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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Witty, literate, passionate and gorgeous. Carmen Consoli is a superstar in her native Italy with eight CDs behind her. But she's just released her first in the United States.

(Soundbite of song)

LYDEN: Carmen Consoli was in Washington this past week, wrapping up a short American tour, and she dropped by our studio. Welcome, Carmen Consoli, thanks for being here.

Ms. CARMEN CONSOLI (Singer): Thank you for inviting me. I'm really honored to be here.

JACKI LYDEN: We were just talking. Tell me a little bit about your native Sicily. You draw so much inspiration from it. What kind of place is it?

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah, it's a beautiful land. And the city where I come from is Catania, which rests between a fierceful volcano and a crystal clear sea. So as you can see, I was born and bred between fire and water. So a land of contrasts that you can actually feel the breath of fire on your neck.

LYDEN: Is that Mount Edna?

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah.

LYDEN: A volcano?

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah. And its still active. And its wonderful. I really suggest you to visit, because its wonderful. And the food is extraordinary, outstanding. It's always sunny.

LYDEN: Well, you know, you've hooked me. I'm hooked. I wanted to ask you a little bit about this wonderful new album you have. You're here on an American tour. And this is your eighth album.

Ms. CONSOLI: Yes.

LYDEN: You're 32?

Ms. CONSOLI: I'm 32, yes.

LYDEN: You grew up with a dad who was a jazz guitarist, I believe.

Ms. CONSOLI: Who's actually a jazz guitarist, a blues guitarist, so I grew up listening to different kinds of music, from Jimi Hendrix to bossanova and going through Tarantella, which is our traditional kind of music. And my father taught me the first chords.

LYDEN: You know, I remember playing the Tarantella as a little girl on the piano and being told that it was traditionally Sicilian and that it was a dance about spiders. Is that - or maybe I made that part up.

Ms. CONSOLI: It's a bite of a spider.

LYDEN: Yeah.

Ms. CONSOLI: A poisonous spider. And yeah, it's a restless resounding rhythm, echoing the strings of southern lands. And it's a mixture between Arabic scales and Greek nuances. It's - it's wonderful. That's what I think. It's powerful. I like it.

LYDEN: We'll walk through this album a little bit. You have this new one out, Eva Contro Eva.

Ms. CONSOLI: Yes.

LYDEN: Does that translate to Eve against Eve?

Ms. CONSOLI: Exactly. But it's also the Italian translation for a very famous movie whose undeniable beauty everybody has acknowledged. That was All About Eve, with Betty Davis. As we remember the movies, the story of a betrayed friendship, a kind of broken commitment, and Eve is the guilty character.

LYDEN: Right.

Ms. CONSOLI: But Eve is also the very beginning of human history, which is to say the mother. Eve is a character in front of a choice to make between weakness and pureness, between slavery and freedom, between good and evil. That's why all the characters in this album - this album is kind of a journey starting from Eve as the mother going through painful characters, trying to find a reconciliation with themselves. And they are all Eve's offsprings.

LYDEN: Would you be willing to perform...

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah. Of course.

LYDEN: Okay.

Ms. CONSOLI: Of course.

LYDEN: Okay, great. Okay.

Ms. CONSOLI: Can you give me my guitar?

Ms. CONSOLI: (Singing in Italian)

LYDEN: Bravo.

Ms. CONSOLI: Grazie.

LYDEN: That was wonderful. Could I read just what is the refrain here in English?

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah.

LYDEN: Look into my eyes. Take off all falsehood. The aura of pureness reveals fiendish anomalies. And you know what I mean. And you know what I mean. And you are running away from that filthy monster that you have created, that restless sleep.

Your fans call this a sort of a roots album for you. Can you explain that for me?

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah. This album deeply mirrors Sicilian traditions. For instance, we have rediscovered - I say we because I work along with a band - we have rediscovered an ancient sound of an instrument as a flute called friscaletto...

LYDEN: Friscaletto.

Ms. CONSOLI: ...carved in cane and used by shepherds, which stands for the characteristic sound of Sicilian traditions. And we're really - how can I say? We took this ancient nuance...

LYDEN: Your English is amazing, by the way.

Ms. CONSOLI: ...from the chest of the past.

LYDEN: From the treasure chest of the past.

Ms. CONSOLI: From the chest of the past.

LYDEN: You know, it's one thing for people to be poetic in their language, but to be poetic in the language they learn, that's really - could we ask Francesco, who's traveling with you...

Ms. CONSOLI: Yes.

LYDEN: ...and a member of your band and your manager - hello. To play for us - the instrument again is called the...

Ms. CONSOLI: Friscaletto.

LYDEN: And it looks a little bit like half of a quarter.

(Soundbite of friscaletto)

Ms. CONSOLI: Yeah. The song we're going to play now is about a girl who lives in a small country village near Catania who's name is Maria Catania, which means Mary in chains. And in this small country village Mary Chain is patiently waiting her turn to receive the holy communion. And in the end the priest refuses to give Mary Chain the holy communion, confirming that destiny was already written in her name.

Ms. CONSOLI: (Singing in Italian)

LYDEN: Thank you, Francesco. That was, you know, it was breaking my heart because you had the lightness of the gossip against this woman, in this tragic story of how she's victimized by slander and gossip and refused communion. But why the almost whimsical melody instead of a dark, you know, sort of tone?

Ms. CONSOLI: Because it's a peculiarity in Sicilian music. We have happy melodies in sad contents. It's the contrast. I told you before, between fire and water. And in this case I wanted to talk about the power of spoken word. At the beginning it was the verb and sometimes words are more effective than facts.

LYDEN: These ideas are really fully developed. You know, it's not unusual for songwriters to take an aspect of love or politics and say, I thought here about how you feel after someone you love has left, or you know - but your ideas are almost like little novellas, you know. I mean you have a real...

Ms. CONSOLI: Thank you.

LYDEN: ...deeply embroidered text here that you're basically singing to us.

Ms. CONSOLI: Thank you. I like to portray characters. I'm like a puppeteer, moving my puppets, and there is a part of sometimes I - I have a slight doubt with my characters and it's like expressing a part of myself.

LYDEN: Would you do one thing for me before you leave us? Could you play a tiny bit of a Tarantella? Is that possible...

Ms. CONSOLI: Yes, of course.

LYDEN: ...on the guitar?

Ms. CONSOLI: (Singing in Italian)

LYDEN: You can hear the rest of this Tarantella and songs from Carmen Consoli's new CD at our Web site, npr.org.

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