Tenores di Bitti
The Mediterranean Sea meets the Tyrrhenian Sea and there you will find the ruggedly beautiful island of Sardinia. To this day the Sardinian people practice an indigenous style of choral quartet called Cantu A Tenore. Sardinia is a rather large island, and the island’s ancient tradition of polyphonic overtone singing varies by region. Historians believe that this distinctly Sardinian style has its origins in the pre-Roman Nuraghe civilization, which makes it, roughly, 3000 years old. To its credit, Cantu A Tenore has survived the ages and continues to thrive on Sardinia.
The fundamental aspects of Cantu A Tenore are summarized on Wikipedia as:
“A tenore is practised by groups of four male singers each of whom has a distinct role; the oche or boche (pronounced /oke/ or /boke/, “voice”) is the solo voice, while the mesu oche or mesu boche (“half voice”), contra (“counter”) and bassu (“bass”)—listed in descending pitch order—form a chorus (another meaning of tenore). The bassu sings the same note sung by the oche, and contra a fifth above the bassu. Oche and mesu oche sing in a regular voice, whereas contra and bassu sing with a technique affecting the larynx. The oche sings a poetic text, which can be of epic, historic, satirical, amorous or even protest genre. The chorus consists of nonsense syllables (for example bim-bam-boo). According to popular tradition, mesu oche imitates the sound of wind, while the contra imitates a sheep bleating and the bassu a cow lowing. The solo voice starts a monodic vocal line and is then joined by the others as he indicates to them to join in. The effect is somewhat that of a round except that the points where the other singers join in vary and, thus, the harmonies vary from version to version.”
Tenores di Bitti are probably the best known professional A Tenore group and in the following video they give a wonderful exposition on the singing style: