An Interview with Norman Nawrocki about His New Album, CAZZAROLA!

By Norman Nawrocki
Les Pages Noires
Montreal, September 2013

1. What kind of music is on CAZZAROLA!, the album?

It ranges from traditional Italian folk – kind of world beat, but updated – to contemporary Italian-themed compositions of my own that are folkloric, ambient, electroacoustic and somewhat ‘indie.’ The songs are arranged chronologically following the story in the book (CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Anarchy: A Novel), spanning 130 years of Italian history from 1880 to today. There are waltzes, folk dances, love ballads, prisoner songs, a marching band, and different kinds of soundscapes, from a 1920 auto factory and 1920s street noise, to Rome street music today. You will hear traditional Italian instruments on some songs: large tambourine hand drums, hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, bass mandolin, etc., and sampled/looped beat creations on others. Thirty tracks total.

2. Can you give some examples of the songs?

The album opens with a traditional, lone, Italian shepherd bagpipe piece, followed by a waltz by one of my bands which includes a harp and steel drums. There is an acapella love song by a friend I recorded recently in a 15th century Italian abbey, then a 1894 theatrical soundscape we assembled in Montreal. There are well known Italian singalong favorites like ‘Bella Ciao,’ in Italian and English – one a solo folksinger; the other, full band; a 1960s jazz duo; a Romanian Roma refugee accordionist playing on the streets of Rome; a Rome ‘noise’ band, a 1950s swing song with another band of mine, and more. One-third of the songs are in Italian; one-third in English; the rest, instrumentals.

3. Are these adaptations or new compositions?

Both. The album is a mix of interpretations of older Italian songs dating to the 1880s, newer ones, and original compositions by myself and friends. Some sound like they were recorded in 1910, others are clearly contemporary.

4. Why did you make CAZZAROLA! the album?

I’m a writer but I’m also a musician, so I wanted a musical soundtrack for my new novel – CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy (PM Press, Oakland, 2013). I imagined an album with period songs and soundscapes reflecting, based on, and inspired by the book. A reader could listen to the album before, during or after they read the book. Or potential readers might hear the album first, then be curious about the book.
The album is very much an invitation to read the book. It offers another entry point into the novel, and complements the story with real period sounds and songs. It also stands on its own as a audio document: a brief musical survey of Italy from the last 130 years that covers historical events in song. It allows a listener to travel in time through music.

5. How did you choose the tracks for the CD?

I wanted the music to cover the same period in the book, from 1880 to today, so I consulted ethnomusicologists I know, Italian musician friends and others for suggestions. I also did a lot of research, online and in person, through interviews and scouring the Montreal library’s Italian music collection. In the end I chose some traditional period songs, composed new ones, and asked for contributions from Italian friends. I visited Italy twice this year to do field recordings and meet and work with local musicians. This resulted in a few amazing collaborations.

6. Where did you record CAZZAROLA!?

Everywhere! I recorded at home, in a Montreal studio, and in different regions of Italy, in cities in studios and on the street, in villages and mountain meadows. Collaborators recorded in their own studios here and abroad and sent me pieces.

7. How did you meet and work with your collaborators?

I met Italian musicians during previous book and album tours of Italy, and more recently online. They invited me to return to Italy to work directly with them. I met other musicians there and invited them to contribute to the album. Otherwise, I asked local friends and bandmates to play on it.

8. How many artists besides yourself are on the album?

Two incredible bands (DisCanto and Obsolescenza Programmata ) plus two separate singer/songwriters from Italy. One band is folkloric from Abruzzo, the other, an underground ‘noise’ band from Rome.
There are three of my bands from Montreal (Crocodile, DaZoque! and SANN), and an assortment of other local and Italian musicians.

9. You have 30 tracks on this album?

Yes, running from 30 seconds to 6 minutes long. They range from full band instrumentals to single folk singers with guitar, a few spoken word pieces set in soundscapes, including recited extracts from the novel.

10. Who co-produced the album?

David Sturton, a renowned Montreal sound engineer/friend with unlimited talent and a track record of working wonders with everyone’s music, from Jean LeLoup to Bran Van 3000 among others. He also engineered two of my earlier albums, with one of my bands, DaZoque!, and my solo cd, Duck Work.

11. What was your last album?

“Letters from Poland/Lettres de la pologne” (Les Pages Noires, 2008), a bilingual collection of letters set to music from my short story collection, The Anarchist & The Devil Do Cabaret’ (Black Rose Books, 2003).

12. What are your current music projects?

I have a new band, Crocodile, from Montreal. A bar owner once said we sounded like The Ex from Holland. We will record a first album later in 2013. I am also working towards another cd based on the Quebec student strike of 2012, setting my poems to music. I continue to perform many solo violin shows, sampled and looped, with and without spoken word.

13. Other stories about making CAZZAROLA!, the album?

In Italy, we drove through the mountains of Abruzzo one day looking for a shepherd with his flock. We found one, and with the permission of the shepherd and his 7 sheep dogs, I walked through the herd recording them live. Musician friends in Italy introduced me to other musicians, colleagues at work for example, and I invited them to play on the album and recorded them after work the same day. One night, I discovered a marching band in a mountain village and recorded them and fireworks on the spot. In another village, I recorded the sounds from a metal sculpture dedicated to emigrants, and gave the recording to some friends and asked if they could compose a piece based on them. I was incredibly fortunate to meet generous, creative, talented musicians all over Italy. I am deeply grateful to them for their contributions.

14. Is it true that you actually sing on this album?

Ha! I am not a singer, everyone knows this, and I would never pretend to call myself one, but for the first time since I started recording albums, in 1986 – and that’s 24 albums and about 35 compilations – I actually do sing a few songs, sort of. Mostly I do the vocals and play violin, some keyboards, accordion and a wee bit of percussion.

15. Will the Italian song lyrics be translated and included with the CD?

They will be translated very soon and available online from my website.

THE ALBUM, “CAZZAROLA!by Norman Nawrocki & amici,”
OCT 24 – DEC 3RD, 2013, or online from Les Pages Noires
or from his publisher, PM PRESS:

Back to Norman Nawrocki’s Author Page