08-06-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
If it is true (and it would be tragic to have to admit it) that singer-songwriters no longer exist, and if they do, they prefer to be called something else, then for Andrea Parodi Zabala we can coin the term 'traveller-songwriter'.
Because for the musician and performer from Cantù, now at his third solo album, travelling has always been fundamental and where boots, a rucksack and the inseparable guitar have not arrived, the imagination has arrived, fuelled by readings, legends, historical research, tales of adventures and worlds stirred up by the songs of masters and poets met on the Italy-America axis.
With a fundamental stop in Kenya.
All this has contributed to "Zabala", a recently released album named after the border-crosser and barrier that Andrea has given himself.
"Zabala" is a summa of the poetics and experiences gained by the 45-year-old songwriter (let's say it in English, which is still possible...) and of some of the most illustrious collaborations he has enjoyed over the years. We're talking about names such as Scarlet Rivera, Bob Dylan's historic violinist, Joe Ely, guitarist David Grissom and many other top names in country-rock and US Tex-Mex.
Some of the suggestions evoked in the 12 songs that make up the album (released in Italy on the historic Appaloosa label, you can also find it on Spotify) were brought into focus after Andrea's trip to Kenya with his wife Elena and eldest son Woody (named after the first great American songwriter, Woody Guthrie) in 2018, when he attended a wonderful, unforgettable evening of music and poetry
organised in Malindi by the Nairobi Institute of Culture. Parodi Zabala shared the stage with the greatest
poet Kazungu Wa Hawerisa, singing his songs and those of other great authors, about people who defended their roots, ideally uniting the traditions of the Mijikenda elders and those who fought for Kenya's independence with the legends of historical figures from Texas and Tennessee and the poetry of the great Italian songwriting school.
"I have no difficulty in saying that it was one of the most exciting evenings of my life,' Andrea confesses. 'Memory and roots are a heritage to be defended, valued and told. What you are doing in Kenya with the people and traditions of the Mijikenda is extraordinary. Thinking about these stories, poems and customs that have been passed down orally, resisting attempts at subjugation and 'integration', still gives me goose bumps. The great poet Kazungu Wa Hawerisa is the voice of these stories, of this proud, sweet, courageous people'.
On that evening, Andrea Parodi Zabala sang many songs he wrote for his grandparents and their land, recounted above all through the letters they wrote to each other.
"They are letters that I found in a drawer, dirty with sand, the sand of the construction site in Diyarbakir, Turkey," says the musician from Lombardy, "where my grandfather worked for years to build a dam on the Euphrates River. Memory is the most fertile terrain in which to dig for stories that are then transformed into songs or poems. It was a wonderful meeting with Kazungu, and the desire remains to repeat that wonderful evening in other Kenyan cities.
The African adventure helped Parodi to rethink and put together the songs collected over the years that now make up 'Zabala', painting with elegance and maturity, with the help of a group of musicians-friends difficult to assemble in a local album, real and imagined stories, like films in which the legend of Billy The Kid ('Where the wild horses run', a chilling track, the only one in English in which Joe Ely's voice delves into the soul) and that of Gabriela, whose story could be reminiscent of that of the many African women fleeing in search of freedom, and where Scarlet Rivera's violin and Joel Guzman's accordion recall the "adventures in Durango" of Dylan and De Andrè. Just as the character in the colourful "Brazil" seems to be one of the many compatriots who have passed through Kenya, amidst repentance and an extreme escape in search of freedom and another life.
"The Kenyan adventure helped me to see the world from a different perspective," admits Parodi, "I learned to slow down, to not give the same weight to all things. I started this record in 2013 and it's out now, three years after the trip to Kenya. And in these three years everything has happened: I became a father for the second time, and then came the pandemic, which took a lot from us, especially the children, but also offered us different perspectives. Space and time disappeared and in a dimension where you couldn't leave your own country, I imagined new boundaries".
During the first lockdown, the musician who is also an event organiser and promoter of artists from across the border, came up with two web radios and strongly wanted to create a connection with Malindi, through our portal.
"There was always a connection from Kenya and at times it really felt like we really were much closer than we had ever been - recalls 'Zabala' -
Then guitars and accordions started arriving from Austin, steel guitar from Nashville, organs and piano from Chicago and New York, violins from Los Angeles, and the record started to take shape, enriched with spectacular guests. These were my new boundaries. The African experience and the experience of being a father were fundamental in learning to see the world with a new perspective.
Yes, Kenya was the trip of a lifetime. I won't forget the feeling as soon as we stepped out of the airport in Mombasa, the taste and warmth of the air and the first dip in the ocean a few hours later. Those colours, the red earth under the turquoise sky, an infinite sky that stays with you forever. The baobabs that speak to you if you know how to listen, the eyes of the children that laugh and run towards you, as you run towards life.
life. One of the most intense memories is the visit to the Marafiki orphanage with Woody, my first son who was 6 years old at the time, the only white child, muzungu, surrounded by dozens and dozens of children.
children. Then in a circle, hand in hand and sitting on the ground, in the dust, inventing a game that resembled table football with stones and small pieces of wood. His eyes shone like theirs, that's the best
the most beautiful memory of that trip. I remember the cheerful faces of the people and a land generous with fruit and fish. The colourful market in Malindi and the time that never runs.
That time that seems to stop when you listen to twelve songs born and grown up without haste, cradled and protected as one does with a child or an ideal, enriched by the journey, by the encounters and by the ability to know how to surprise oneself again and again, in spite of physical, mental and subliminal barriers.
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