Tag Archives: world music

Vuka! A world club night for Italians from all over the world

(In the spirit of Fiamma Fumana)

After some soul searching, I decided that my contribution towards celebrating 150 years of Italian national unity would be directed towards encouraging my beloved country to be a wee bit less parochial. We boast an ancient and rich culture that grew by a continuous exchanges with other cultures and other peoples – from the Chinese explorations of the Polo family to the London studies of the Count of Cavour, in many ways the artifex of Italian unity. In the present, difficult phase we tend to be overly preoccupied by our immediate surroundings, and so we risk losing sight of the incredible wealth of cultural and human resources just across the border; not to mention those who live here with us, but we still don’t really recognize as local ones.

And so, with small group of Milanese from all over the world we decided to organize a party to celebrate the diversity of our country and our city. We called it Vuka, which means “Arise!” or “Awaken!” in the Zulu language; and we are going to throw it tomorrow, Tuesday March 22nd at 10 p.m. sharp, at Casa del Pane di Corso di Porta Venezia 63 (map). We designed it as a club night for dancing to the sound of the most cutting-edge clubs of Lagos, Karachi and Barletta; and where the Milanese of any origin are welcome and respected. Join Medhin (Milano–Asmara), Nadia (Stockholm), Dan (Johannesburg), Davide (Verona-Sydney-Osaka) and myself to dance away to the world’s beat in a space where everyone’s welcome, and our many differences of living out Milano power up the party.

You are all invited! Wherever you are from, wherever your heart is, if you are here and you are contributing your smarts and energy to our common adventure you are at home with us. To learn more (and get a feel for the music we are going to dance to) visit our Facebook page. Thanks to the African Film Festival for hosting us in its space.

Vuka! Una festa per gli italiani dei cinque continenti

(Nello spirito dei Fiamma Fumana)

Dopo essermi guardato un po’ in giro, ho deciso che il mio contributo al festeggiamento dei 150 anni dell’unità d’Italia sarebbe stato sul fronte della sprovincializzazione. Siamo un paese dall’antica e ricca cultura, cresciuto nello scambio continuo con le altre culture e gli altri popoli — dai viaggi cinesi della famiglia Polo agli studi londinesi del Conte di Cavour. In questa fase difficile tendiamo forse un po’ troppo a ripiegarci sui localismi, a concentrarci troppo gli uni sugli altri, e così rischiamo di perdere di vista le immense risorse culturali e umane appena oltre il cerchio della nostra attenzione; per non parlare di quelle che stanno qui e vivono con noi, ma non sono riconosciute come “produzioni locali”.

E così, con un piccolo gruppo di milanesi che vengono da tutto il mondo ci siamo messi a organizzare una festa per onorare la diversità del nostro paese e della nostra città. Si chiama Vuka, che in zulu significa “alzati, svegliati”; si terrà domani sera, martedì 22 marzo alle 22 (puntuali!), alla Casa del Pane di Corso di Porta Venezia 63 (mappa). È una club night dove si balla al suono dei club più trendy di Lagos, Karachi e Barletta; e dove i milanesi di qualunque provenienza sono benvenuti e rispettati, e qualunque modo di essere milanese è celebrato. Con Medhin (Milano–Asmara), Nadia (Stoccolma-Khartoum-Addis Abeba), Dan (Johannesburg) e Davide (Verona-Sydney-Osaka) vi aspetto per ballare la musica del mondo in uno spazio dove tutti sono benvenuti, e dove i diversi modi di vivere Milano sono il carburante della festa.

Siete tutti invitati! Da qualunque parte del mondo veniate, in qualunque luogo abbiate il vostro cuore, se siete qui e date cervello ed energia alla nostra avventura comune siete a casa vostra. Per saperne di più (e farvi un’idea della musica su cui balleremo insieme), passate dalla nostra pagina Facebook. Grazie al Festival del cinema africano che ci ospita nel suo spazio.

Navajos singing in the Emilian dialect: world music as a trail between different people

I ragazzi del Chieftains Choir a Shiprock indossano il tricolore!

One year later we are back in Shiprock, New Mexico, guests of our friend Mark Amo (director of the Performing Arts Center). Shiprock is in the Navajo Nation terrritory, and pretty much all the students of the local high school are Navajo. The school boasts a choir, and last year its director Bonnie Lee invited us to attend one of their rehearsals. That resulted in a strange mutual sympathy, guarded on their part, perhaps a little distracted on ours, as strangers passing through. This year they wrote us: the choir has been studying two of our songs, Angiolina and Mariuleina, which in the album we sing together with the Choir of mondine di Novi. Can they come and sing them with us? Sure, I reply. A choir of 46 Navajo teenagers singing in the Emilian dialect? That does not happen every day to me.

I talk to Bonnie Lee: I really want to do Bella Ciao world version with this choir, as we did wikth many artists from all over the world. Have you got a Navajo song to sing for that number? Bonnie Lee, hesitates, that’s pushing it too far. I won’t have it: we are guests here, the Diné (this is their word for themselves, it was the Spaniards calling them Navajos) langage should be heard in this concert. Some of the boys nod in agreement, and then it’s decided. I’d like a traditional melody, but the only thing they can sing is a hymn, “Amazing Grace”, translated into Diné.

So we do it: alongside Italian and the Emilian dialect, the guttural and ASPIRATI sounds of the Diné language resonate on the stage. The audience – almost all native – is really happy. Roberta calls on the applause: “The Chieftains Choir!” Cheers. I echo her: “The Navajo Nation!”. More cheering. We thank them in Diné: “Akh’ie hé!”. The boys give me bear hugs and slap my back.

The next day, over lunch, we discuss it with Keith, who works with Mark at the Performing Arts Centre (but Mark is white, Keith is native). I understand that music, for native Americans, is not as important a cultural marker as it is for us Europeans: for them it has a mostly ceremonial function, so the idea of performing it in a theater is a foreign one to them, as would be for us that of celebrating a Mass before an audience, for money.

“It seems to me the main identity marker to you is rather the language, Keith. Shame that the kids do not speak it much.”

“Many do speak it in the family, bu they are embarassed to speak it in front of their friends.”

“I understand this, but I think it is wrong. In Italy dialects are almost gone for the same reason. My grandparents would refuse to speak dialect to us, they wanted us to grow up as Italians, with no local identity. Today I regret not speaking it better, not having heard and memorized more old stories. As a grown up I have started to use dialect again as an intimate language: if I talk to you in dialect, it means you are my friend.”

Keith is clearly intrigued. He tells me about native music: apparently some young people are cautiously experimenting incremental innovations on drum technique (“In some ceremonies the young would use not a single drum, but two or even three, of different sizes giving different sounds; also, they hit the drum on the edges, or slide their hands on it to obtain different notes”). I answer that innovation is necessary for the tradition to be alive, but great respect for the music must be there as well. To make sure I am being respectful when I do something new with the music, I talk to mondine, who are like the elders of our tribe. If they like it, I will stand up for my music even against hell’s storm troops, and no one is going to tell me bullshit like “real trad music does not use grooves”.

Keith is warming up to the idea. “We, too, ask the elders for their advice when we do something new. If they approve you, you feel very strong: if your integrity is being questioned they will come out and say, we approved what he did, we told him to it that way. With that backing, you can’t really go wrong.

As he speaks, he slips into Diné: he says a sentence in Diné, then he translates it into English for me, then another one in Diné, then English again. I am so absorbed in what he says that I don’t get the implications of him using his native language so freely with an obviously non-native person and a relative stranger. I do not want to embarass him, so I put it down as a joke as I am going to wash my hands:

When I’m back, Mark is paying the bill, time to move on. Keith shakes my hand and speaks to ne in Diné. He does not translate. This time I understand his offer of friendship right away, and I want to reciprocate. I manage to find a few sentences in dialect. “A gh’è chès c’ag tornàm a vèder, Keith. Stè bèin, Dio a’t bendéssa!”

Few times like today has it been clearer to me why world music means so much to me. It helps to track new trails for people to meet and understand each other, helped – not hindered, whatever Sam Huntington might say – by their cultural differences. Maybe it’s the light of the autumn sun on the desert, or the sound of the Diné language, or the two days spent in a place where native Americans are a majority, but I feel a little like Keith and I are scouts who have just found a trail. And it looks promising.