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January 29, 2009

Sicilian Rocker Carmen Consoli

by John Oseid

Regrets? Musically speaking, I've had a few. For some time, I've been hearing about the young Sicilian rocker Carmen Consoli, who's developing a passionate audience in the Americas. When the singer-guitarist toured here last fall I was AWOL. Bummer. But reading about the island's young generation of movers and shakers in Ondine Cohane's January feature story, Not Your Grandfather's Sicily, got me curious about Consoli, as well as traditional Sicilian music.

A native of the eastern city of Catania, the bellissima singer and songwriter Consoli is one of the most popular talents in the whole country. In the above clip, she performs her wistful song "L'ultimo bacio" (The Last Kiss) live at the ancient Greek Teatro di Taormina. Preceded by an Arabic-influenced flute solo, she and her red dress don't enter the stage until the three-minute mark. But be patient--her performance, backed by an enormous orchestra, will leave you wanting more. Bell. Issi. Mo!

Consoli's most recent album, the acoustic Eva Contro Eva, features a duet entitled "Madre Terra" with international star Angelique Kidjo. With the use of mandolins and the wood flute friscaletto, the album gives a strong nod to Sicilian traditions.

. . . which inspired me to check out The Italian Treasury: Sicily, one of famed ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax's field recordings made in the mid-fifties. (Lomax toured many of the same communities Ondine visited in her feature story.) He laid down songs, chants, even lullabies by salt pan workers, carters, farmers, and fishermen. Behind ancient grizzled voices, you hear the occasional thrashing of grain and snorting horses. You might have expected to have heard accordions and tambourines, but bagpipes and a Jew's harp called a "marranzanu," too? The awesome recordings are downright medieval at times, and a reminder that everyone from Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans to Arabs and Normans left their mark on the island.

There is an entire wave of fine Italian pop and rock performers I plan to bring you soon. For now, I leave you with Syracuse singer-guitarist Carlo Muratori, who is also a scholar of traditional Sicilian music. His tunes "Fabbrico" and "Il Tamburo" on his MySpace page are just marvelous. Here's a medley of his stage performances, in which he mixes elements of jazz, folk, and pop.

More music:
* In this video Carmen Consoli sings her 2003 tune "Fiori d'Arancio" (Orange Blossoms). Here she performs the same song to an adoring audience at Verona's annual Festivalbar.
* Recorded over the last 25 years, Sicile: Musiques Populaires is a French-produced album in the Alan Lomax vein. The English liner notes are a fine primer on the diversity of styles in Sicily music.
* I have just ordered the album L'Isola Blu by poet/troubador Benito Merlino who comes from the tiny Aeolian island of Filicudi. His MySpace page offers several downloads.
* Out of sheer curiosity I also ordered Omertà, Onuri E Sangu, Vol. 2, one of a handful of recent controversial albums of Mafia music. Here's the history behind the malevolent genre.


Goffredo Plastino, a scholar at the University of Newcastle, UK, who edited the Sicilian album of the Alan Lomax collection, also wrote the preface to the so-called Mafia music referenced in your article. Mr. Plastino collected these mafia cassettes and is an expert on them. He ascertained that they were modeled on the Alan Lomax music but constitute and entirely fictional concoction. The real mafia music is Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The producer of the "mafia-cassettes" wrote the texts to the songs himself, after on the basis of a famous anthropological study. Then he hired some folk-type traditional musicians to sing them. A series of B-films about the mafia made in the 1970 was another partial inspiration. No one except those hired to do it, has ever actually sung these songs as folk music, dance music, or anything having to do with real life.

If you read the recent book (now a film), "Gomorrah", you will see how young people will eagerly buy and absorb any media product glorifying the so-called "folk-lore" of the mafia, even though most of it is entirely fictitious. Plato appears to have been right.

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