Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Peppe Voltarelli - Calabrian Troubadour

On November 11, 2009, a French restaurant played host to Calabrian musicians in NYC.
Le Poisson Rouge was the venue for the concert debut of Calabrian composer, singer, musician, actor and peace activist Peppe Voltarelli. Alone on stage with just his guitar, he kept the audience riveted. His music mixed sounds from the Old World and the New: Calabria’s earthy, peasant heart with modern melodic lines and lyrics.

The bulk of his material that night featured his CD, Distratto Ma Pero' (Distracted But However), and he will continue to tour Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Toronto and Montreal. He sang Italiani Superstar, Ciao Come Stai and Turismo in Quantita’. Voltarelli’s lyrics often comment on modern life through the eyes of Calabrian immigrant communities throughout Europe and the Americas. With his raspy voice and raconteur storytelling, we couldn’t get enough.

Cutting short his solo material, he introduced his special guest for the evening: Tony Vilar. Vilar was born in Calabria and moved with his family to Buenos Aires. He became a singing sensation in Latin America in the 1960’s and had the number one hit worldwide (except America) with Cuando Caliente el Sol. In America, this song appeared as Love Me With All of Your Heart, sung by everyone from The Lettermen to Vic Damone.

Vilar took the stage dressed in white; his gentle, emotional tenor voice only made more evocative with the years. Along with his signature song, he created an intimate atmosphere with Caruso, favoring a half-whispered chorus rather than the expected crescendo version done by, for example, Andrea Boccelli. Vilar later took up his guitar and teamed with Voltarelli and Marco Calliari (see below) for livelier tunes. The camaraderie and fun these three performers shared was obvious and appreciated by the audience.

The opening act for the evening was Marco Calliari, a Canadian-born Calabrese who blends melodic lines and rhythms from many cultures with modern interpretations. On Wednesday night he drew from tarantella, flamenco, klezmer and rock to create vibrant songs that virtually jumped from the stage. Many of the tunes we heard are from his CD, Mia Dolce Vita. Calliari shared the stage with two exceptional musicians playing accordion and trumpet who, along with Calliari’s guitar, vividly brought that distinctive Southern Italian sound to life.

Peppe Voltarelli’s most recent acting success is the leading role in La Vera Leggenda di Tony Villar (The Real Legend of Tony Villar), which was an official selection at the 2007 TriBeCa Film Festival. Voltarelli is also a founding member of the iconic Italian ‘90s band, Il Parto delle Nuvole Pesanti (The Birth of the Heavy Clouds), which blended rock and Calabrian folk. In addition, he contributed his talents to the theatrical work on the life of Domenico Modugno, the multi-Grammy winner who wrote Volare. Also a published author, his collection of poetry and songs in Calabrian dialect is available in English.

Votarelli’s peace activism is evident in his musical compositions for Roccu u Stortu (Rocco the Crooked), an anti-war story of a Calabrian soldier’s WWI desertion. In 2003, he was part of a concert for peace in the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, which can be seen in the documentary Sotto il Cielo di Baghdad (Under the Baghdad Sky).

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