Interview: Vinicio Capossela – Extracting Music from the Ever-present Vein of Oral Tradition (October 2017)

The cultural legacy of Italian folk music will spellbind our town at the end of October. Staging his latest double chapter album Canzoni della Cupa, Vinicio Capossela is singer-songwriter, musician and cinematographic author. Since the last 30 years, multiple European countries as well as American ground welcomed his authorship and enriched his career with stimulating concerts and delightful collaborations. Once again, he’s now landed in London to praise the roots of musica popolare, the Italian heritage music of and for the community. We chatted with him about this significant tradition and the essentiality of its proclamation, but first, we asked him about his affinities with foreign stages…

Like in past tours, this year’s one for Canzoni della Cupa has gradually moved in different directions: Italy, Spain, France and later UK. How does it feel to perform an amateurs repertoire beyond Italian borders?

It is naturally very different to play abroad. Somehow it seems like music can undress from the rigidities and the reliable famous tracks one might attach to the authorship of an artist… When playing abroad, it feels like the music is almost naked and this allows it to resonate within a natural and comfortable environment. Concerning the concerts themselves, we like adapting slight readjustments to create a better connection with the audience – we enjoy the collaboration with new musicians, as well as rearrangements of songs or performances”.

Canzoni della Cupa combines rhetorical tales and ballads about people’s inner disclosures of the Alta Irpinia region in Southern Italy. It unveils episodes of rudimentary lifestyle as well as spiritual journeys. Does it also create a metaphor of your artistic and personal growth?

This album is very special, as it comes from many years of recordings and various collaborations. Especially it is a relationship with the unconscious and ancient folk patrimony, which is not just about traditional music. Imagine folk like a subterranean trove: drawing from the folkloric tradition, anyone from any country who dips into it will find out how ‘local’ is not so far from ‘universal’… Once perforated, a vein’s blood has one colour only. Recently I met Sam Lee, singer-songwriter who deals with the British folk patrimony instead. We conversed about this similar approach of extracting music from an ever-present vein running in the rich oral tradition, which might be the same that people would speak 2000 years ago – but still, it refers to present and real facts of life of any cultural patrimony. As if universal plants and trees were born from the subterranean trove with the same communal roots.

Do you think that the subterranean source of folk manifests a sacred thematic in the musical extraction of Italian authors?

Well, Italy during the 1960s and ’70s went through the ‘folk revival’ scene, which leaders and characters created a cultural and musical heritage out of. Some of them, like Giovanna Marini and Antonio Infantino for instance, have contributed to ‘Canzoni della Cupa’, but mostly there are some interpretations of Matteo Salvatore’s pieces. He was a cantor of the famine, poverty, and exploitation of extensive estates during the 50s and to this extent, folk preserved local realities and passed on the stories. And actually, ‘sacred’ is a good term as it refers to something we don’t use or enact anymore. Just like the past lifestyle in relation with nature and the elements – a sacred way of evaluating certain truths behind real life. The sacred side of folk valuates this kind of worth life. Under this lens, there is a supernatural significance in the extraction of values and believes through music. ‘Ombra’ [second chapter of ‘Canzoni della Cupa’] explores the sacred validation of cultura popolare and in this sense, there is something sacred about it…

Between the reality everyday life, validation of its truth worth-while living and modern lifestyles… Are you hopeful in the belief that this sacred interpretation will last through time?

Definitely, life is worth-while in the moment of its pure expression. The roots are always there, and the way in which a plant grows up depends on the light and the relationships with the contemporary environments. The evaluation of cultura popolare lives on through the interpretations of its legacy and the characteristics of its contexts.

What is it of inspiration for you to interpret this legacy in the making process of your music?

Whenever the human element is alive in the expression or irony of taking a step back from the reality of things constitutes a method of conveyance of inspiration. Making music is that specific vocation that ironically articulates one’s belonging to a culture. It is a wise ability to transmit such thing. You can find it while reading how authors write books… Right now, I’m into the great Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, and by reading such writing, one finds him or herself wanting to make own life an Opera. Recording music gives me a way to experience my human element and in this sense, it is inspiring to feel someone else’s operas and to meet their intuition of conveyance”.

The 5th edition of Sponz Fest 2017 hosted musical, literary, theatrical and cinematographic collaborations during a week of unique experiences in the Irpinia region. Are there any ideas for 2018 edition?

Living in Irpinia is a pretty unique experience itself, and the organization of such fest is a kind of game we have to play between multiple factors. Both legally and technically-wise, there are always unexpected events coming out which we, unfortunately, cannot foresee. Themes and ideas are always present, it is a matter of miracles that need to come together. This summer saw an incredible mix of moments which we hope to bring alive next year too. We were wondering about the idea to inspire public to be ‘All’Opera’ [meaning enacting, act out]; a citation of the musical genre, but also an invitation to work for something, something in need to take place. Through various art forms, we would love to put together a new edition of Sponz Fest to invite people in Irpinia for some acting out inspirations. We’ll see how these ideas will take place…”.

No matter which country of origin or inclination of artistry interpretation one expresses her or his human element… Vinicio Capossela acts out the experiences of his worth-while living restlessly and playfully. And there’s no other better way to celebrate life and its truths but with music! Something is definitely going to take place on the evening of 30th of October at O2 in Shepherd’s Bush Empire and this is an invitation for you to come and experience it yourself.