I met Davide by chance, two years ago. I had just arrived in Australia and was trying to find musicians for the collaboration that would become ‘Santa Taranta’, the band that brought the Italian folk revival to Australia.
My search started online, and one day I came across an ad on gumtree that stated, “I offer lessons of diatonic accordion, bagpipe, and harp”. I called the number immediately, knowing that I’d found the first of my future band members. The phone call confirmed that he was, of course, Italian, and from the south like me. At that time I’d yet to discover the quality of his musicianship and the warmth of his personality.
When we eventually met in person I found out that Davide was proudly continuing the tradition of the small diatonic harp, unique to Italy, L’arpicedda.This instrument was used by many musicians from Viggiano, and they travelled the world for over a century beginning in the 1800’s, performing in public places or busking, as we would call it today.
The instrument would often be accompanied by the clarinet, the flute, the triangle and the violin, interpreting opera arias, and traditional songs, enchanting public spaces and providing entertainment in the ball rooms.
Davide, who is not even thirty years old, has an extensive performance history in Italy and abroad. He has played the diatonic accordion (Organetto) since he was five, and also plays the Italian bagpipes (Zampogna), the piffaro(Ciaramella), as well as frame-drums and other percussion.
The famous arpicedda became a part of his life over ten years ago, and soon after mastering the instrument, he co-founded in 2004 the first artisanal workshop for the fabrication of the Italian harp, which proudly carries his family name. The establishment of this workshop revived the tradition of making and playing the arpicedda that had been lost for years.
“Today”, Davide explains, “playing this instrument for the Lucano people means having an unbreakable link to our own land. It means creating alternatives for young people and for our valley immersed in oil, but above all it means reviving a tradition in its entirety creating new opportunities”.
Since the Viggianesi are also travellers, it’s fitting that this passion continues here in Multicultural Melbourne, where Davide has lived for only a short time, but where he has united young and elderly musicians from his hometown. His charismatic performances are reminding Melbourne of the importance of the viggianesi to Australia. The first Italians to settle in Lygon Street in the mid 800’s, were, after all, musicians from Viggiano, who created the vibrant hub from where you might now be sitting in a café, reading these words: Melbourne’s famous Little Italy.
Davide is also a hairdresser. In Italy musicianship and haircutting traditionally go hand in hand, and that’s just one more cultural tradition that Davide has brought to Melbourne. “Since my arrival in Australia, I’ve tried to establish myself in this new cultural and social context, working hard to reach new levels without ever abandoning that link between hairdressing and music. In my salon, actually, there is no shortage of live music. This is a great source of amusement and curiosity for people from other cultures”.
Davide makes it clear that his salon is about more than hair. “I try to offer more than just a professional service. I also want to create an Italian environment by allowing my clients to either rediscover or fall in love with the traditional music of the barber shop”.
Davide’s Salon Davier Hair Italy is surely worth a visit, and I’d also recommend hearing him play. Listening to his strong, clear voice ringing out over his effortless accompaniment evokes scenes of a village on the other side of the world, far away, but constantly present for the player.
As I consider Davide’s story, I’m reminded of the purpose of this series, which is to show the value of musical instruments not only as objects but as protagonists, or, true soggetti sonori.
The little harp from Viggiano is so firmly entwined in the life of this young musician, who went as far as creating a place to make them in his hometown. It’s a gesture that could almost be interpreted as a thank you to the instrument that made the musician, for an immense contribution to music throughout the world.