"I believe that folk music is punk rock with an acoustic guitar..... “Folk” literally means “for the people”. - Amanda Pascali

Posted: March 12, 2024
Lyrically, many Sicilian songs are complex; recounting historical events or even sexual innuendos. It gives me an interesting insight into the lives of our grandparents; what they endured. Many of these themes are still relevant today.

Photo provided by: Amanda Pascali

Internationally acclaimed, bilingual singer/songwriter and 2021 Houston Chronicle "Musician of the Year," Amanda Pascali was born in Queens, New York, and is based in Houston, Texas. Pascali, whose music has been described as “an auditory passport,” has performed internationally, from the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to packed houses in Italy, Romania, and across the Eastern hemisphere. Accompanied by classically trained multi-instrumentalist Addison Freeman and the rest of her band, Amanda Pascali is not only a powerful poet with an angelic voice but an unstoppable force. As of fall 2022 she is on a year-long journey through Sicily to translate and revitalize the songs of Rosa Balistreri as a Fulbright Fellow endorsed by the US State Department and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

With a father who was thrown out of his home country for rebelling against the government, Amanda was driven from a young age to be a messenger of her family’s stories and diaspora. As the rising voice of America's most ethnically diverse generation of young people, 25-year-old Pascali writes songs that speak to the experience of growing up as a first-generation American. Amanda’s music, now coined, Immigrant American Folk delivers a powerful narrative on being- “too foreign for here, too foreign for home, and never enough for both”.


Manuel: Hi there Amanda, it’s a pleasure to chat with you, I really enjoyed to sharing the stage with you in Palermo, it’s been a nice gig. You spent a lot of time here in Italy, where are located now?

Amanda: Hi Manuel. The pleasure was mine. I still remember the way we met for the first time. You were playing Bob Dylan’s songs with your band outside at a bar on a beautiful night in Palermo. I knew I had to see you play again. So I came to your next show, told you that I wanted to come see you play at Mind House but that I didn’t have a car, and you offered to drive me on the condition that I opened the show for you. What a funny situation. One of my fondest memories in Palermo.

Right now I am in Texas working on recording the Sicilian songs I translated and continuing to create videos for social media.

Manuel: What have you learned from playing folk Italian music?

Amanda: While in Palermo, I learned the basics of how to play the tamburello. It is a large Sicilian tambourine that keeps the tempo in most Sicilian folk songs. I believe this helped me be a better guitar player and better understand Sicilian rhythms. Sicilian music is heavily influenced by Arabic sounds. The tamburello instrument itself is an Arabic instrument.

Lyrically, many Sicilian songs are complex; recounting historical events or even sexual innuendos. It gives me an interesting insight into the lives of our grandparents; what they endured. Many of these themes are still relevant today. Not just in Italy but here in the US too. That is why I believe it’s important to translate them.

Manuel: Do you think it gave to you some skills you wouldn’t ever learned from other music?

Amanda: Of course. Sicily is an in-between space. Not quite Europe, not quite Africa, but somewhere in-between. And the music reflects that diffusion.

You started covering Rosa Balistreri’s songs, probably our readers never heard about her (that’s comprehensible), how would introduce this character to our audience?

Amanda: In the 1960s, one woman revolutionized Italy with just a guitar and voice. Rosa Balistreri (1927-1990) was one of the first Italian women to publicly denounce social inequality through music. Rosa was a blue-collar worker for most of her life after being forced into marriage as a young girl and eventually escaping her abusive husband. After spending several years in jail for using a kitchen knife to defend herself against her husband’s violent blows, she learned to read and write at the age of 32, and to play the guitar at the age of 40. Her iconic, hoarse voice brought songs about Sicily’s jarring poverty in the 20th century to the forefront of Italian folk music in the 1960s.

Manuel: How you discovered her?

I am a typical Gen Z. Most things in my life, I discovered on the internet.

I was looking for Italian music to help me improve my Italian. Somehow in that path, I found Sicilian music, which is totally different. I fell in love with it. Specifically, I fell in love with Rosa because she reminded me of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other marginalized American singers of the mid 20th century that recounted stories from their daily lives in blue collar communities. These were all women who endured so much and despite that, fought, with music against the traditional idea of what a woman should be. These women said things in their songs that men were afraid to say. Consider for example, Mafia e Parrini by Rosa Balistreri (Mafia and the Priests). Rosa protested the mafia in 1960s Sicily, a dangerous act. On top of all of that, she was a woman.

Manuel: Let’s talk about Amanda’s music, who inspired you to make music? And how would you describe the music that you typically create?

Amanda: I did not grow up in a family of musicians but I did grow up surrounded by music. In my family’s house growing up, you could hear folk, country, reggae, rock, opera, and even Italian pop like Mina and Adriano Celentano. My parents love music. In fact, they joked that people used to laugh at them when they lived in New York City (my birth city) because they were two immigrants in New York listening to Texas country music. It’s like an immigrant from China coming to Milan and listening to Pugliese tarantella music all day.

I was inspired by rock and roll music most of all. It was the rebellious aspect. I got really interested in punk rock as a teenager and played in a punk band for many years. I also played electric guitar in a cover band with three middle-aged men. I was 15. We played in bars every weekend. Some high school kids have jobs like being a cashier at a grocery store or a lifeguard at the pool; mine was playing in a band. And that was how I made pocket money as a teenager before I was even old enough to enter those bars as a patron.

But I was always drawn to the acoustic guitar. I believe that folk music is punk rock with an acoustic guitar, especially when you consider the lyrics. “Folk” literally means “for the people”. That is the kind of music I try to write. I am a truth-teller. I talk about the things in my songs that I don’t hear other people talking about. I talk about feeling in-between. I talk about universal human experiences. And musically, it’s a mix of everything that I am: American, mediterranean, latin, and everything in-between.

This is a question I’ve already made to Brad Lauretti some months ago, How do you live this dualism between your American and Italian heritage? Does it have influenced your music in same way?

Amanda: I am a mix of many things. “Dualism” would be putting it simply. My father is Romanian with Italian roots. My mother is Egyptian and grew up in France. All of these things are a part of me.

Manuel: Have you ever been treated differently because of it?

Amanda: In America we have a very strange relationship with race. Most white Americans don’t consider me white. However, most Latinos, Arabs, and other races don’t consider me to belong to their races either. In my case, it is less about race and more about encountering people who are closed minded. Many older people in the music industry discount my music, calling it “ethnic” and therefore not relatable to the every day American. What they do not understand is that I am the every day American. I belong to the most ethnically diverse generation of young people ever in America. We are all “foreign” in some way. My dream is to be a prominent voice for that generation and to use music to retire the outdated archetype of what it means to be “American.”

Manuel: Do you think this gave you some kind of Italian characteristics or in any way helped or hindered your career?

Amanda: When I started making videos singing in Sicilian on social media, I went viral. I spent so many years trying to be the stereotypical American because as a kid, I wanted to fit in. This is a sad and impossible thing to achieve for many children of immigrants. When I realized it was impossible, I stopped trying. And that was when my success started.

How was the audience in Europe? Do you think there’s a big difference in the U.S.?

Amanda: My music has never been called “country” before I played in Europe. People in Texas laugh when I tell them that Italians consider me “country”. But I love it. If I ever want to feel American, all I have to do is play in Italy. When I play there, I gear my performance more toward Texas. When I play here, I gear my performance more toward Italy. In that way, I feel that I carry the great responsibility of being each country’s window into the other.

Manuel: Is it difficult to be a female in the music industry?

Amanda: Many nerdy or artistic girls have the experience of being bullied by “mean girls” in school growing up. This was not my case. Instead, I was made fun of by mean boys who played music. Growing up playing music with boys my age, I frequently heard “girls can’t play guitar,” “girls don’t know how to use sound equipment.”

As I grew older and made a career for myself in music, I realized that those mean boys grow up to become mean men. At the beginning of my career, the sound engineers at gigs would assume I was selling merch, for my boyfriend’s band or just attending the show. I would have to explain to them that I was the one performing. My manager David, who has had a lot of years of experience in the industry, and I frequently talk about the music industry being a “boys club”. I am fortunate to have many supportive men like him and my husband, Addison who performs with me and the other guys in my band in my court to help me push through in a field that is so inundated with machismo.

Are there any non conventional folk instruments that you use on stage?

Amanda: Unconventional for America: yes. Onstage, Addison plays an antique Sicilian mandolin and I play a 1950s Carmelo Catania guitar that was gifted to me by a Sicilian Luthier, Gianni Garofalo.

Manuel: What’s next for you?

Amanda: We are recording our translated versions of Sicilian songs to be released this year. We also plan to tour in Italy this year. Stay tuned!

Manuel: Thanks a lot Amanda, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you, can’t wait to share the stage again cheers!

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