Anni di piombo, anni di paillettes.

Music from a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

[music:] Pino Masi, Alla ricerca della madre mediterranea (1978)

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Every revolution needs a soundtrack. Pino Masi, born in Palermo, Sicily, and grown up in Pisa, Tuscany (his father’s hometown), has supplied italian extraparlamentary leftist opposition with protest anthems – mainly acoustic ballads – from late sixties up to mid-seventies such as a local Phil Ochs, becoming a kind of an official songwriter first for Potere Operaio (“workers power”), and then for Lotta Continua (“continuous fight”), two of the biggest and most active communist organizations of those years.

Masi founded in 1966 Canzoniere pisano (“pisan songbook”), a collective of young musicians devoted to developing a new form of political folk song; in 1967 he joined Nuovo canzoniere italiano (“new italian songbook”) – a similar group which gathered singer/songwriters from all over the country, which could be somehow compared to cuban Grupo de Experimentación Sonora – playing with the likes of Giovanna Marini, Giovanna Daffini, Enzo Delre, Ivan Della Mea.

During the hot decade between 1967 and 1977 he worked, among others, with psychiatrist Franco Basaglia, jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini, Nobel prize winner Dario Fo, Julien Beck’s Living Theatre, managing festivals and happenings, co-authoring and writing the score for the documentary 12 dicembre (“december 12th”) by Pier Paolo Pasolini about the 1969 fascist bomb attack in piazza Fontana, Milan (a turning point in italian contemporary history), and releasing a bunch of songs – often instant classics – for the movement, such as La violenza (“the violence”), L’ora del fucile (“the shotgun hour”), La ballata del Pinelli (“the ballad of Pinelli”), never giving up actual militancy.

The peak of this phase came in 1976, with the transitory album Compagno sembra ieri (“comrade, it seems yesterday”) and his legendary nude performance on the main stage at the Parco Lambro alternative music festival in Milan (you can see an excerpt here). But a new level was coming. His friendship with Ornette Coleman and Steve Lacy, met at concerts in Pisa, opened him to the free jazz scene; meanwhile, he had started a personal process of discovering of the mediterranean roots of italian folk, studying south-italian, north-african and middle-eastern musical structures.

Alla ricerca della madre mediterranea (“in search of the mediterranean mother”), released on Cramps in 1978, is the result of these diverse and seemingly incompatible influences: a destructured six-movements free folk simphony echoing Moroccan and Arabian hymnodies, shattered by feverish rythm patterns and broken with experimental inserts, with Masi and his all-star backing band featuring Donald “Rafael” Garrett – formerly bass and wind player with Coltrane, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Coleman himself – experimental jazz bassist Roberto Della Grotta, and Lucio Fabbri on the violin, grappling with upset traditionals such as Su patriotu sardu a sos feudatarios (a sardinian protest song from the Eighteenth century, on which is based Procurate moderare), and Abballati abballati, an obsessive tarantella from Sicily.

It’s the dark side of the Mediterranean. Music which comes from an unknown time and space between Luciano Cilio, Area, early Claudio Rocchi and avant folksters such as Aktuala, Canzoniere del Lazio or Carnascialia. Full of mistery, rage and joy of life, just as traditional music manages to be in its highest moments.

Here is the tracklist:

01, Un giorno a Tangeri (“one day in Tangier”)
02, Festa al campo profughi (“feast at the refugee camp”)
03, Procurate moderare (“provide to moderate”)
04, Terrasini perché (“Terrasini because”)
05, Abballati abballati (“dance dance”)
06, Marrakech insieme (“Marrakech together”)

Get it: Pino Masi, Alla ricerca della madre mediterranea (1978 )

In 1986 Pino Masi moved to Sicily to work as a painter, helping his friend Mauro Rostagno with his rehab community Saman, until the latter’s murder by the hands of mafia killers in 1988. He acted as a human shield in the first Iraqi war in 1991, then working as a cooperant with UN in children’s defense and recovery. He now lives in the countryside around Pisa with his family. You can happen to meet him in the town’s taverns, where he sometimes pops up to play old songs as a busker.

His current musical project is the “transmediterranean theatrical-musical company” called Tribal Karma Ensemble. He has also played gigs and recorded with the combat folksters Folkabbestia! from Bari.

2 Responses

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  1. Wow, this is great! I’ve only listened to it once but I will dig deeper into this…

    Grazie!

    Edgar Olivier Charles

    January 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm

  2. you’re welcome! i’m just sorry for the poor sound quality…

    alteralter

    January 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm


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