Occitan language and music

A living heritage of words and notes

He spoke Provençal in a strange sing-song, with the cadence of the Maritime Alps: high tones like sobs followed by falling and drawling sounds, the sweetness of a lullaby... You could barely understand him. But who was he talking to? The man seemed to speak to angels or himself.

Francesco Biamonti, "L’angelo di Avrigue".

Even today, wandering through the villages of the Maritime Alps, perhaps out of season when there is less noise, you may hear the locals talking to each other in a different language, neither Italian, French nor Piedmontese: it is one of the Occitan dialects, languages with a common denominator that can be traced more to a cultural entity than to a state. Musical, fascinating Neo-Latin languages, the languages of oc, which until a few decades ago were simply considered a bizarre form of Piedmontese and which now, together with traditional music (often revisited, updated, reinvented), contribute again to delineate the boundaries of an extensive cross-border cultural area that goes from the Gulf of Gascony to the Italian side of the Maritime Alps.

Particularly lively, in this sense, is the musical production: more and more groups are using the Occitan musicality and, alongside modern guitars and drums, traditional instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, the diatonic accordion (in these parts called semitoun) and the three-hole flute (galoubet). The music of the Occitan valleys is not so much music to listen as it is to dance to, the gigo, the courente and balèt dances that animate the summer festivals, particularly in Val Vermenagna.