Launeddas: The Prehistoric Sound Of Sardinia

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The Launeddas is a traditional instrument from Sardinia, it’s also known as the Sardinian triple clarinet. This folk instrument has been in Sardinia for at least 2,800 years, and are still played today during religious ceremonies and festivals across Sardinia.

I was fortunate to hear a group of Launeddas players during a wine cantina festival in Laerru. It was the first time I had heard this distinctive Sardinian instrument, and it was beautiful and almost hypnotic.

When one of the band members told me how ancient this Sardinian instrument is, I was inspired to learn more about its origins and history.

You can watch the video I took of the Launeddas Del Sinis playing in the streets of Laerru below.

The Origins Of The Launeddas

Sardinia has one of the richest musical pasts in the Mediterranean. The music has been carefully passed down for countless generations, so today in 2020, we can still hear the sounds from the ancient past. The Launeddas open a musical doorway, inviting us into the prehistoric Sardinia.

The Launeddas origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Sumeria, 2000 years before they were known in Sardinia. The Egyptian ‘memet’ has a striking resemblance to the Sardinian Laudeddas. They are depicted on the walls of tombs across Ancient Egypt.

An ancient version of a clarinet is a good way to think about this instrument, it’s part of a group of primitive instruments that go far into the prehistoric past. According to A.F.W Bentzon who was a Danish Anthropologist, the Launeddas were dying out during the Middle Ages, and we converted to bagpipes.

What Is It Made From?

The woodwind Launeddas is made from three slim cane pipes of different lengths bound together, with wax. The slim bamboo canes grow in the south of Sardinia. The mouthpiece is also formed from wax. All three of the reeds are held in the mouth at the same time.

My friend Giovanni actually has a Launeddas, as he used to take lessons in town. However, it is such as difficult instrument to play that many give up. He reckons that there are less than 1,000 musicians that play this instrument in Sardinia, and across the world.

I was able to see the instrument up close and understand more about how it works. The central pipe has no holes, and is known is the musical world as a drone. It creates a harmonic effect that plays continually through the piece of music, as it remains at the same pitch. A drone pipe is also reminiscent of a bagpipe.

How To Play The Launeddas?

While playing the musician’s breath through their nose, while blowing out through the mouth. This circular breathing technique help to create the rich rhythmic burbling sound. This is one of the first techniques to learn, to start playing.

It is a very difficult instrument to play, it can take a lifetime to be able to play this ancient instrument, and the best chances are with those who begin practising at a young age. Luigi Lai is a Laudeddas master, who has been sharing this instrument with the world. He is considered the present heir.

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