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Alessandra Belloni, the Tambourine and the Power of “Tarantella”

Alessandra Belloni talks to Percussion Magazine about the use of the tambourine in her musical and dance projects, and its healing power.
alessandra belloni tambourine

Can you talk a little bit about what types of music you use the tambourine to play and why it is such a big part of your life’s work? How do you use different types of tambourines for different types of music?

All tambourines fit under the larger umbrella of frame drums. If it doesn’t have the jingles on it, it’s just called a frame drum, and adding the jingles makes it a tambourine. In our tradition, the big frame drum is called the tammborra (the Italian word for frame drum), and it’s used for the tammurriata (dance). Then there is the tamburello which can be anywhere from 12 to 16 inches — it’s lighter and has one or two rows of jingles. These are the two drums most often used in our tradition. They are all part of a family of ancient frame drums that were used for traditional rituals in pre-Christian times. We still use these instruments today for ceremonies.

Are the different types of frame drums used in specific types of ceremonies?

The one without the jingle isn’t used as much for ceremonial purposes. The ceremonies where we play the Tammurriata for the Black Madonna produce an altered state of mind, but it’s not a trance. The muted sound is more grounding and doesn’t necessarily affect people in the same way. These are fun and used in parties; people might have a spiritual experience with these drums but probably not a religious one. The jingle sound that comes from the tamburello is used in the pizzica dance because it has to be played really fast. The smaller the drum, the faster you go, and that is what produces the trance. I know in other parts of the world, frame drums without jingles are used to induce religious states of mind, but there is something about the higher-pitched sound of the jingles that is very powerful.

Can you describe the way that the tamburello affects people? How has it been used, in your experience, as a tool for healing or spiritual awakening?

It is not easy to put into words. It is music and dance therapy from the ancient times, but modern academics don’t officially recognise it since you have to obtain a license to practice music therapy. The tarantella is a fast, obsessive 6/8 or sometimes 12/8 rhythm with specific accents. It has the power if done correctly, to allow a person who is dancing to release certain things that may be in their subconscious. They will start to spin and feel the accents strongly enough until they fall to the ground and really let go completely. This sequence naturally happens to people who surrender to the accents and the rhythm; it’s not choreographed. With the accents in the rhythm, I can guide the person in a trance.

I can see and feel if a person is entering the trance state, and when they’re not, I can see it too. Sometimes people resist. Most of the time, when people come to the workshops, and they enter the trance, they are able to release trauma that is in their subconscious, especially sexual abuse and extreme grief that causes them to be blocked. The name tarantella comes from the association with madness from a tarantula bite, and the dance allows for people to release themselves from the “spider’s web”. In the beginning, it really wasn’t pleasant because I could feel their pain so strongly. In my experience, people will express the pain from different parts of their body. Throughout the movement of the dance, people are able to unlock something from deep within. I don’t think there is a scientific explanation as to why this works, but it does. All they can say is that it’s music and dance that causes people to experience a trance-like state. A lot of people throw around this word these days, but the tambourine was a shamanic instrument. Since ancient times, people have used it and other drums to induce altered states of mind.

Website: alessandrabelloni.com

Full Interview: “When We Played This Music for People, It Wasn’t Only Healing for Us; It Was Healing for the Communities”

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