“When you speak Sardinian, you are speaking with a brother”

Emanuele Pintus Band

Sardinian music band

Emanuele Pintus Band
Emanuele Pintus Band Author: Liet International
I met Emanuele Pintus in Tønder, Denmark, during Liet International 2022. The festival is a kind of Eurovision for minoritised languages. It is an initiative promoted by the Frisian people, in the north of the Netherlands. It originates from their national song festival, the Liet Festival ('Liet' means 'song', in Frisian), which is organized every year. The international version, known as Liet International, is now held biennially. The place of celebration usually travels to the town of the previous edition winner. So far there have been 16 editions: the first was held in 2022 in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, where a Catalan group, Pomada, won with the song En Pere Gallerí; the last one was held in Tønder, in the German-speaking area of southern Denmark that borders Germany.

I discovered Liet International through Twitter. I’m a Eurovision fan, so I said to myself: "Damn, there’s been a Eurovision for minority languages for so many years, and I don’t know about it? What the hell have I been doing?" Easy fix: I headed for Tønder.

The town was very small, and I arrived a day before the festival. The funny anecdote is how I met Emanuele Pintus and his band. I snuck into the cafeteria where the organisers gave instructions to the groups on how the gala would go. Only the musicians and close family members were present. I sat as if I was one of them. Observing from a distance, I saw a group of very dark skinned guys, with beards, looking very masculine. I said to myself: “Ahhh, those are the Sardinians, for sure”.

Once they finished giving instructions, the beard guys went straight to the bar to grab some beers and chat. Despite my embarrassment, I jumped into the middle of the circle and mumbled a few words I know in Sardinian. They were wide-eyed with amazement: "Where the heck do you come from? And speaking in Sardinian!". I introduced myself, they did as well, we started chatting, and soon a positive vibe and a friendship was formed that has lasted until today.

Thirteen languages participated in Liet International 2022: Frisian, Franco-Provençal, Galician, Low German, Corsican, South Tyrolean German, Ancient Hebrew, Northern Frisian, Catalan, Danish, Sami, and Sardinian.

Emanuele Pintus is originally from Meana Sardo, a small village in the Nuorese, the centre of Sardinia. It is one of the areas that preserve the Sardinian language the most. He has been an active musician on the island’s music scene for ten years, with underground bands. In 2021, he began his journey as a soloist, with his first album Linna. In Liet he was accompanied by three musicians, and together they formed the Emanuele Pintus Band: Maurizio Marras, from Meana Sardo, Marco Masili, from Villanovatulo, and Andrea Loi, from Lanusei.

On the day of the competition, Emanuele Pintus Band impressed the audience with an a cappella intro of 'tenores', the polyphonic singing typical of Sardinia. They then burst out with their catchy rock at full volume. The performance earned them the audience award, voted on by everyone present in the pavilion, the second most significant award after the festival winner's award.

After a fierce fight between the first, second and third places during the scoring process, which exchanged positions until the last moment, the singer from Corsica, Doria Ousset, emerged as the winner. Tønder then witnessed an unusual, beautiful snapshot on stage: Doria Ousset and Emanuele Pintus embraced on stage with their flags: Sos Chimbe Moros ("The Five Moors"), adding up the Sardinian flag and the Corsican flag, Mediterranean sister islands.

Liet International surprised and delighted me for the beauty of its simplicity. No grandiose visual display, just the technical and audiovisual conditions necessary to present each artist and their minority and give prominence to live music. Attending Liet was a celebration of our languages, and the musical quality was very high.

The entire gala is available to watch online here. In 2024, Liet International is scheduled to take place in Corsica.

Mariona Miret: Emanuele, what is a Sardinian singer doing in Denmark? Why did you decide to participate in Liet International?

Emanuele Pintus: We decided to send our song to Liet International, and we were selected! We wanted to participate because it's a fantastic festival, and it is a great opportunity. I love listening to all the bands and singers singing in their languages. And above all, I love to participate in Sardinian, my language.

M. M.: How would you describe your music? How is the Sardinian language music scene doing?

E. P.: My music is born from punk rock and dies for punk rock. On my island, the music scene in Sardinian has always been linked to folk. However, since the 90s many groups have emerged singing in Sardinian in all musical genres: from rap to punk, to rock… The scene exists, and it’s very much alive.

M. M.: What is the name of the song you are performing at the contest, and what is it about?

E. P.: The song I play at Liet International is called Genia, and it talks about a poor family. The oldest child in the family has to leave home to support his younger siblings. And in this way, Baltzolu, the protagonist, embarks on an adventure journey discovering the world. It is a romantic and a love song. We all have our own history, our own problems, and therefore we need to be respectful of our neighbours.

M. M.: What does your mother tongue mean to you?

E. P.: Italian is the language I learned at school, and Sardinian, conversely, is the language I speak with my friends, the language that was passed down to me at home and which has carried me along the way. It is my main awareness language. Sardinian is the most confidential language I have, the most private one; I cannot find the words to express what it means for me.

[Marco, Andrea and Maurizio, the band musicians, join the conversation.]

M. M.: How did you meet each other, and how did the band project come about?

E. P.: My project was solo, but I created a band to play at Liet International. I needed musicians, and that’s why I called my friends: Marco, guitarist, Maurizio, drummer, and Andrea, bassist.

Maurizio Marras: Emanuele introduced me to music as a teenager. He made me discover new sounds. I mostly listened to disco music, and Manuele introduced me to rock, grunge, heavy metal. My ears were exposed to different sounds: American music, Irish music, Sardinian music, and from all over the world. We started playing together when I was 10, and he was 15.

M. M.: What are your references for creating and playing music?

M. Mar.: I really like poetry. I read a lot. Also, the ‘tenores’, which is Sardinia's typical polyphonic singing. Sardinian dances inspire us greatly. In addition, we always listen to Kenze Neke. Our group has a singularity: we seek to mix classical rock with Sardinian music, and with ‘tenores’; we integrate all the sounds we have heard and carry with us.

M. M.: What excites you the most about the festival, after meeting the musicians and their proposals for the final contest night?

Marco Masili: We are thrilled about everything: the ethnicities, the various musical genres, the history of each participant. And this is mind-blowing: each band sings in their own language. No one sings in English, and this is a wonderful thing: we sing in Sardinian, the next in Corsican, the next in Galician...

M. M.: What are the prejudices around the Sardinian language that you think are not true?

E. P.: Good question. I am happy you raised it. A book could be written on this topic! In my opinion, Italy had to discriminate against all things Sardinian to eliminate the culture, the language and everything Sardinian. A long time ago, when you spoke Sardinian at school, you were sent to a corner, punished: "Don’t speak Sardinian, you must speak Italian." Little by little, there has been a process of forced Italianisation and therefore, when someone speaks Sardinian, they are seen as vulgar, "dirty", old. This process slowly permeated through the school and was particularly strong during the fascist period, from 1920 to 1945.
On the other hand, for me, speaking Sardinian is the most normal thing because it is our language. Italian was brought to me "from the outside", from school; Sardinian is the language of my village, my mother, my grandmother. It says a lot about who you are. It’s a matter of identity.

For centuries the modern world, and North America as a symbol of it, has tried to grab the languages “of the place”, and from all over Italy—not only from Sardinia, of course—, and it has tried to dissolve them, to generalise everything and as a result men are produced like in factories, in chain production. One after the other, all the same. No! The world needs what we are and there is nothing wrong with difference, because we have our ethnicity, our language and our customs; and this changes from village to village: Meana is like this, Lanusei is like that, Biddanoa is another world... and the same everywhere else.

M. M.: In Sardinia, there is a social phenomenon in many minoritised languages communities—women tend to speak the language less than men. Do you think this is true? How do you see this issue?

M. Mas.: It depends on the place. The truth is that, according to that deeply rooted idea that Emanuele said before, since Sardinian was supposed to be a vulgar, dirty language, and because women are delicate, they shouldn’t speak it.
EP: I love women who are not ashamed to sing in Sardinian. I see them as intelligent women, I love it. I know many women who speak Sardinian, and they are very smart. I see many teenage girls who speak to their grandmas in Sardinian all the time. It is beautiful to listen to them. The problem is that prejudice is still very much alive... if men are already prejudiced, imagine women, even more so! Social truth is this.

My grandmother still speaks Sardinian, from Meana, and she is delicate! My grandfather is not, he’s more of an 'oooou!' (typical Sardinian sound). My grandmother is laid back... a woman who speaks Sardinian is as beautiful as a man who speaks Sardinian.

Andrea Loi: Television, advertising, the government, the Italian state... have imposed this idea; in 20–30 years they have installed in the mentality of the people that Sardinian is something "ugly", "vulgar", only spoken by illiterates. They’ve created a real disaster. And now, the current situation makes it even worse: with phones, social networks... Sardinian is used less. With our families, the four of us speak and think in Sardinian... we grew up in Sardinian at home.

M. Mar.: We think in Sardinian, and that is significant. No prejudice, we are proud of it!

M. M.: What is the role of women in Sardinian music, in the past and present?

M. Mar.: There are many great Sardinian female singers: Maria Luisa Congiu, Giovanna Cherchi, Elena Ledda; only relatively recently have women started singing in Sardinian, at least on a public level.

In Sardinian society, which is very traditional, women used to sing mainly when a person died; the dead person was accompanied by a group of women, who sang for hours, with lamentations, prayers; it was quite a ritual. For women to sing as they do now, in public, and with a guitar, would have been unthinkable back then! It was not usual, it had to be something religious; or at home, they sang at home, because while they worked, they sang.

M. M.: What is different for you when you speak Sardinian compared to when you speak Italian?

M. Mas.: A Sardinian thinks in a completely different way than an Italian. This needs to be clarified: a Sardinian thinks like a Sardinian.

Sardinia is another culture. It is a people. For me, when you speak Sardinian, you are speaking with a brother, with someone who is like family, even if we aren’t blood related. The difference is not a matter of translation, it is a matter of way of thinking, culture, mentality.

When you say 'ajò!' (typical Sardinian sound, pronounced "aió", which means "let's go") it's something that comes from your heart, it is completely different from the Italian 'andiamo'.
Unlike the Italians and Italian literature, the Sardinians are not as convoluted. Sardinians are frugal. We speak little, but we say the right things, the essential. Few words, but straight to the point. We go right to the core, not like Italian or other languages that take lengthy ways to say something; not us: we 'deretu', direct.

M. M.: Are you looking forward to winning Liet International?

E. P.: Very much so! It would be great to return to Sardinia with this award. It would be an example. Great joy. In our villages, especially.

M. M.: Do you think that music can make the language more valued and appreciated in Sardinia?

A. L.: What Emanuele has done, writing an album 100% in Sardinian, an all-rock album, is an accomplishment. Getting to Denmark is not easy from Sardinia! Emanuele has done a very beautiful, significant project, which is an example for other artists living in Sardinia. It’s a powerful thing, a serious project.

E. P.: Journalists always ask me: "Why do you sing in Sardinian?". For me, it's so natural to sing in Sardinian, that I don't have to justify why I do it. To the people who sing in Italian, do we ask why they recorded an album in Italian? No! Then why to us?

You are Italian, you sing in Italian. You are Sardinian, you sing in Sardinian. At home, with our family, we speak Sardinian. I speak Sardinian with my father and mother, with my friends, and among us, we speak Sardinian. This is what people need to understand. Sardinian is my mother tongue.