FolkWorld #69 07/2019
© Pío Fernández

The Sea Unites Us

We are facing another blazing summer with new record high temperatures. For those of us living in southern Europe this heat, the seasonal forest fires, and the lack of rainfall can become an unpleasant reminder of how fast our planet may be approaching some kind of apocalyptic climate crisis. But for people living in latitudes below the Mediterranean sea, those extreme ambient conditions that can make agriculture unfeasible, put on top of all kinds of sociopolitical conflicts, are already an apocalypse that pushes them to cross the African continent and the sea by the thousands. For the ‘lucky’ ones this forced race may have a first and dramatic arrival in Europe in the southern coasts of Spain, Italy, or Greece.


Artist Video Newpoli @ FROG

In the past decades, several folk bands in these countries have become directly aware of the tragic circumstances taking place in the region, thus having an expressive reflection in their lyrics & music. As their promotional motto states: “The Sea Unites Us: Newpoli draws on southern Italy’s deep traditions and trans-Mediterranean connections to humanize migrants on Mediterraneo”.

Newpoli’s Carmen Marsico & Angela Rossi (lead & background vocals), and Fabio Pirozzolo (percussions & vocals) grew up hearing the ornaments and songs in their corner of southern Italy, Campania and Basilicata: The ballads and women’s songs vibrating with intricate ornaments, the voices raised at church or in kitchens to the thrum and tamburello.

Yet over time, they and their musical kindred spirits in the Boston-based band began to hear other things, the microtonal and rhythmic moments that hinted at a wider musical world. From bare field recordings to passionately arranged traditional and original pieces, Newpoli traces and expands these sounds on ‘Mediterraneo’. Chants, pizzicas and tarantellas (the latter performed to counteract the stultifying effects of spider bites) cross paths with new songs and tunes and instruments, insisting we bond more closely at both neighbors and the newcomers in our midst.

The wider geographic resonances of very regional traditions mirrors the fates of the people who moved around the Mediterranean, from North Africa and Greece to Italy and the Levant. These movements live on in today’s struggles and crises, as people seek new homes in the face of conflict and chaos, coming to southern Italy for refuge or fleeing the region in hopes of economic stability. These stories move Newpoli and have helped forge the band’s sound, which they like to call “Mediterranean Pulse” / “Ritmi della terra”.

Newpoli: Mediterraneo

Newpoli "Mediterraneo"
(CD, Beartones, 2018)

“We are not a strictly traditional band by any stretch of the imagination. If it sounds right, we’ll add a fretless bass or a guitar banjo to a song”, says Marsico . “That said, we compose originals while looking at the traditional style”.

This eclectic spirit transcends fluidly for example in the first song, “Mediterraneo”, with a music of intense oriental flavors, and lyrics that describe the desperation, the anguish and the hopes of a family that jumps in one of those boats of uncertain robustness that depart from a northern Africa beach sailing north.

On the other hand, ‘So’ Emigrant’, may sound closer to some Italian trad music, and the lyrics talk about the conflict of identities between the new arrived ones, the locals, and how the immigrant ends up no longer understanding where exactly he belongs to.

Besides Newpoli’s honest humanitarian messages, their album is a magnificent exercise on Mediterranean folk music from both sea sides, performed by artists such as: Angela Rossi (vocals), Daniel Meyesr (woodwinds, frame drum, zampogna, vocals), Fabio Pirozzolo (Italian & Arab percussions, vocals), Karen Burciaga (violin, small percussion, vocals), Björn Wennäs (guitars, mandola, vocals), Carmen Marsico (lead & background vocals), Jeff McAuliffe (fretless bass, hand clap) and Jussi Reijonen (oud, mandola, classical guitar, banjo).

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Newpoli (by Liz Linder).

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