From: The Richmond Folk Festival

Rosa Tatuata with michela Musolino

Rosa Tatuata with Michela Musolino

Rosa Tatuata’s recent debut CD, Sotto le Stelle, translates to “under the stars.” It’s an apt recording title for an ensemble whose founders met at a garden party where the three zampogna players regaled guests with the sound of the southern Italian bagpipes. The album name reflects their musical philosophy as well: singer and bandleader (and garden party hostess) Michela Musolino says the recording focuses on beloved folk songs of Sicily that were sung outdoors, whether fishing, washing clothes, or at celebratory festas: “The cornerstone of our music is, it’s interactive. Our daily lives had a soundtrack—that’s how we passed the time. Music didn’t just belong to the performers, everybody participated.”

Michela Musolino grew up in Clifton, New Jersey, just west of New York City, in a household where elder relatives and friends would slip into Sicilian dialect each time they wanted to have conversations apart from the children. For the young Michela, this adult language, with its resonant tones, big gestures, and convivial laughter, conveyed an intimacy and joy from which she hungered to partake. As she studied the language and history, her interest in traditional southern Italian folk songs blossomed as well. On visits to Sicily, her father would help her seek out classic tapes and field recordings in out-of-the-way record shops. She studied the work of Sicilian ethnomusicologists, essentially becoming one herself. She learned, too, that she wasn’t the first woman in her family to feel a call to perform: her paternal grandmother was known for her skill on the tamburo, the Sicilian frame drum that Musolino also uses to accompany her vocals, and her great-grandmother was a noted dancer and percussionist. Michela harkens back to her female forebears when she accents her performances with dance and percussion, but she has earned the most acclaim for her powerful voice, which has been described as combining a deep soulfulness with “more vibrancy, more urbanity, in songs that somehow also feel impossibly intimate.” Her dynamic music career has ranged from performing traditional commedia dell’arte, to remastering Italian pop classics, to playing musical accompaniment for Italian and Italian-American theater and dance productions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Musolino’s garden-party meeting with guitarist, organetto (accordion) player, and folklorist Phil Passantino led to a collaboration playing traditional songs of Sicily, Calabria, and the Meridione (southern Italy). In 2015, Tony Award-winning producer Doug Hughes invited Michela to provide the music for a Broadway benefit performance of Tennessee Williams’s beloved play about Sicilian-Americans, The Rose Tattoo; this experience gave both impetus and a name to her next project, Rosa Tatuata, a quartet made up of Musolino, Passantino, and multi-instrumentalists Charlie Rutan and Jeffrey Panettieri. A favorite with audiences from house parties to some of the nation’s premier folk festivals, the inimitable Rosa Tatuata brilliantly interprets aching traditional ballads and riotous dance tunes, as well as composing original songs that emphasize the continuing relevance of Sicilian folk music for both the Italian diaspora and music lovers everywhere.

Click on the photo to listen to the podcast

Click on photo to listen to podcast