What you are about to read here is an interview with Pierluigi Virelli – an Italian musician from “Cantunera” – agro-pastoral musical world from Calabria. I had an opportunity to chat with Pierluigi via Skype about his music, the band and a bit about his life in Berlin.
How it all started…
Where do you originally come from Pierluigi?
I was born and raised in Calabria, in a small town by the sea. I actually lived most of my life there, until at least I was 18. Then I started travelling and working in different European countries, the USA and in different fields – initially nothing to do with music.
When did you start playing music?
I have always had a passion for music. I was first a crazy listener and a collector of any kind of music from blues to jazz and rock. At a certain point, I stopped everything and started listening to the traditional music of other nations…and I got interested in musicology and ethno musicology. I told myself that I wanted to begin and play my own music … the music that actually belonged to my land, to the community, to the people of Calabria.
Where does the name of your band “Cantunera” come from and what does it actually mean?
In the Calabrian dialect “‘cantunera” means a corner of the first house that initiates a new way. In my childhood it was the place where I grew up and discovered life with my playmates, and where you could knock on any door and ask for a slice of bread, when between a game and another, we were hungry.
In a broader sense, it is a also place where there are no division between families, classes or human relations…
What is Cantunera today?
Cantunera became a music band about 5 years ago; it represents a musical world of agro-pastoral Calabria. Cantunera is also about ethno musicological research: research in the places of origin that includes learning of the repertoire of the people, the techniques of construction from tools to their social function. Our research takes place purely on the field, in contact with people that populate various places in Calabria.
The acquisition of a certain musical language is done by sharing of everyday life, working with pastors and farmers, as well as, through time spent with elderly, “keepers” of the oral cultural heritage of each community in Calabria.
You formed the group?
Yes, indeed. The actual group had 3-4 people, now we are two: Massimiliano di Carlo (also voice, flute, etc.) and me. Of course, we organize and play concerts with other great musicians. We also like to involve elderly people to play with us simply because they are our mentors and teachers…
When did you and Massimiliano meet?
We met in Berlin and it was such an amazing encounter…I was playing in a gig once and all of a sudden I heard someone from the public playing flute, we looked at each other and I asked him to join us on the stage. That was the first time we played together… since that evening I have found a new friend and a brother.
Do you sing in Italian?
No, I actually sing only in Calabrese dialect.
Never 😉 ?
The Italian language does not represent myself to the fullest. I cannot laugh in Italian as I can in the Calabria dialect. I cannot make jokes in Italian as I can in Calabrese…
What brought you to Berlin?
I simply wanted to continue developing my music in an unfamiliar to me environment… It could have been any place in the world… why Berlin? I visited Berlin more than 10 years ago and I remember it seemed to me a very poor city and I prefer to live in poor place… Berlin turned out to be a perfect place, not too far from Calabria and at the same a different world, where I could develop and concentrate on my personal development and my music.
Where do you live now? Berlin or Calabria?
I am a musician, you know. We often live in different places. To play music often means to travel 😉
To be honest, I have to spend some time in Calabria with the people and with my mentors.
How is your German? Was it difficult to learn it?
Good, I speak German… I believe, after first 6-7 months I started speaking it.
Do you manage to live well as a musician in Berlin?
(Laughing – ed.) To be honest, it depends on your expectations. I don’t even have time to spend the money I earn ;-). I try to live an eco-friendly and very simply life…. I recycle and love to make and construct things with my hands…
Do you like Berlin?
I do. I like it also because I am in harmony with myself, and I can live anywhere as long as I am in harmony with myself. I think my first 2-3 years when I lived in Berlin, but without actually realizing or thinking about it. I had and have a very simple life style… I spend time outside writing and composing music…basically working on my passion.
On future projects and Cantunera
What projects are you working on right now?
It is actually an important period for Cantunera now. We are working on launching a disk and a new project. A new web site of Cantunera will be out soon….for now we have a Facebook page, where you can check out the latest news, see photos, videos…
What does the future of Cantunera look like?
I am sure it will be marvellous (smiling – ed.)! Cantunera will definitely become much more mature and will continue the traditions of our mentors and teachers in Calabria.