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Music - Musicians - Interview | by SuccoAcido in Music - Musicians on 18/11/2011 - Comments (0)



Giacomo Sferlazzo

Giacomo Sferlazzo has the force to live with all the contradictions of the modern times’ man. He’s old and actual, he’s sage as an old man and crazy like a young boy, spontaneous and meditative, he shouts and whispers, he’s solitary and family-man. He lives in Lampedusa and goes everywhere, he knows when it’s time to wait and when he has to go where it’s important to be. Songwriter of course and in primis, but also social activist, film festival’s organiser, painter, sculptor, poet, vegetarian, anarchist. When you meet him you ask yourself “why aren’t we all like him?” because of his capacity of doing all this with a light mood, despite what he decided to do. To be inhabited by a superior force that leads your steps is a chance, a malediction, a mission one must face. Giacomo surely tries it, every time. In Tuscany to record his next album “Quando sono assente mi manco – crisi d’identità contemporanee” (When I’m absent I miss myself – Contemporary identity crises) we had the chance to spend days and nights next to each other, talking, playing, arranging, composing, destroying and rebuilding everything. Without losing a single minute but with a human-size work rhythm, we managed to realize 13 tracks where his songs were dressed with drunken fanfares, punkrock, new wave, freejazz, bossanova, without losing the equilibrium, without losing Giacomo’s voice, compass in this hard days’ stormy seas.


SA: Hello Giacomo, first of all congratulations on your first album “Il Figlio di Abele”. I’ve listened to it quite a few times but really from the first time I felt your music and your lyrics have a special taste for those who listen, especially while looking through the booklet. First of all: who’s Abel’s son? 

GS: I’m Abel’s son, my father’s name is Abel and in Lampedusa that’s what everybody calls me. But there are other intentions in the title of the album, the Biblical evocation above all. The idea of he who is just but dies, he who doesn’t win on earth, loved by God and lover of God, destined to death, a tension, at all costs, towards the absolute. Death is a great part of my life. Of course mine is a mystical route and hard to follow, but it’s something for which it’s worth dying. It’s not the refusal of life, it’s embracing life in its essence, looking for universal love, so easy to talk of and so hard to embody. Abel’s son is me, but especially who I’d like to be.

SA: Can you tell us a little about Abel? 

GS: He’s my father, he’s also my son, and he’s me. Abel is he who seemed done with, and with Abel’s son something which is an end becomes a beginning. It’s he who lives through injustice and embodies it, it’s a peasant who owes his fame to Cain. He’s the mystical proof that god is a vegetarian.

SA: In terms of music, what have your main influences been? And have they changed over time? 

GS: I’ve had many, I mean I’ve listened to lots of music and many genres over the years. The first band I loved was The Doors, later I discovered De André and Battiato. But there’s so much music I love, I don’t know, I’m thinking Dead Can Dance, Velvet Underground... I wouldn’t say that my taste has changed over time, it’s more that I found myself needing different things. For example sometimes I want to listen to Jazz, sometimes some great composer of the 20th century such as Ligeti, or classical music or even opera, the kind of craving I’ve had lately. Other influences are, I’d say, Carmelo Bene, painters such as Bacon and Giacometti, directors like Ciprì e Maresco, and I often take inspiration from the figurative arts.

SA: What are the most unusual instruments used for ‘Il Figlio di Abele’? 

GS: In this first album I decided to use, as you say, certain unusual instruments, which were introduced very spontaneously and naturally. It’s instruments you don’t hear around anymore. They’re not really used at all in contemporary popular music. The vielle, for example, is a medieval instrument which exists in other versions in other cultures, such as the Chinese ehru or the Arab rebab, and which was substituted by other instruments at one point in history, such as the viol. One day the sound technician Alessandro Tripi, who I’d asked to get me a cello, told me he wanted me to listen to a similar instrument, so he put on a recording of Silvio Natoli playing it (and he ended up playing on the record). I was completely taken by that sound, it sounded as if there was sand on the strings and it evoked a desert for me, with the wind lifting the sand. There’s a beautiful painting by Hans Memling called “Anegl Musicians”, from 1485, in which the angels play a vielle, amongst other instruments. The viol is another instruments which I wanted to use instead of the more common cello, another string instrument from the mid 17th century. The tamorra, a percussion instrument, is a big drum on a round frame with a drumskin. The frames you usually use are the ones used for flour and on the sides of the frame there are little discs, fitted two by two, usually the kind you get on tomato cans and jars. The diameter is from 35 to 65 centimetres and it’s a traditional southern Italian folk instrument. On this record I wanted to avoid using a drumkit – I wanted the rhythm to be hinted at, not given as a beat. You can hear it, sometimes, that there isn’t a drumkit, but it was a choice: the absence of tempo/rhythm as such is part of the design. Another percussion instrument on the album is the cajon, from Peru, which means ‘little box’, because it’s in wood and looks like a box. Then there’s a mandolin and a harmonica on ‘Una Conclusione non c’é’.

SA: And what did you use as a bass? 

GS: As a bass I happened to use a fretless base, I say I happened to because I was looking for a double bass, but again Alessandro made me listen to this sound and again I was completely taken by it. This kind of bass is a bass which was born between the ‘70s and the ‘80s, invented by a real genius: Jaco Pastorius, who decided to take the frets off his Fender Jazz as way to allow himself more expressive freedom and to get closer to the sound of a double bass. But instruments don’t play themselves, so I want to just say who make them come to life: so, Silvio Natoli on laud, viol, and vielle; Giovanni Costantino on percussion; Giuseppe Rizzo on bass; Virginia Miorana on harmonica; Paolo Carrara on mandolin.

SA: Is there one piece that you’re more attached to than other, on the record? 

GS: Yes. Lampedusa 24/01/2009 is a piece that I’ll always keep with me. It’s about a day when my life changed, the day that the immigrants normally locked in the immigration centre in Lampedusa came out in the streets and protested with us. There were 4000 of us shouting freedom, freedom against the CIE [translator’s note: Centre for Identification and Expulsion]. Shouting that word, “freedom, freedom”, is something which is always with me and which changed some things inside of me. I believe that if the masses knew their rights and their strength, they could change the course of history, but that most of the time revolutions and big movements tend to be connected to economics, which are of course important, but it’s like getting fat inside a cage: for me economy doesn’t make much sense if we still face human rights problems. Unfortunately not everybody in Lampedusa understood just how important that day was, but it was like magic, we were finally meeting and embracing, we were giving them water and bread and clothes, but it was all very normal and nobody wanted anything in return. Together we were asking for freedom and for respect, for those who escape and move in invisible territories and for us who are from Lampedusa and constantly find ourselves dismissed by the state, or the local authorities, by those who tend to hold the power. I wrote ‘Lampedusa’ that night and I remember that on one of those days marked by continuous protests and marches, and also by open conflict with the police, one of those days there were three or four thousand people from Lampedusa in the piazza and my song came playing out of the speakers. A lot of people cried, and at the start I myself found it hard to sing the song without getting tearful. I hope that soon the people of Lampedusa will be able to think about that day rationally and understand how important it was from a human, spiritual and political point of view.

SA: Who would you like to collaborate with in the future? 

GS: My dreams would be a record with Battiato and a film with Ciprì e Maresco.

SA: Tell me about Lampedusa, the island where you were born. You also wrote a very special song for it. What kind of opportunities did it grant you as you were growing up? 

GS: Lampedusa is a magical and contradictory place, with enormous problems from hospitals to schools – problems that the whole country has but which we receive amplified. Because it’s an island moving around isn’t easy and everything becomes more difficult. The government has often seen Lampedusa, and other islands, as secluded spaces in which to build prisons or military bases, but Lampedusa’s the opposite, it’s a place of freedom. At the moment it’s growing massively because of tourism, buildings are constantly being built illegaly by those who were meant to be for planning permission, a continuous abuse of our natural patrimony, which is all we have not only for tourism but also simply to become better people. Staring at the sun as it rises and watching it dip into the sea, listening to the sea, watching birds fly, all these things make us better as human beings. For me Lampedusa is a source of energy and love, of reconciliation with the universe, but it’s also a place with many practical problems to solve. ‘Il Figlio d’Abele’ has this in it, it’s a very Lampedusa record. Also Lampedusa’s position has made it, over the years, a place where people stop by and rest, and not only people, many other animals too. Today there are some who wish to deny all of this. In the place where the Madonna di Porto Salvo sanctuary there used to be a hermit’s cave where a Turkish marabout was buried and there was a hermit who used to celebrate both the Muslim and the Christian rite in a cave where there was an oil lamp in front of a Madonna who was venerated by both Christians and Muslims. I don’t think that ever happened anywhere els.

SA: They say you’re very sensitive not only to cultural issues but also to environmental issues... 

GS: Yes, I do work with a society called “Askavusa” (which means barefoot) and we try to create new perspectives on immigration and nature through art. We also organise a festival every year called “Lampedusainfestival” with other groups such as Legambiente Lampedusa and Recosol. It’s a festival of documentaries and short films centred on the themes of nature and immigration, and we do other things with other groups to have our say on the political and cultural life of the island. Although it’s hard work we’re trying to put together a museum and study centre on human and animal migrations, on the recent fire at the rubbish dump, where the boats which brought so many men to Lampedusa were kept... it was a real shock, which also damaged our health and the health of the island. I’d also like to remind people of Linosa, the other island which, with Lampione, makes up the Pelagie archipelagus. It’s a volcanic island, very different from Lampedusa, but with a similar energy and magic, it’s a much less neglected island, an island about which I’d like to make a record. Crialese also chose Linosa for his latest film, “Terraferma”. I remember one night when I was sleeping in a cave, I awoke because of an eerie sound, it was as if millions of children were crying together – it was the shearwaters, birds who have a huge colony in Lisonsa. I started listening, and the sky was filled with starts, and apart from that sound there was only silence, this is what I mean when I say that “nature is magical”. Lampedusa has given me so much, not only its landscapes, but also the people, my friends with whom I share almost eveything, the beautiful childhood I spent there, and the problems, also, that I found there.

SA: You’ve written a song in which you almost mock political ambition (‘Ah la politica’) and another in which you de-nounce the passivity, the conformity which comes with consumerism (‘Ti hanno insegnato’)... in the light of these messages, can you tell us about the point of view of young musicians like yourself who are conscious of making choices? 

GS: I don’t really know what other musicians’ values are, but I’m thinking, for example, about a band such as Teatro Degli Orrori, who wrote a sing about the Nigerian intellectual/poet Ken Saro-Wiwa, who died because of his commitment to the battle against multinational oil manufacturers, who have ruined Niger by pollting the air and the water, making it impossible for any cultural or financial growth to take place. I believe in this sort of value – music can tell any kind of story, it can be entertainment, catharsis, spirituality, struggle, the choice concerns what you want to do with it. You need to be spontaneous and not ask yourself what the audience is thinking, not ask yourself whether a song is catchy or not, and if it is, well that’s another matter. I don’t believe that music has to bring some value with it but I do think that art, right now, needs to know where it stands, it needs to partial. So it needs to entertain, to move, to elevate, to make people doubtful or nervous, it has to make you think, it has to create revolutions, it has to denounce and aspire to beauty. The values I would like my music to carry are the search for the absolute (which is doomed to fail), an idea of silence as the highest form of music, the search for forms of civic organisation that are other to capitalism and consumerism, a respect and a love for nature, a sense of spirituality and a sense of anti-racism.

SA: You lately took part in Raduno delle Nuove Tendenze (a rally for new tendencies) in Terrasini, a project which aims to carry on with the work that Impastato promised 34 years ago, 2 years before he was killed. How did the atmosphere on stage feel to you? Do you think that this kind of event can really serve a purpose against illegality? 

GS: I think music can create internal, single, individual revolutions, and that’s already a big deal. If we get together and become communi-ties, then that’s even better. But music is also an intimate experience, which happens in one’s own silence. It was a great honour to play for Peppino Impastato and I’m grateful to those who organised that evening. For me Peppino is a role-model, someone who was vital, who truly loved life and justice and it was beautiful for me to share a stage with musicians such as Alfio Antico, Enzo Rao, Mario Crispi, and the new Sicilian scene. Sicily still has a lot of work to do to get rid of the mafia, which is often inside the institutions, inside the world of work, and you can tell, if you look at nepotism, at ‘respect’, at the idea of ‘omertà’ – all of these are aspects which really penalise us, and it’s to do with the mafia. We need to get our rights back. Our rights are given to us as if they were a favour or a payment. Work, for example, is a right, a right used not only by the mafia, but also by politics to control the masses. Peppino used to love music and believed in its strength in building communities. Playing for him was an honour.

SA: We’re at the end of this little interview, do you want to conclude? 

GS: I want to thank all those who are truly believing in my music, from the DEMO RAI band, captained by Marengo and Pergolani, to Giancarlo Passarella from Musical News, and SuccoAcido and Marc De Dieux, and my many friends who help me make my mad ideas happen, such as Salvatore Billeci, a young director from Lampedusa who worked on my video “Una Conclusione Non C’é”, or such as Kirka, who’s an Argentinian painter who lives in Italy and paints marvellous stuff, and thanks to all of those who support me and who I’m not acknowledging here. I especially want to thank my wife and my children and all of my family for existing.

© 2001, 2014 SuccoAcido - All Rights Reserved
Reg. Court of Palermo (Italy) n°21, 19.10.2001
All images, photographs and illustrations are copyright of respective authors.
Copyright in Italy and abroad is held by the publisher Edizioni De Dieux or by freelance contributors. Edizioni De Dieux does not necessarily share the views expressed from respective contributors.

Bibliography, links, notes:

Pen: Jacopo Andreini, Marc De Dieux, Anna Palazzolo
Foto: Veronica Citi
Inglese: Anna Palazzolo

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