«Indigenous trips overseas». A meeting with the Qbeta
Federica Araco - 28/01/2009
“A month ago we received an unexpected phone call: a distant parent, the son of a brother of my grand-father who emigrated from Sicily to Argentina after the Second World War, decided to renew his contacts with his Italian family. We hadn’t received news in years from that paternal line that preferred to go to South America rather than in the United States. In fact, we really knew nothing about him”.
Peppe Cubeta, the heart and soul of the Sicilian group Qbeta, talks about himself, interlacing memories and visions, stories of experiences and poetry that become music. “I was born in Sicily, near Catania. I was only nine months old when my parents took me to America”. Peppe’s paternal family had established itself in New York since long. His mother, born in Bengasi from Sicilian parents, met her husband to be, in a small Sicilian village. “During their engagement my father crossed the Ocean by sea a good four times. It was only after my birth”, continues Peppe, “that my parents decided to go and live in the ‘new world’, and reach the rest of my father’s family, that still lives there. My brother, Salvatore [drummer of Qbeta] was born in the Unites States. I was almost six when, all together, we embarked for the last navy cross, to go back to our homeland in Sicily. Do you have any idea how it feels to change from a metropolis like New York to a small village in the Sicilian hinterland of hardly 1400 souls?”
Heirs to this brave “non conformist” choice with respect to the migration flows of the time, the Cubeta brothers have in time planted deep roots in a harsh but wonderful land, Mediterranean and hybrid by destiny and vocation. “Qbeta was created in 1992 by a group of friends, musicians, who chose to believe in the music pieces and texts I proposed”, recounts Peppe. “We started by reviewing the scores together, then we produced our first records, held several concerts in Sicily, and got the first important contributions”.
Issues like travel, migration, contact with other worlds and cultures are held in great consideration and are reflected in the artistic choices of the group. “Each piece represents for us a contamination experience where we try to reach out to the Other starting from the awareness of our cultural roots. Then the contact takes place naturally, without any pre-established orders or pruderies, and that’s great”. In the texts and music of Qbeta, the openness in accepting the contamination of language and sound, witnesses their deep feeling of belonging to the South of the world. Their musical research does not refer to any genre in particular: as in a long trip, it proposes “cunti” (stories) in Sicilian dialect, mixed with Bossanova rhythms, afro drums, 60’s rock guitar improvisations and raids into Balkan wind instruments accompanied by the sound of the “scacciapensieri” (the Sicilian Jew’s harp). “Whenever we work on a new piece, we don’t decide the score according to the notes but according to the feelings and suggestions we want to express through it”, explains Peppe.
From the first album “Qbeta” (1993) to their last work “Ognittanto” (2007), born from the group’s experience in Brazil, in 2005, as host of the Fórum Social Mundial, the Qbeta tackled issues on intercultural dialogue to reach a long path of personal and collective growth.
“The word ‘integration’ is very complex. It encloses an ancestral call to altruism, both towards ourselves, and towards the others. Opening to the Other entails, first of all, a chance of sharing: to give and share part of what you are, what you know, can only enrich both interlocutors. I believe that this kind of integration should sprout spontaneously, immediately, almost as an inborn inclination of man. Rather than integration, I would call it openness, exchange and enrichment between different cultural universes. The raising of cultural, social, economic, political and cultural barriers, fragments humanity and drives to the creation of enclosures and cages that force us to close up and identify ourselves with the silly details of small groups of individuals”.
Sicily has since years represented the main dock for the migration flows that come by sea from the Southern shores of the Mediterranean… “We could define Sicily as a frontier land in a sea of immigration. In the summertime, we witness an invasion of workers for seasonal agricultural work: hundreds of boys, even very young, break their back for four to five months to harvest the products of the earth, in inhuman conditions. This has been going on for years and we still speak of emergency. But isn’t an emergency supposed to be an extraordinary event? Here, instead, it’s a given fact: despite the borders we erected, the world doesn’t stand barriers. People can’t be denied the right to mobility”.
Peppe’s family history has deeply influenced his vision of the world. “I want to imagine the entire world, without limits of sound and thought”, sings a song of Qbeta (“Voglio immaginare”, 1997). “Italy has a very recent migration history: perhaps the economic boom of the 70’s and 80’s made us forget our close past? My parent’s generation lived the experience of feeling like an exile in a foreign land, but now we all seem cocooned in a bourgeois provincialism that can only feed on diffidence and prejudice. Migrations, by now, include all levels of society, involving political refugees, fleeing populations from wars and environmental catastrophes, immigrants and emigrants for economic reasons as well as the “brain drain” that our country is sadly leading since long. We have to become aware of these deep changes and consider them, for what they are, that is a given fact. This, according to me, is the first step to take”.
Through a passionate research for sound, a precious and millenary instrument of communication among men, the Qbeta are active witnesses of the richness inherent to the world’s cultural diversity.
When listening to their music, especially live, you can’t avoid to be enthralled by their overwhelming energy and join the chorus line:”Um otro mundo è possivel, è possivel o caminho!”…
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