A better life. A chance for the future. It’s what makes people leave their homes and emigrate, the sense of outrageous hope that things can be so much better somewhere else that they’ll stake their futures on it. It’s the tale behind generations of emigration and it’s been told once again since the economic crash of 2008. And that sense of movement, of looking ahead, is the inspiration behind Newpoli’s latest album, Nun te Vutà, bringing a fresh wave of originality to their southern Italian sound, where the past touches hands with the present. The result is a disc that overflows with passions, their most powerful, compelling, and emotional record yet.
“In the last couple of years we’ve seen so many more young people emigrate from the south of Europe.” explains Newpoli’s guitarist and mandola player, Björn Wennås. “They’re highly educated, and very skilled but there are no jobs for them at home. They want to work, to have a chance.”
“The verses on “Nun te Vutà” lay out their situation,” says singer Carmen Marsico. “It’s a very sympathetic song, and of course there’s sadness, but in the chorus there’s more energy, happiness – that sense of hope for the life ahead.”
Meeting so many from a new generation who have left their homelands with that promise of the future provided the catalyst for the album as well as the lyric for its title track. “Nun te Vutà” translates as ‘Don’t Look Back,’ and it’s one of five originals on the disc, the first time Newpoli has included their own compositions on a record. But this is very much a watershed in the band’s career.
“The group’s been around for 12 years,” Wennås says, “and we’ve played so much traditional music that it was time for a few things that were more personal. This is more contemporary. It reflects us as a group, and the way we’ve worked together.”
Of course, Nun te Vutà doesn’t desert traditional music entirely; it’s still the hearbeat of their sound. Instead, there’s an almost even split, with five of the twelve tracks written by the band and one traditional from Apuglia. The remainder come quite deliberately from the region of Basilicata, where Marsico hails from.
“The music is so rich there, yet not well known” Marsico says. “It’s really inspiring, and there are things unique to Basilicata, like the stop-and-go between the rhythm and voices in some pieces that exists in, for example, Stigliano, and the way the voices drop suddenly at the end of a line.”
“We want to show this tradition to the world,” Wennås notes. “It’s a mission of sorts.”
And in southern Italy, tradition can mean very ancient indeed. Long before the Roman Empire, the area was a Greek province. With every century people have come from all over, and the music has become a hybrid, each culture adding to the sound of the region in the heel of the boot of Italy. So an Arabic oud appears, while another track has a Turkish beat, and elsewhere there’s a hint of Greece to illustrate the way the entire Mediterranean has had an effect on the south of Italy.
Newpoli take that past, writing in the old style, but this time around they marry it to the present. They make it very relevant for a new generation. The lyrics for “Sciure D’Arance,” for instance, arrived when Marsico read an old dialect poem about the south, written by a poet, Raffaele Ragione, who ended up emigrating himself.
“I immediately felt a connection,” Marsico says. “It’s a reflection on orange blossoms, which are a precious flower in the south. I interpreted it as a metaphor for the homeland and it made me feel very nostalgic. I had an image of the colors and the landscape of my parents village and the song almost wrote itself.”
Inevitably, emigration brings longing and loneliness. That’s part of finding yourself overwhelmed by a new country, and in the driving joy of “Pizzica De La Desideri” the band offers an age-old solution – the freedom of dancing, common to all human beings.
“Sometimes you just want to forget about your troubles,” observes Wennås. “The best way to do it is simply to dance them all away, to lose yourself in the music and the pizzica.”
“Bazaar” has the rhythms of Puglia coursing through it, the power of the frame drum, but it’s a very much a song of the New World, not the Old. And in that there’s all the excitement of new, unfamiliar surroundings and the possibilities of a great future in a country that’s still young and full of hope.
“We played a festival where we live, in a very multicultural area,” recalls Wennås. “There were people from all over, all colors and backgrounds, and everyone was enjoying themselves. It was a perfect example of harmony and we wanted to celebrate that.”
“We wrote it thinking of how perfect society could be,” Marsico agrees. “If only it could stay like that festival.” And in that song they capture all the hope of the time ahead.
Songs of emigration resonate deeply with the members of Newpoli. Several of them have made that jump themselves. The topic is a natural reach, and on Nun te Vutà they address it with grace, sympathy, and power. They understand it; it’s close to their hearts, and that’s there in the best music of their career. With Nun te Vutà they’ve built a beautiful bridge on firm, personal foundations that connects where they come from to where they are now. A bridge of music, a bridge of the heart.
May 29th, Cambridge, MA
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June 4th, Worthington, OH