Rebelde Forgotten Gypsy Songs of Italy
A project by Erasmo Treglia with Acquaragia Drom and Mimmo Epifani
Review by Lee Blackstone
The fourth album from the Italian Gypsy band Acquaragia Drom is a tribute to those on the margins of society, and their resistance. One can inhabit the outskirts due to a multitude of factors: for example, one's skin color, one's behaviors, or one's religion (or lack thereof). And, in terms of social action, one could be in the majority (the 99%) and yet disenfranchised economically by the concentrated wealth and Cheshire grins of the elites (the 1%). Acquaragia Drom are mindful of the ongoing struggle that would see the world turned upside down; or, at least, the restoration of justice and equity.
Against this modern backdrop, Acquaragia Drom continue their quest to reconnect audiences with the traditional worldview of the Italian roma. The band finds itself channeling sounds from around Italy, such as the stigmatized tarantellas of the South, and the saltarellos of Tuscany. Yet while Acquaragia Drom face the past, they also live in the moment and have toured widely. Rebelde is the fruit of such travels, and the repertoire represented here is a mix of wry, original social commentary by the band, and well-known songs from Italy that issue like cries from the streets.
"Tu Vuo'Fa Amerikano"
The opening track 'Rebelde' is the manifesto, juxtaposing Mediterranean dialect with Che Guevara. A sample of Martin Luther King, Jr. glances through the mix, famously declaring “I have a dream,” and the song embodies a movement from the personal “I” to the communal “We.” The following track is the well-known 'Tu Vuo'Fa Amerikano,' originally by Renato Carosone, which sardonically asks Neopolitans why they are attempting to act American. The trendy are made out to be fools. Here, Acquaragia Drom cleverly update the song via sampling, beginning with a recorded introduction to an appearance by President Trump, and then occasionally recycling Trump's name. It is the American President's boorish and buffoonish attempts to seem au courant and capable that are lampooned, making 'Tu Vuo'Fa Amerikano' even more a greater kiss-off to American society.
Other songs, other conditions to consider: Toto Cutugno's 'L'Italiano,' 'The Italian,' singing his identity with his guitar in his hand…Acquaragia Drom enact this Italian-ness, too, and pass it on to their audiences. The traditional songs 'Musikanti,' the moving on of the travelling musican, connecting cultures, and the eternal 'Bella Ciao,' the love song to the partisan fighters. Acquaragia Drom also deliver a version of 'Io Si,' made famous by Luigi Tenco and banned for its “immoral…praise of adultery.” The outlaw sound of reggae meets the rebel song of Greek rebetiko on the band's own 'Reggetiko.' And still, there is the portrait of Georges Moustaki's 'Lo Straniero,' of a “Half pirate, half artist, a vagabond, a musician, who steals almost as much as he gives,” as well as Acquaragia Drom's tribute to Nicola Di Bari on 'Vagabondo' and the miles of freedom he sought and inspired others to follow.
The music is a wild mix, passionately sung and played, and studded with marvelous guests such as Mimmo Epifani on mandola; and on vocals, Theodoro Melissinopoulos and the delightfully eccentric Tonino Carotone . DJ Click brings his remixing skills to 'Pizzica Paliakos' to end the album on an electronica note. At times, Rebelde might remind the listener of Manu Chao, minus his hectic kitchen-sink approach. However, the album's focus remains rooted in the terrific acoustic playing of Acquaragia Drom, and Rebelde ends up sounding a bit like agit-chanson: on the side of the people, which is a wonderful place to call home. – Lee Blackstone