The staff of OnMilwaukee.com is nothing if not creative. Over the years, several musicians and artists have graced our halls, including Managing Editor Bobby Tanzilo. As a member of the band The Yell Leaders, Tanzilo has released four albums and toured extensively across the country. But his latest effort, "Reis Monfrine-e," hits a bit closer to home.
The newly-released CD is a collection of dialect poems and songs from the Monferrato area in the Piedmont region of Italy. Tanzilo, who is Piedmontese, produced the album as a tribute to his ancestors, for whom the language of the region -- not Italian -- was the native tongue.
"There was a poem I really liked, it's the last one on the disc, and I asked my friend Gian Piero Morano, who has a home studio, to record himself reading it for me, so I could have it," says Tanzilo. "Hearing the dialect is so much different than reading it."
About a week later Morano e-mailed Tanzilo three recordings.
"Turned out he knew the poet, Alfredo Rota, and called him up and asked him to read them for me. That got me thinking that you could actually do something like this," he says.
Incredibly, none of the CD was assembled in Italy, although it was entirely recorded there.
"It was all done from here with a few men (and women) on the ground over there," says Tanzilo. "For me, it meant coordinating details and making sure people were staying on task. I couldn't have done it without GP (Morano) and Chacho Marchelli of the group Ariondassa.
"That it went from idea to finished CD in about eight months is probably amazing."
Though it's a little early to tell how the CD is being received in Tanzilo's homeland, he says the reception by the people involved has been great.
"They're amazed that an American cares -- and even more so that something like this can happen so quickly. Over there things take a little more time."
The CD contains 30 tracks of spoken word (with English and Italian translations in the accompanying booklet) and authentic music. Also included is an extremely rare 1940s New York recording by Joseph Cerrina, which illustrates how emigrants from the Monferrato region of Piemonte maintained their roots across the sea.
For Tanzilo, it's hard to pick just one favorite track.
"I feel close to all of them," he says. "But I especially like 'Testament d'un munfrin' because it started it all, and because it perfectly captures one man's passion for the land where he's lived all of his 90 years. But I also like 'Luca' by Luciano Ravizza because it makes me think of my son."
Though it seems like a momentous task to produce a CD from thousands of miles away, fortunately, the performers on the disc were eager to contribute. While two million people in northwest Italy speak the romance language of Piedmontese, the country doesn't officially recognize it as a language.
Says Tanzilo, "There are dozens of dialect poets who are all eager to make sure the language endures. I've already got a half dozen people lined up for a second one."
For this musician who cares about so much about his family's history, producing the CD gave him a chance to better connect with this past.
"Being involved with it makes me feel more like part of the continuum. Being part of a family that left, it's almost as if we didn't have a history older than a century.
"Going back, meeting my relatives, making friends, sitting in the house where my great-grandfather and his father were born, learning a little of the language, experiencing first-hand the places and the culture, has brought me back into this centuries-long string of people that made me what I am."
"Reis Monfrin-e" -- produced with financial support from private donors in Milwaukee and from the Piemontesi nel Mondo of Northern California, an association based in San Francisco -- is available for sale on CDBaby.com for $15. Eight of the 30 tracks can be previewed on the site, as well.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.