In 2006, Sicilian singer and songwriter Carmen Consoli's album "Eva Contro Eva" went to No. 1 on the Italian pop charts, internationally hailed as Consoli's "return to her roots." Two years later, Consoli is back on tour in the U.S. and making her debut in Milwaukee at the Miramar Theater Monday night.
"Eva Contro Eva" candidly transformed the 33-year-old singer / songwriter's style from electric to acoustic. Her 10th album, "Eva Contro Eva" or "Eve Against Eve" was the first to be released in the United States by the Latino branch of Universal Records. The initial pressing sold out and Universal Records has rushed to do another printing.
Perhaps the biggest singer / songwriter in recent Sicilian history, Consoli has won Italian music honors as well as nods at the Taormina Film Festival. In 2002, Consoli wrote the music for the film "L'Ultimo Bacio." Similar to the manner in which Aimee Mann's music served as the backdrop to the film Magnolia, Consoli's music song came to define Gabriele Muccino's film (remade in the U.S. as "The Last Kiss").
"I think it's important to be brave enough to play your own music without trying to be the same commercial sound," says Consoli via telephone from Los Angeles. "It would be easy for me to come to the U.S. and sing for immigrants or only play classic Italian songs but what I want to do is pass over to people my own traditions. That is a cultural duty that I have, and the same that Jimi Hendrix or BB King had."
Shifting between emotional ballads and catchy pop beats, Consoli is as beautiful in character as she is in voice. Her vivid imagery of the human experience cultivates an uprising for oppressive rule and complex relationships.
"The body and the arrangement is a dress, it's the clothes. I change the dress of my music and my feelings. I like going from one side to another to challenge myself," Consoli explains.
Not only does "Eva Contro Eva" represent a shift from electric to acoustic but the album pays homage to Consoli's eclectic Sicilian roots.
"I rediscovered a typical Sicilian instruments like the tamburo, a percussion instrument made of goat or sheep skin and the sound of the flute played by shepherds on the mountains," Consoli says. "It was the outcome of my experiences. Now I arrived at a point where tradition must have the upper hand."
The intelligence and depth apparent in Consoli lyrics are confirmed in her conversation. Fluent in English with a thick Italian accent, Consoli's words are beautifully stated yet fervidly certain.
"I wanted to create a concept on women. I wanted to analyze the woman's world and describe different kinds of women in society who share the same destiny of suffering but all find redemption. I wanted to look at the woman's world on this tour," Consoli says.
Giving life to dozens of characters, from heroines to oppressors, Consoli creates social commentary through story telling. "Madre Terra" ("Mother Earth") speaks of the inherent connection between mother earth and Africa and features singer Angelique Kidjo; illiciting the connection between the individual and human experience. "Piccolo Cesare" ("Little Caesar") confronts a ruling tyrant pushing to suppress ideals of equality.
"My roots are Sicilian and so my music is in a culture in which overseas contaminations all mix together. Traditional music has a thick texture; a combination of nuances and physical spirituality. My music is a mixture of all the contaminations; I think contaminations is a key word in the modern society," Consoli says.
While her translation of contamination conjures images of intrusion, Consoli's tone reflects strong pride and understanding for Sicilian culture. She insists her island homeland reflects a cultural mix of American, Greek, Spanish and Eastern European influences.
Born in the early '70s, Consoli was influenced by '60s era American rock and blues and it shows in both Consoli's songs and conversation. Themes of cultural revolution, interpersonal expression and societal change connect Consoli's songs and give life to her characters. Exuding "contamination," Consoli's songs combine Brazilian bossa nova, American blues and Spanish bolero.
"I always thought music must be the result of your soul and of your heart wants to say. My music is the result of my own feelings, to be myself 100 percent and on the other hand is the result of my roots. I've come to a point of urgency of discovering my roots," says Consoli.
Born in Catania, Sicily, Consoli began playing the guitar at age 9. Her father's guitar and a familial love of American blues served as musical inspiration for Consoli's first cover band, the Moon Dog's Party. Covering artists like Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane, Consoli got her first exposure to the Italian music industry.
"I think the electric sound was wrongly related to the revolution. The real revolution was rock music. Rock music is not the world of guitars and noise but those musicians in places like Woodstock who broke through with their music. So you can be rock (just) as well with an acoustic guitar," Consoli says.
Consoli, whose lyrics are all written in Italian, is one of few Italian language artists to break into the American market. Joining the likes of Andrea Bocelli -- whose music is a world apart -- Consoli's sold out shows in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles attract English and Italian speakers alike.
"For me, music doesn't have barriers, it goes beyond the boundaries. If you are curious, you look up meaning of the song," Consoli explains. "We have been listening to music from the United States like B.B. King, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner without understanding anything but we did appreciate it. We found out the meaning of their music."
Consoli began working on her 11th album earlier this month. As for upcoming work, her transition from electric to acoustic in "Eva Contro Eva" appears to be an unwavering intention.
"My instrument now is an acoustic guitar. I am searching for the sounds of the past and implement them in a modern way," Consoli explains. "That's my challenge."
Her current international tour, which includes stops in Rome, Bologna and Milan, brings Consoli to the Miramar Theater this Monday, Sept. 29. Tickets are $12 and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.