Origins and present diffusion
Concerning the origins of Canto a Tenore, many people in Sardinia claim it as being native and dating back to the Nuragic era (Delpiano, 1994 ; Bandinu, 2006). Actually, no reliable and effective historical evidence are available to support this legend. The first documents, in which a practice of singing similar to the Cantu a Tenore, is described, date back to the end of the 18th and to the first half of the 19th century (Madau, 1997 ed. Or. 1787; D'Austria-Este, 1993 ed. or 1812, Angius, 1938/39, Spano, 1840).
Figure 1 - frontispiece of the book “Le Armonie de' Sardi” by Matteo Madau (1787)
Present diffusion is observed for the majority in the center north of the island, in particular, in the sub-regions called Barbagia and Baronia, where it is purported that the Cantu a Tenore originated. At the moment there are 42 groups registered (Pilosu, 2012). Each village has its own melodies (“modas”) and its peculiar styles of singing. The repertoire of some villages with rich and renowned tradition – like Bitti, Orgosolo, Orune, Orosei and a few others – is also well known outside the villages themselves. The dissemination of the practice of Cantu a Tenore in other parts of Sardinia, outside the island, in Italy and abroad, is a very recent fact and it is mostly due to Sardinian emigrants and/or to individual singers or researchers.
Figure 2 - Actual area of diffusion of four-part canto in Sardinia