Italian songstress in Toronto

Carmen Consoli plays the Small World Music Festival this Sunday

By Elena Serra

The voice is the same distinct one as always – one that some listeners would have wrinkled their noses at, suggesting that she get another job. But Carmen Consoli – who has nine albums under her belt, is the first Italian artist to appear at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico (Olympic stadium), has won numerous awards and toured all over the world – has always gone forward along her own path.
She knew from her very first performance in front of schoolmates that to be successful in life she had to do what she was born to do.
More poet than vocalist, Consoli inherited a love of music from her late father, to whom she dedicates the song “Mandaci una cartolina” – nominated for the Mogol 2010 award – from her latest album Elettra released last October, three years after Eva contro Eva.
Corriere Canadese/Tandem reached the Sicilian singer by phone. She will appear on June 20 at 8 p.m. at Mod Club Theatre as part of the Small World Music Festival.
Consoli answered questions ranging from her “musical retreat” to the Etna mountainside on a “beautiful day,” saying that, even in the mountains, “when we’re hot, we go for a swim, considering that it’s already summer.”
Consoli is a determined Mediterranean woman who writes to tell stories, and a woman who would like to have her own family some day.

You grew up in San Giovanni La Punta, near Catania. How important is your land of origin to you?
“Very much, because it involves education I received both from my parents and from the territory itself. Sicily is bountiful, sunny, the people are very generous, genteel, and creative, so it influenced me a great deal. Like all Sicilians, I’m always thinking about the sun. I’m very tied to traditions. I feel very Mediterranean, and my music reflects that both in the melody and in the manner it is played, with tarantella-like rhythms and triplets typical of the south and of movements that are slowed by the sunlight.”

So you would never leave Italy?
“No. Despite the fact that Italy is becoming a place where you can only live if you have money, I would never leave. Even more so, I would never leave Catania because I have a strong connecton to it.”

Has anyone ever told you that you would never be successful?
“Yes, everyone. When you do something that not everyone understands – they don’t want you to be disillusioned so maybe good-naturedly they try to discourage you, but this isn’t a positive thing and it ensures that you don’t commit to the maximum.”

Your lyrics are always very elaborate and meaningful. Do you like writing?
“I love writing very much. I collect stories, tales, and in fact my songs are almost always stories. I like singing about people.”

What is the process of creating a song: do you start with the lyrics or the music?
“It begins with the lyrics because I have to have something to say, otherwise I’m not motivated to write.”

Since 1996, the year your first album was released, your music has undergone many changes from Confusa e felice and Mediamente isterica up to L’eccezione and your tour L’anello mancante, and now with the new Elettra. What inspired these changes?
“I’m always seeking new forms of expression. I like playing African music, rock, and jazz, but in the end I have to always be myself. A bit like changing clothes or hairstyle, we grow and at times things change in us. But in all my records, there are acoustic ‘moments’ and electric ‘moments’.”

In one of your songs, you say that for each renounciation there is compensation. Do you feel you have had to renounce anything to attain success ?
“I’ve never lived my life as it being a downhill ride towards success – I find that [approach] very distant to my way of living. Certainly, if things go well and people like my music, it also means I’m far from home and from my beloved ones and at times I’d like to dedicate more time to my mother and my home, but everything in time. It would mean that this is the time to hammer the nail, as the expression in our parts goes, then there are moments in which…I could be a mother…in time.”

So would you like to have children?
“Very much. I think anyone would like that.”

How would you describe your new album Elettra?
“Each album is the fruit of my creative urges, and this one was a snapshot of a moment in my life, and represents a description of that moment.”

Your new album Elettra, features the song “Mio zio,” which addresses pedophilia. How important is it for you as an artist to express and act for causes that are important to you?
“If in some way you represent an example for someone, or have a following, it’s right that you declare your stance on certain issues. I wanted to say that children should be protected because it’s very important that these obscenities that occur in the streets, in homes, and in churches don’t remain hidden, but are denounced without fear. One must not be fearful, otherwise the victims will always be the most defenceless.”

What was the best moment of your career?
“Maybe the first time I performed, in my school’s auditorium, in front of 4,000 people. I was 14-years-old and as soon as they saw me with a guitar they began booing. I gave the guitar four whacks and shut them up. Later there was thunderous applause and from that point I knew this could be my future.”

And the best moment of your life?
“The best moment of my life is in the daily routine, because I’m healthy and young. I have my entire life before me, as well as many ideas and much enthusiasm. That’s the most precious thing I have, and that makes me happy.”

Aside from music, do you have other passions? What do you do in your free time?
“I like gardening very much. I like to produce other artists’ records, and I also like sports like tennis.”

You’ll be in Toronto for the second time on June 20. What can we expect from your show?
“I’m coming with my guitar and will peform a varied repertoire. There will also be a lot of improvisation because — since me and my band have been together for 20 years — a glance is enough sometimes and we start playing the odd traditional Sicilian piece.”
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