Alain Bernadini standing outdoors Copyright: Uwe Kerkau

Brothers Jean-Francois and Alain Bernadini

But there's no sign of their initial doubts these days, several decades later. I Muvrini are now among France's most well-known musicians. The French performers, who named themselves after the wild mouflon found in Corsica, also routinely fill concert halls abroad.

The traditional polyphonic singing style, for which the men stand in a circle and cup their ears to hear better, is still the soul of their music. Since the mid-1980s, however, preserving tradition has no longer been in the foreground for the group. Instead, I Muvrini have embraced being crossover artists, mixing pop and world music with the traditional sounds of their home. Their approach includes using electronic instruments like keyboards or synthesizers.

Purists object to I Muvrini's freewheeling take on Corsican heritage, but the group takes a different view of things.

"We're not out to make purely traditional Corsican music. Our roots are definitely there, but we've taken inspiration from other musical styles throughout the years," said Jean-Francois Bernadini. "Really, we're quite open when it comes to that."

Singing for a better world

I Muvrini, standing outside with a horse Copyright: Uwe Kerkau

Natural imagery plays an important role in I Muvrini's music

They're also open about their music's message. Those who speak with the brothers quickly learn that there's more at stake than for them than just the patriotic and freedom-loving Corsican mentality, in which they take great pride: At home, they are celebrated as heroes for their involvement in supporting Corsican autonomy.

Their dreams go beyond establishing a free Corsica; they also sing about a better world, embedding idealistic messages in their songs. The song "Hazia," for example, is dedicated to the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar, "Dammi" is an appeal to the integrity of all people, and "Fora" speaks out against xenophobia.

The fight for a better way of life is deeply rooted in the island's history, which has been defined by repression and conquests. That history has left its mark, and I Muvrini see themselves as Corsica's voice for a world without hate.

Pathos and goosebumps

There's no question that the brothers have mastered their art. But they're at the peak of their powers when they forego pop melodies in favor of polyphonic singing. Their music can sound just too saccharine and mushy otherwise - the listener gets swamped in pathos and led off into esoteric new age worlds.

But when I Muvrini stay close to their roots, it's easy to get goosebumps as they sweep listeners off to the mountains of Corsica, where the shepherds sang similar tunes centuries ago.

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