Interview with Newpoli

The group Newpoli engages with musical traditions from Italy, Greek, Turkey and Spain, in the process creating a unique and dynamic take on the vibrant folk music of these regions. Newpoli released the album Mediterraneo last October, which saw the group further developing their own original material alongside traditional songs originating in the Basilicata and Puglia regions of Italy. Just before a show at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis (March 28 at 7:00 PM), vocalist Carmen Marsico spoke with WMCN about band members’ different cultural heritages, the impact of their current home base of Boston, and the experience of introducing audiences to the music of Southern Italy. 

WMCN: Can you please describe the musical traditions in which you grew up?

Carmen Marsico: So Angela, Fabio, and myself grew up with the musical traditions of Southern Italy. It’s a rich tradition that carries traces of all of the Mediterranean cultures sprinkled all over it and it varies quite a lot from region to region. However, not all of our members were born there and I think it’s the mix of us all that makes the group’s sound unique.

What instruments are essential to your creative expression?

We perform on several handcrafted instruments particular to the traditions of the Mediterranean such as: Zampogna (Italian bagpipe) Ciaramella (Italian Shawm) Chitarra Battente (Italian 10 stringed folk guitar) Mandola, the Arabic Oud, a variety of Italian frame drums and Middle Eastern percussions, violin and bass.

Does the group improvise as a way of forming songs?

We improvise within the tradition while playing a song but not while composing. I’d say we have pretty strict arrangements but sections within those that are more open for improvisation and ornamentation.

How does Newpoli’s current homebase of Boston impact your music?

I think that the fact that we now live in a city that has such a vibrant music scene and musicians from all over the world is the main reason we sound the way we do now. We are definitely a product of multiculturalism even though our main starting point is the traditions of southern Italy, we don’t want to restrict what comes natural to us because that is what makes us us.

Can you talk about the reactions you get bringing Newpoli’s music to different areas?

The main reaction is always – this is not at all what I expected! I think most people don’t have a good understanding of Southern Italy, its history, language and culture. Partly because it was isolated for until just recently, geographically and with no real infrastructure. It made it difficult to get to and difficult for the music to spread out of there.

Lately, however, there has been a renewed interest in folk traditions among young people in Puglia, Campania, Calabria and Basilicata. When we are on the road we are always met with curiosity and a need to know more. I would also say that it is a pretty infectious music that really wants to make you dance. Often people don’t understand the words (we do explain the songs of course) but the music crosses over anyway!

How has Newpoli grown as a group thus far?

When we got started we tended to play famous traditional songs, and I think that wasn’t a bad thing per se. It gave us a solid ground to stand on and a point which to grow from. Lately however we’ve been researching a lot and found field recordings of rare traditionals that we re-imagined for the 21st century. We also made a point of writing original music in the style to keep the tradition moving forward. The message and lyrics are important to us and we write about tolerance, diversity and try to be a counter weight to populism.

Newpoli will play the Cedar Cultural Center on March 28th at 7:00 PM, supported by Mila Vocal Ensemble. Tickets are available for the show on the Cedar Cultural Center’s website. .The group’s 2018 album Mediterraneo is available for purchase on the Newpoli website

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