Carmen Consoli’s most recent studio album, released in 2015, was titled L’abitudine di tornare, but the “habit of returning” is one the Sicilian singer and songwriter seems to have broken in the past decade. It’s been nearly ten years since Consoli performed in the US, sometimes as a soloist, other times with a band, but always with passion, charisma, and exceptional musicality. Before her hiatus from touring here, I’d seen her every time she played in New York—an outdoor show at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, at the clubs Joe’s Pub and City Winery, a press event at the Italian Cultural Institute—and she never disappointed. Quite the contrary: regardless of venue or instrumentation, her shows revealed an artist equally adept at tender ballads and fierce, churning rockers.
Her US fans have missed her, but the wait is over. This month, she returns for a tour that will take her to Boston, Washington, DC, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Before her North American engagements, she’ll touch down in Cuba, for a show in Havana, and in Santiago, Chile.
In New York, she will perform November 11 at the Angel Orensanz Center in Manhattan. Consoli’s November 2019 US appearances are part of an international tour, Eco di Sirene (Echo of Sirens), titled after her 2018 double live album, which featured new arrangements of material from a two-decades-plus career that began with her 1996 debut album, Dueparole. On the tour Consoli will be backed by violinist Emilia Belfiore and cellist Claudia della Gatta.
In a recent email exchange, Consoli explained why she hasn’t performed here in so long. In 2013, she gave birth to a son, Carlo. “Ever since I became a mother the idea of leaving my son Carlo for more than one week has been hard to even consider. It was Carlo who told me one day, ‘Mamma, it’s your dream, so it’s mine as well, go—please.’ He taught me, in a few simple words, that as long as I keep on realizing my dreams, I will be happy and as a result, I will be contributing to his happiness, too.”
Consoli made her mark in Italy as a rocker and electric guitar-slinger with a powerful, dramatic voice and magnetism to spare. But she also can be alluringly subtle, exuding a slow-burn sensuality that’s as captivating as her harder-edged material. After a series of successful rock albums, she changed course with her 2006 album, Eva contro Eva, trading in amplified instruments for acoustic guitars, mandolins, violins, accordions, bouzoukis, and even a string quartet. Low-key brass and woodwinds, including the friscaletto, a Sicilian flute, appeared on several tracks. In 2010, she released Elettra, which also featured mainly acoustic instrumentation and stylistic influences drawn from Sicilian and other Mediterranean folk music.
When she released Eva, she commented, “I love rock,” she says, “but an electric guitar nowadays is not the sound of revolution.” But she still considers herself a rock artist.
“Nowadays we often refer to ‘rock’ as being just a loud, transgressive, impetuous means of expression. No matter what its contents are. In my opinion, rock goes beyond such an oversimplified definition. It’s about breaking patterns of hypocritical behavior, of society’s blindness and lack of compassion and sympathy in a social media era and about love, blues, soul, flesh and blood. Therefore ‘rock’ isn’t only loud distorted guitar sounds or leather jackets. You can also have a rock attitude by wearing a simple t- shirt and playing an acoustic guitar. Some things can sound louder than thousands of transgressive guitars.”
Besides her nine studio albums, two greatest hits collections, and three live recordings, Consoli’s career highlights include being the first woman artist to perform at Rome’s Olympic Stadium, the only Italian artist invited to take part in a Bob Marley tribute held in Ethiopia, and headlining in Central Park. She’s won Italy’s Tenco Prize for songwriting as well as Davide di Donatello and Nastri d’argento awards. In 2012, Consoli was knighted, receiving the title of “Cavaliere” of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
In 2016, she was the concert master at La Notte della Taranta, an internationally-famous festival held in the Salento territory of Puglia that highlights pizzica and other traditional Salentine music as well as presenting non-Italian world music performers. Consoli led the orchestra at the “concertone,” the festival’s closing event, and also performed. For me, a highlight of the evening was her duet with Daniele Durante (the festival’s artistic director and a major figure in Salentine traditional music) of “Quistione meridionale“(the Southern Question), a song Durante co-wrote for Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino.
“The opportunity to get to know the people of Salento and their culture was a cathartic experience,” Consoli says. “I’m in love with them.”
At the time, Consoli remarked that she and other musicians in Sicily regarded the Notte della Taranta festival with a “healthy envy.”
“Sicily,” she adds, still “hasn’t got a real, world music festival—so far. I mean a festival that properly promotes its own culture, locations, customs and traditions.”
Consoli is looking forward to performing in Cuba (on November 6); her first time there. “I’ve never been to Cuba so I’m excited about visiting this wonderful, legendary city and performing with Camerata Romeu, the amazing, all-women orchestra.” Her other Latin American date, in Santiago, Chile, comes at a time when the city is experiencing massive protests against the government and its economic policies. She hopes that the turmoil will “not affect, or jeopardize, my performing in Santiago.”
Asked what her New York fans, and those in other cities on her November 2019 tour, can expect from her shows, Consoli replies, “A rock concert for cello, violin, guitar and voice.”
For more information about Carmen Consoli and her tour, visit her website.