Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Aug 26th 2008 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
"'Volare' and Bocelli," she says, citing the half-century-old international hit by Domenico Modungno and the pop crossover tenor of more recent vintage.
She'd like to add one more to that list: Carmen Consoli.
In her recent West Coast debut concert on a full-moonlit Santa Monica Pier, topping an international bill with Argentine Juana Molina (the subject of an upcoming Around the World) and Oklahoma Native American singer-songwriter Samantha Crain as part of the weekly summer Twilight Dance Series, the Sicilian singer-songwriter showed that she has some qualities that could well make some inroads on that quest. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by just a violinist and a mandolinist, she offered a set of attractive Mediterranean pop, nicely balancing artistry with instant appeal, sung almost entirely in Italian. There were moments of drama and poetry (spoken-word readings, in English, from an Emily Dickinson piece) and yearningly romantic ballads. It seemed very natural, very her -- and very Italian, from her engaging, intelligent manner to her ruby-red stiletto heels, one of which was employed in working a foot pedal with which she provided tambourine percussion.
That individually Italian quality, she said backstage after the performance, may be the very thing that gets her across over here.
"America has an audience particularly curious," she said, in clear English perfected when she went to school in the U.K. "They want to know about my culture. That's very satisfying to me. Twenty years ago, this would not be possible. Twenty years ago, Italians tried to sing in English, sing the blues. Maybe that was a good thing. But you can be authentic when you realize your roots. That's what B.B. King, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin did."
And Consoli's roots are not blues but the music of the local Mediterranean region she grew up with in the town of Catania, filtered through the truly global rock and pop that was also, of course, part of her life. "I don't want to lose what's mine, but I want to contaminate my roots," she said.
That's an interesting way to put it. But she sees this as a necessary reflection of the world at large, and her own relationship to it.
"It's part of a 'glocalization,'" she said, employing a term that first emerged in the business world in the late 20th century, a manifestation of a "think globally, act locally" philosophy but something that is increasingly evident in a number of settings, such as music and food.
On the latter, we've seen the rise of the "locovore" movement -- the push to eat foods grown nearby rather than transported from great distances. Surveying the cultural front, there's one menu item Consoli is trying to abolish:
"Fried air," she said. "We have a saying in Italian: 'Aria fritta.' Like fried clams, fried bananas, fried air! It means, 'nothing; fleeting things.' "
And she believes glocalization is helping in her crusade, creating an international community of people with different roots and different aesthetics but common cravings. Awareness in one's own neighborhood, she says, stimulates curiosity in what people are enjoying in other neighborhoods, a curiosity both fueled and serviced by the Internet. And as such, the process itself is curious, as the more we share, the more we look for distinctiveness. "Maybe there's a contrast in this somewhat,' she acknowledged. "We're so packed with connected things, we are starving for peculiar things."
Now, let's be clear. She doesn't mean "peculiar" as in "odd," though she is capable of some strange twists. At the end of the song 'Geisha' -- a tale she introduced as being about "a woman who marries a man only for the purpose of exploiting him -- she screamed raw and theatrically, "like a ... geisha!" And at another point, her violinist accented a song by scratching the bow on the strings for what sounded almost like the tortured meowing of an anguished cat.
No, what she really means is "peculiar" as in "individual." She's not playing traditional folk music. That's not her culture. She started as a pop-oriented rocker and has evolved her own vision of musical storytelling: smart and accomplished, witty and appealing, a style that came to fruition on her 2006 album 'Eva Contro Eva.'
She also knows that there's more to making it in America, even a glocalized America, than just showing up and saying, "Here I am!"
Even in Italy, she's not exactly a superstar, but she stands as a solid theater-level headliner after 12 years of hard work touring and recording. And other than the expat fans who cheered and sang along enthusiastically on the pier, she's pretty much totally unknown here. She's never had an album released in the States and has only played a handful of small shows, on the East Coast, before this.
So she's setting out with modest, but hopeful, ambitions. "I'm going to start a tour in September and October, all in America -- New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A., other places," she said. "Just on my own with my guitar."
And no fried air for her as she works the new glocal marketplace.