Trumpeters And Troubadours: New And Old Music From Italy

Aug 11, 2013
Originally published on August 11, 2013 3:53 pm

World music DJ Betto Arcos is fresh off a trip to Italy — and just because he was on vacation doesn't mean he wasn't in listening mode. The host of Global Village at KPFK in Los Angeles joins weekends on All Things Considered once again to spin some of his favorite new Italian music, along with a few selections plucked from history. Click the audio link to hear his conversation with NPR's Jacki Lyden, and check out his picks below.

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Once again, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.


LYDEN: Gathering up my skirts, holding up my hand, this is the 16th century music by composer Francesco Canova da Milano, one of the most admired instrumentalists of the Italian Renaissance. His instrument, the lute. And he applied his wares for a very significant audience back then, the papal court. World music DJ Betto Arcos is the host of "Global Village" at KPFK in Los Angeles, and he has just returned from an Italian vacation. So he's got Italian music on the brain. Betto, welcome back.

BETTO ARCOS: Oh, so great to be back. And what a trip it was.

LYDEN: You know, when they said Italian music, I thought I was going to hear "Volare," and here, you've taken us to this Renaissance court.

ARCOS: Well, I had to because our trip really started in Florence, as you know, the home of the height of the Renaissance. And what better music to put this into a kind of context but the music of Francesco da Milano as played here by the exceptionally gifted Paul O'Dette in his beautiful "Fantasia" or "Fantasia."

And, you know, Francesco da Milano was a musician that was known to contemporaries as il divino, meaning the divine, which was a nickname that he shared with the great Michelangelo.


LYDEN: These popes, I love the idea of them listening to this - the Medici court and the papal court - and Paul O'Dette, great lutenist, playing from his album "Il Divino." Now, Betto, I can't wait to see what you brought home next.

ARCOS: Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, also known as CGS.


LYDEN: Wow, what a contrast, rocking my socks off here. What are we listening to?

ARCOS: This is a fantastic ensemble from - well, it's a region that's right at the heel of the Italian boot, if you know what I mean by that. This is a band that is the leading force in the revival of this mysterious Italian folk style. It's known as pizzica or taranta, tracing the roots back to the sixth century. But it's a style of music that had a height of really particular popularity in the '50s and '60s, and then it sort of died out in the '70s.

But this band that was founded, actually, in the mid '70s, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, took this particular style of music and brought it to this kind of modern flavor that we hear in this particular tune today called "Nu Te Fermare."


LYDEN: You know, I played some kind of tarantella on the piano. Is this related to that at all, something to do with the actual spider?

ARCOS: In fact, yes, it is. This is the music that was played to heal people from the so-called bite of the spider, of the tarantella. And the idea here is that these musicians, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, are reviving this music to say, well, you know, the tarantella may not be around anymore, but we do have problems of economic crisis, depression and so on, and this is the music that we want people to go to in need - that are in need of some sort of healing their soul.

LYDEN: Wow. "Nu Te Fermare." That's going on my shelf. World music DJ Betto Arcos is here fresh from his trip to Italy - couldn't be fresher - and he's brought us a few wonderful, wonderful pieces from the Mediterranean. Betto, what else got your fancy?

ARCOS: Oh, I have a perfect anti-summer song. This is by a singer named Peppe Voltarelli, and the tune is called "Turismo in Quantita," or "Tourism in Quantity."


LYDEN: Sounds like something - someone who's singing on a Vespa.


ARCOS: Yes, absolutely. This is a single that comes from a troubadour tradition. You know, one of the great things about Italian music is that they have a great singer-songwriter tradition. Just like the U.S., you have all these singer-songwriters, the same in Italy. They talk about daily life, love songs, comedy. Like in this case, this is a song that is kind of a social commentary with a lot of humor about what happens when the tourists come to town but they, of course, want to ignore, or shall we say, avoid the poor part of the town.

LYDEN: Maybe you'd translate a little bit of this for us. I mean, I know you're a Spanish speaker, but give us a bit of translation, would you?

ARCOS: Oh sure. The tune says: Come see good air, the sun that heats the earth, that burns the grass, grows at the sides of the road. The airplane lands on the wave that overruns the illegal houses. Tourism in quantity, I dream of civility, tourism at will, development and honesty.


LYDEN: Once again, that's Peppe Voltarelli. The song is "Turismo in Quantita" or "Tourism in Quantity." Betto, you're no tourist. You're a curator. And I want to get one last song out of you before you go drink some wine and collapse into jetlag.


ARCOS: Well, absolutely. The next one is called "La Follia Italiana" which...

LYDEN: I think I get that one.

ARCOS: Yeah. It's kind of all about the madness of Italy.


ARCOS: This is a piece by Italy's best-known trumpet player, the great Paolo Fresu who is a fantastic musician who counts Miles Davis and Chet Baker among his big influences. But he's also a winner of a number of awards. He's a professor. He's director of a couple of music festivals. This tune, by the way, was composed by the bass player Paolino Dalla Porta.

And this is what he said about the tune. He said: One night, I watched with my daughter the film "Barry Lyndon" by Stanley Kubrick with a wonderful soundtrack and songs by Schubert, Handel, Bach, Vivaldi. And this music that particularly impressed him was a tune by Handel, "Sarabande." And he was impressed by that, and he thought of some music from that period of the sort of Renaissance - after the Renaissance, the baroque period in Italian music follias.

And follia is a style of music, but it also means - with a double L - it means madness. And he said he thought of what was going on with Berlusconi and the whole shenanigans. And he thought this would be the Italian madness.


LYDEN: That's music by Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu from the album "Desertico." Betto Arcos, thank you for taking us along on your trip. It was a pure delight.

ARCOS: My pleasure.

LYDEN: Betto Arcos. He hosts the show "Global Village" at KPFK in Los Angeles. And if you'd like to hear more from these selections, please go to our website, nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA FOLLIA ITALIANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.