Spaccanapoli Sing Protest Songs From Streets Of Naples

Italian group's Lost Souls combines protest songs, revives traditional dances.

The formerly dangerous yet lively area of Naples, Italy, called Spaccanapoli no longer exists except as a gentrified shopping area, but its name lives on.

And Spaccanapoli, the five-piece Neopolitan band who have just released Lost Souls, haven't gone upscale either.

"We deeply believe in the power of music. And in our little space we try to make music that puts questions in people's minds," violinist Antonio Fraioli said.

Spaccanapoli (meaning "split Naples") came together a year ago following a schism within the revolutionary musical collective Grupo Operaio e Zezi, which was organized by Alfa Romeo factory workers in Naples.

"There'd been some conflict in the group," Fraioli said, "and we decided it was better not to spend so much time together."

The five musicians who make up Spaccanapoli decided instead to undertake their own approach to political music. "One by one we die — all because of the bosses!" goes one song. The roots-oriented ensemble sings tunes such as "Sant' Anastasia" (RealAudio excerpt) in the local dialect, accompanied by stringed instruments and percussion.

It seemed natural, Fraioli said, because "we were all born in Naples, and we live here. It's important to stay true to the region, to our language and our culture. It's important to understand our roots." Although they make limited use of samplers, "we like an acoustic sound because it suits our style."

A major component of that style is the regional tradition of the tarantella, whose history "is one of the most important expressions of our cultural tradition," Fraioli said. The tarantella is a wild and ancient possession dance. "It's still alive, but not like it was 100 years ago," he said. Spaccanapoli resuscitate the tarantella's glory in songs such as "Pummarola Black" (RealAudio excerpt).

Spaccanapoli also revive the sensual tammurriata, originally a dance for couples wherein the dancers beat out the rhythm with castanets — the left hand for the woman, the right hand for the man — to demonstrate the equality of their relationships.

With their album out, Spaccanapoli have begun touring in Europe, spreading their messages about politics, communal pleasure and the spirit world of local legend in music for the people, by the people.

"Music is one of the best ways to tell people about social and political problems," Fraioli said. "And the future, the global village, is made up of lots of different musics. Including ours."