Cantastoria comes from Italian for “story-singer” and is known by many other names around the world. It is a theatrical form where a performer tells or sings a story while gesturing to a series of images. These images can be painted, printed or drawn on any sort of material.
The storyteller is a traditional figure of oral literature and folk culture, a street artist who moved in the squares and told with the song a story, both ancient, often in a new reworking, and referring to contemporary events and events. The stories narrated became part of the collective cultural baggage of a community.
The singers accompanied the “Cantata” with an instrument: it was usually the guitar, but they also used others, like the accordion (or the lyre in the most remote times). They helped with a billboard on which the story was depicted, described in the main scenes. Their work was remunerated with the offers of the spectators or with the sale of flying sheets, on which the story was described. After the ’50s, with the advent of vinyl, these stories were recorded and sold on records, first at 78 laps then 45.
The tradition derives from distant precedents, such as the Greek aedi and rapsodi, the jesters, minstrels, Celtic bards, troubadours or troveri of the French Middle Ages and in the Sicilian poetic school. Similar figures are also present in Islamic and Indian culture (typical chitrakar women of West Bengal ) and African.
Starting from the 14th century, they distanced themselves from the more cultured literature and contributed to spreading in dialect the deeds of the Carolingian paladins of the chanson de geste, also the subject of the Opera dei Pupi. They had the maximum flowering in 17th-century Sicily, in 18th-century Rome (whose greatest exponent was Andrea Faretta) and were supported by the Church with the aim of spreading the stories of the saints and the Bible to the people. In 1661 in Palermo the Jesuits constituted the congregation of the “Orbi”, blind singers who were taught to play a musical instrument and who were linked to exclusively religious subjects under ecclesiastical control.
Cantastoria originated from the 16th century until the middle of the 19th century, sometimes later (but it is rather a parody of the original comradary song, eg Jan Werich, some kind of reminiscence was used by Pavel Kohout in the play Dobrá píseň). Their singing with the sculptor was mostly accompanied by the sale of their texts. Due to the considerable length of the text of the crazy songs, most of them fell into oblivion
Cantastoria is very varied, it includes epic and lyric, from songs (ballads or morytats) about tragic events, recruiting and military songs, it contains spiritual and love lyrics and, last but not least, satire. The long and comprehensive name in the style of “The Newest Song of the True and Pitiful Event,” as a childless woman, with a love of madness, strangled the innocent son of her own husband, which happened in August of the year, is a typical (also one of the most paranoid characters) 1885 “, mostly singing on a melody of folk or popular song, its own melody only rarely.
The courageous song begins with the audience (“Listen to what happened, Christians mocking, what is really true, no lie, what really is two miles from Žatec, under the forest in that valley, there stands a village.” the song “The sad story that happened in the Zatec region”) ends with a moral lesson (“Now we can dare to know what a craving can do, who wants to rely on another fortune, for God’s sake always ask for help, Holy Mother Barbora, Christ the Savior. from the same song). Other typical features include engagement and dramatic storyline (frequent supernatural phenomena), sensationality, some boldness, exact location of time and tracking time (usually based on real events). The rhyme is often very incoherent, mostly the place of coldness is mere assonance, while the singing of a comrade song is also a typical scroll of accent. Cradle songs are mostly written in a non-written, spoken language, often a dialect. Very often, they also include dialogues (the clerks often performed as families, one family member sang one part, the other one), in which some kind of folk drama can be seen.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, banister singers moved from place to place, reporting on gruesome stories, murders, love, catastrophes and exciting political events at fairs, festivals, marketplaces, in harbors, the streets of cities or on the village meadow , Bänkelsänger were therefore also counted as a traveling people, and it was not uncommon war disabled or “cripples” who sought to make their livelihood with it.
During his lecture, the banter singer stood on a small bench, the Bänkel. He usually showed with a long staff on a picture board with some drawings that illustrated his morality. Often he accompanied his performance musically with a hurdy-gurdy, violin, lute, or later the barrel organ.
Story-singer in different countries:
In 6th-century India, religious tales called saubhikas were performed by traveling storytellers who carried banners painted with images of gods from house to house. Another form called yamapapaka featured vertical cloth scrolls accompanied by sung stories of the afterlife. Nowadays, this Indian traditional art is still performed by Chitrakar women of West Bengal. In Tibet this was known as ma-ni-pa and in China this was known as pien. In Indonesia the scroll was made horizontal and became the wayang beber and employed four performers: a man who sings the story, two men who operate the rolling of the scroll, and a woman who holds a lamp to illuminate particular pictures featured in the story. Other Indonesian theater forms such as wayang kulit, a shadow play, and wayang golek, rod puppetry, developed around the same time and are still performed today.
In Japan, cantastoria appears as etoki (絵解) or emaki (絵巻) in the form of hanging scrolls divided into separate panels, foreshadowing the immensely popular manga, or Japanese comics. Etoki sometimes took the shape of little booklets, or even displays of dolls posed on the roadside with backgrounds behind them. In the 20th century, Japanese candymen would bicycle around with serial shows called kamishibai (紙芝居) where the story was told to a series of changing pictures that slid in and out of an open-framed box. Some kamishibai shows had a peep show element to them, where a viewer could pay extra to peer through a hole and see a supposed artifact from the story.
In 16th-century Italy, prayers would often be sung in the presence of illuminated scrolls while secular society produced the cantambanco or “singing bench” where a person would stand on a bench point to pictures with a stick.
In Spain up to the 19th century there were blind men with a young “helper” who would make a living by going from town to town where they would display illustrations and the blind man would recite/sing the story, often about truculent crimes, while his helper pointed at the illustration relevant at that point. These were called “romances de ciego” (blind man stories).
The singing bench migrated northward to Central and Northern Europe where it served as sensationalist quasi-news about murder, fires, death, affairs, sex scandals and the like. Performers of such controversial bench songs were seen as vagrants and troublemakers and were often arrested, exiled, or ostracised for their activities.
In Persia, parda-dari (compare India’s paradari) banner artists had the foresight to paint a handsome police officer in the corner as a fail-safe against the wrath of police harassment—the narrator would be relating the tale of a hero’s exploits and when a cop would appear in the crowd the narrator would point to the cop on the banner and shower the character with flattery in the context of the story.
In Czechoslovakia banner shows were called kramářská píseň. Most of them fell into an oblivion, with the notable exception of a parody song Cannoneer Jabůrek.
In Hungary the term is képmutogatás.
In Germany itinerant balladeers performed Moritat or Bänkelsang (bench song) banner shows for four centuries until the Nazis banned the practice in the 1940s. The German Bänkelsang survives in Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (German: Die Dreigroschenoper) and in the performance work of Peter Schumann.
In aboriginal Australia storytellers paint story sequences on tree bark and also on themselves for the purposes of performing the tale.
In the 19th century, giant scrolling moving panorama performances were performed throughout the United Kingdom and United States. The 20th century has seen cantastoria employed by the radical art, theater and puppetry movements to tell stories from perspectives outside of the mainstream media, especially by the Bread and Puppet Theater. Elements of picture storytelling can also be seen in the portable mural-posters of the Beehive Collective.