Shelter is important—shelter from a coming storm, shelter to hide in from the world, or shelter to seek out those of like-mind and share perhaps a few moments of familiarity, comfort, and conversation. We all seek out these places—whether to be alone and quiet in a crowd of strangers who somehow feel like friends or to commune with people sitting nearby. Perhaps in our dreams, we create such a place that feels somehow like a home for alienated souls. We go there and sit with others who are also far from home and their life-long friends. Here is the sanctuary where we can sit, eat, drink, rest, and tell our stories. I Storie ò Cafè Di Lu Furestiero or The Story of the Foreigner’s Cafè is a mystical/musical journey to a cafè on a small Sicilian island where travelers have found such a refuge.
Because Sicily is located where it is—in the middle of the Mediterranean and very close to Tunisia, very close to the Balkans, and southern Europe—one finds in this imaginary cafè foreigners from places near and very far. Milagro Acustico helps us to experience this in their recording by effectively encompassing a wide variety of sounds that span genres, traveling somewhere between traditional music and jazz. The combination of instruments from the many cultures reflected in their music creates a richly textured sound that is added to by guest musicians such as: Moroccan percussionist and ghayta player Nour Eddine; violinist Jamal Ouassini; Senegalese kora player, Papa Kanoutè; and Pape Yery Samb on djembé. Milagro Acustico is a “world” music group from Italy (many of whom are also of Sicilian descent) who formed in 1995 and has recorded two albums together. (Their first recording Onirico, is self-produced).
The leader and composer for the group, Bob Salmieri grew up in an area of Rome that was built to shelter immigrants who came from southern Italy and Africa. Although Bob’s father was Sicilian, he was born in Tunisia and spoke both Sicilian and Arabic; thus, there was a mixture of many cultures in Bob’s home as he grew up. On holidays when everyone came together for parties and gatherings, instruments were brought out and everyone shared music as well as stories. Bob feels that he has always played music. When he was six, he and his father traveled to Tunisia where Bob was given his first darbouka (goblet drum) by his father. “This is when I, too. began to tell my stories.”
From darbouka, he went on to learn to play guitar then later keyboards. Early on, he was influenced by the music of Miles Davis and Italian saxophonist Massimo Urbani. From this, his love for jazz grew together with his love for the music he had of course heard all his life. I Storie ò Cafè Di Lu Furestiero brings together these elements and becomes a source of reconciliation for Bob and his Sicilian background. He felt that somewhere there needed to be a “shelter” for the many immigrants and displaced people of this world, where they could go and find a temporary home or harbor from their troubles and be accepted for who they are no matter what their past. So, the cafè sprung into existence and we can visit whenever we need to find a little consolation too.
“Ricorda O Me Nomi” (or Remember My Name), the first track on the CD is the story of someone who returns home to his little island after his death. He had left his little island in a hurry and now he finds he misses it. His ghost runs through the streets hoping to find some signs of his past, that someone remembers him; that someone even is possibly speaking about him at that moment. Finding few signs (except a grave stone with his name on it and a photograph of when he was a child) and no one that really remembers him, he enters the “cafè” and finds hospitality. The music starts with a rather languorous piano but builds to a rapid pace when the other instruments come in with almost an explosive quality. In the singing, one hears the desperation of the “ghost” as he rushes around his village trying to find traces of his former existence.
The song segues into a lovely little kora (African harp) piece written and played by Pape Kanoutè titled “Dioulo”.
Although “Sanghe Meu” literally translates as “My Blood”, in this particular song/poem the sense is really more like “my heart” or “my love”. Bob’s grandfather survived the earthquake in Messina in 1908 when he was a small boy. He had returned to Sicily from Tunis for the first time and after the earthquake he was buried for three days under the debris. He stayed alive for two reasons, he related. One: because there was a small stream that ran next to him where he lie and two: because he had a vision of a beautiful Oriental dancer who helped him. This story is not only the inspiration for “Sanghe Meu” but for the gorgeous painting on the CD’s cover. The music has an “oriental” feel and the narrator tells the story rather than sings it with the horns, percussion, and chorus setting the mood.
“A Storia I Me Patri” (My Father’s Story) was written for Bob’s father. In this song/story, Bob imagines his father, who was born in Tunis, returning by boat to the island of his family (Favignana) for the first time. The music reflects the feeling of being on a calm sea with the boat bobbing up and down and over the waves; yet there is an underlying tension in the chorus, perhaps because of the work of sailing the boat or perhaps because Bob’s father felt nervous anticipation as he approached the island of his family.
These stories will also be written as a book of tales one day by Bob Salmieri in Italian, his Sicilian dialect and in English.
“Rubayyat” the next to last song on the recording gives us a hint to Bob and Milagro Acustico’s next project—a work inspired by the writing of Persian poet Omar Khayyam.
I Storie ò Cafè Di Lu Furestiero is a cohesive work that flows from beginning to end. We follow the musical stories the same way we would follow a great conversation or be captivated by a good book—with interest, a little surprise, and with enough intrigue that we hope that this “good read” won’t end too soon so that we can savor each tale.