LINGUA E DIALETTU (Part 1 - Poesia)

from by Michael Occhipinti & The Sicilian Project

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Sergio Bonanzinga is a musicologist at the University of Palermo, and I had looked him up because he had written some of the liner notes for the collection of Alan Lomax field recordings (done in Sicily in 1954) that became the basis of my The Sicilian Jazz Project album. Professor Bonanzinga took great interest in what I was doing, and he directed me to Palermo’s Museo delle Marionette, dedicated to preserving Sicily’s long history of using wooden puppets to tell epic tales. At the museo, the staff had been told that I was researching Sicilian music. I was shown into a private room and given a pile of recordings, including "Buttita reads Buttita" featuring poet Ignazio Buttitta reading his own poetry.

I was completely struck by the poem Lingua e Dialettu and the passion in both the words and in the way Ignazio Buttitta speaks them.

The poem is a lament for the loss of Sicilian dialect, and those who would reject their linguistic inheritance and elevate mainland Italian above it. The idea of disappearing language resonates with me because my generation of Italian-Canadians is unique. My parents were part of a huge wave of immigration that came at a time when Canada was beginning to embrace multiculturalism. Even as that wave of Italians learned to function in english, they spoke their dialect at home to their Canadian born children. The result is a generation of people like me, speaking a dialect that is now considered "archaic" in Sicily, but with a North American accent.

Sicilians do still have their own language, and indeed a I met many artists who were choosing to write in Sicilian instead of Italian. However, whenever I opened my mouth and chose to speak my parents’ Muoricano instead of Italian, I usually got an expression of surprise and delight and puzzlement too. They’d wonder how it is that I speak "archaic" Sicilian so well, but while they may also like that fact that the language has survived overseas, it’s something that of course stops with me. My children might learn Italian or contemporary Sicilian, but they aren’t going to learn the dialect my parents spoke.

The piece itself was written for a concert at the 2014 Ottawa Chamberfest. Over the years, I've had the good fortune to write and arrange music for festival director Roman Borys and his group The Gryphon Trio, and he invited me to bring Pilar over from Italy and to involve Don Byron and The Cecilia String Quartet as well. The music was inspired by Sicilian church bells. Easter in Sicily is a very magical time, and every town has its own parades and processions and rituals, and I heard a lot of interesting church bells, and used the bell pattern as a jumping off point.


The poem basically says, take away someone's passport, the table where they eat, the bed they sleep in, and throw them in jail, and they are still free. But take away their language and they become enslaved. The poet compares disappearing dialect to having money you can't spend,
or a song in a cage with its wings cut off.


from Muorica, released June 15, 2015
Music by Michael Occhipinti, Words by Ignazio Buttitta

Pilar - vocals
Michael Occhipinti - guitar
Don Byron - clarinet
Louis Simao - accordion
Roberto Occhipinti - bass
Mark Kelso - drums
The Cecilia String Quartet

Produced by Michael Occhipinti and Roberto Occhipinti
Recorded, mixed, and edited at the Drive Shed, Toronto, 2015 by John Bailey, assisted by Taylor Koernohan. Mastered by Peter Letros at Wreckhouse Mastering, Toronto



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Michael Occhipinti & The Sicilian Project Toronto, Ontario

“A triumphant recording on many levels” Michael G. Nastos Billboard

Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Jazz Project dazzles audiences with its mix of Sicilian folk & jazz, global grooves, & chamber music, with old world Sicily meeting the global sound of Toronto. The group received a 2009 JUNO Award nomination (Canada’s Grammy) & the prestigious Ragusani nel Mondo Award ... more

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