When speaking (from ignorance) of the folk music of one country or another, it is easy to generalize and consider that everything is part of a homogeneous tradition, regardless of the region from which it comes. And maybe, yes, there are some rhythms and instruments that are perhaps common throughout that country. But most of the time things are not that simple, and some artists may even decide to take a few more steps.
Roberto Cassani is one of those cases. In his album "Ansema We Stand" he has decided to start with the dialect and folk music of his region of Lombardy, in northern Italy, and to merge them with the traditions of his new home in Scotland.
In his own words: “The writing came out very quickly during the weeks of lockdown in the spring of 2020. Lombardia was hit extremely hard by the Covid pandemic. My family and friends are in Rivolta d’Adda, a small town inside the triangle of Milan, Bergamo and Cremona, hence in the middle of the “zona rossa”, where most of the deaths were occurring. Meanwhile, I was safe in rural Scotland, waiting for the worst to happen, whilst this small community struggled with uncertainty and isolation…”.
So, to overcome that depressed state of things, Roberto (voice and double bass) partnered with six talented Scottish musicians and put together this set of ten songs, eight of which he wrote himself. These artists are: John Sommerville (accordion & arrangements), Anna Massie (guitar, mandolin, tenor guitar, fiddle, banjo, arrangements), Stevie Fivey (drums, percussion), Hamish Napier (piano, penny whistle), Greg Lawson (violin), and Ross Ainslie, who put his bagpipes (great Highland and small) to beautifully flavour distinctive Scottish sounds in various tunes on the album.
The calmed opening song ‘Ansema (meaning ‘together’) We Stand’ sets the basis for the whole album. It is followed by the joyful “Eviva”, where you might find some fusion between a typical Italian beat and classic rock&roll or rhythm and blues. ‘L’Ada’ is a kind of waltz with words from the poet Dino Cremascoli about the river Adda. 'Camion Militari' begins and ends with the strong beat of martial drums and becomes a tragic story that describes the transport of the corpses of Covid victims in military trucks, where the sound of the violin describes the anguish in a colourful way and the pain of the scene.
"L'Arcobaleno" is a tender air that depicts how the children at home overcame the period of confinement by drawing and painting wonderful rainbows that would appear after those stormy days. ‘Eroi in Corsia’ is dedicated to those that were called ‘heroes’ at the beginning of the crisis: the health workers, nurses, doctors,… and who are now probably again forgotten. This is an epic melody developed in the small pipes, followed by the accordion and all stringed instruments, with a powerful characteristic Scottish sound.
"Mpestada Quarentena" is a nostalgic song about the Osterias, the traditional pubs of Lombardy, with an opening melody perhaps reminiscent of an Irish song (like Fairytale of New York), and ending in the great Highland bagpipes. “La Santissima” a sort of ska beat dedicated to the trad festival back home in Rivolta d’Adda, in the day of Santa Apollonia, in February. “Delina” an Italian sweet & happy song dedicated to Roberto’s grandma and her generation, the ones who were first & worst hit by the virus. And then the epilogue, 'An Basi' slow lyrics in Lombard dialect and plucked strings on the double bass, deeply inspired by Robert Burns' Scottish poem 'Ae fond kiss'.
“Ansema/together We Stand” is Roberto Cassani’s exercise in remembrance for those who suffered the tragic 2020, and a way to escape nostalgia by fusing his memories of Lombardy, with the joyous musical life in Scotland. The CD was supported by the National Lottery through creative Scotland.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Roberto Cassani (by Elina Karadzhova); (3) Anna Massie, (4) Ross Ainslie, (5) Hamish Napier (unknown/website).