The Lomax travel in Locorotondo


Imagine an American who in the 1950s starts to travel the world with the desire to provide documentary evidence of the life of ordinary people. This American, Texan to be precise, is Alan Lomax, and during his journey he stops right here in the Valle d’Itria. Everything becomes like a fairy tale, starting with the mothers who in silence “still cradle their children and sing old lullabies”. In an episode dedicated to Italian folk music filmed for the BBC, Lomax narrates that “he sees an expanse of olive groves and citrus groves appear from the green territory and the silver sea” but what surprises him most are the “hundreds of white and brilliant miniature constructions (…) that have a magical atmosphere as if Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella suddenly came out of the deep and low doors.” –p. 36


One evening in July 1954 the parish priest of the Chiesa Vecchia, Don Orazio, had warned the local people that someone would arrive who would have liked to hear them sing. Thus, the following evening a dance party was organized, which was also attended by Alan Lomax, accompanied by the Mayor Mario Conti. They all met in front of the Chiesa Vecchia di San Marco, and they all saw this stranger interested in their songs. But what seemed even more strange was all the equipment he brought with him, so much so that Mrs. Maddalena Valentini said “Lenoddë a Uallettë, one of the performers of that evening, confesses that she did not understand that they were recording her, but only realized that“they had ‘nna mazzë pi nna lambadinë sopë’ (a stick with a light bulb on it), there was no electric current! “. – p.50


The day before the dance party, organized for Lomax, the silence of the districts of Locorotondo was broken by an announcement. A voice invited all the citizens to meet the next day near the Chiesa Vecchia for a great event. People looked out from the balconies and leaned out of from the fields, among them there was a boy of only seven, Donato Ciccone. He remembers that day still after a long time, the announcement came from a car! “We were convinced it was RAI. It was an exceptional event for me. We had never heard a car with loudspeakers running through the districts. ” – Pag.51


The protagonist of this story is Mrs. Maddalena Valentini, a very normal woman who worked in the fields when she was a girl and, as usually happened in those days, she sang while she worked. Sixty years later Massimiliano Morabito knocks on her door, he is conducting a research on local popular singers and wants to make her listen to a recording. The audio started and there was an explosion of joy right away, Mrs Maddalena exclaimed: “mannagghia a chi te vivë chessë sò’ ji!” (damn whoever is alive to you, this is me!). It was her, it was her voice that she heard. She seemed to be a child again, her eyes were filled with disbelief and happiness. She raised her hands to heaven as if to thank God for what she was hearing. – Pag 57


In the rural houses of the Murgia it was very common to organize dance parties, they were the meeting place of the time, love could be found there. Although many parties were “at open doors”, everyone could participate, there were precise rules to follow. The mestë ‘i ballë (the dance master) established them and he could even decide how long young people could stay at the party. There was, however, one category that did not have to follow these rules, it was the musicians one. So why not take advantage from this? In Massimiliano’s interviews some players confessed to having learned to play an instrument to be able to participate in more parties and to stay there for their entire duration. Playing was the perfect strategy to meet and dance with more “ladies”. – pag.74


The collection of sound and photographic materials carried out by Massimiliano Morabito has meant that after 64 years a piece of common history has been given back to the community, the individual memories have merged to form a precious collective memory for the citizens of Locorotondo and not only for them. To support this restitution operation there was also the will of Anna Lomax, daughter of Alan. “It was my father Alan Lomax’s dream that the recordings and photos he took in Italy, here in Puglia with Diego Carpitella, one day returned to the hearts of the singers, their relatives, their country and environment as a remembrance and testimony (…) of the history of their ancestors. Where there are no stone monuments, there are these songs and the images of their performers. It is our privilege (…) to have gathered this precious documentation at its birthplace”.


Lomax and Carpitella, after having been in the individual villages, sent a letter of thanks to the mayors, the only mayor to have replied was the mayor of Locorotondo, Mario Conti, thanking the two scholars for “kind expressions of sympathy expressed towards this Municipality “.

Conti shows a lot of interest in the collection of local songs, in fact he asked for a copy of the collection on discs, but we don’t know what was the response of the National Center for Popular Music Studies, because many documents were destroyed by a fire. –pag.49


All the contents from “Sessantasei anni dopo Lomax e Carpitella a Locorotondo. Recupero dei materiali e restituzione alla comunità”, Massimiliano Morabito.