Maybe you don’t recognize it, but Amanda Pascali says there’s a love song at the heart of any good political song.
“I like to think of my music, especially the political songs, as more of an internal journey than an external one. A lot of folk musicians think they have some duty to speak on issues of human rights and, during this period, immigration. It is my opinion that the only people who should speak about these issues are the ones who feel them in their hearts,” Pascali noted. “My political songs are deeply emotional and they come from the same place as a love song. Political songs should never be about finger-pointing. To me, the most important characteristic of a revolutionary, or anyone who speaks about social issues, is empathy. A true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”
Pascali is speaking from a depth of experience. The amalgam of journeys she’s taken and art she’s created now falls under the banner of Amanda Pascali and The Family. She's dubbed her band’s brand “Immigrant American Folk Music.” The group celebrates the release of its debut full-length album, Still It Moves, Friday night at Anderson Fair.
The album is a tribute to the Italian revolutionary Galileo Galilei, Pascali says, but it’s also incredibly personal and has roots that reach further back than her recent travels to Europe or even her teen years, when she began pursuing music in earnest. Those roots stretch all the way back to a love story that formed Pascali’s understanding of the word “family” and how it’s applied to life and art.
“My parents met in Brooklyn in the 1980s after my father fled Romania as a political refugee,” she explains. “Aside from artists, I’m very inspired by my family, especially my parents. It seems that their love story as working class immigrants in 1980s Brooklyn broke every rule in the conventional love story book. I’m inspired by Galileo in the same way that I’m inspired by Amelia Earhart and by my parents, people who went against conventional beliefs, following their hearts, in search of the truth, self-actualization or true love. I want to be a navigator, in a literal and theoretical sense.”
So Friday’s show at the legendary folk venue will be a celebration of family, “both blood-related and not,” Pascali says.
“My sister, Anna Pascali, who is a nurse in training, will come by after a shift at the hospital to play a few songs at the start of the show. After her performance, my group will play the Still It Moves album in its entirety, from front to back,” she said.
Pascali sings, plays guitar and harmonica and wrote the songs. She’s joined by Addison Freeman on violin, cello, viola and mandolin. “Uncle” Felix Lyons plays accordion for the trio. She says she met Freeman three years ago at a folk music gathering in Austin and that he “has been my closest friend during the making of this record,” which took about a year to create. She met Lyons a little more than a year ago when she started playing traditional Eastern European music with the Houston Balalaika Orchestra.
“He immediately became a part of my family, catalyzing the fruition of my plan for an immigrant music trio. We played our first show together on the night of his 70th birthday,” Pascali said.
“Our good friend Will Larsen is poet and a construction worker who plays the banjo and sings vocal harmonies on a couple of the songs on the album and has recently started performing with us,” she added. “My idea is to grow ‘the family’ and continue to blur the line between them and my real family. I feel fortunate for every moment I get to play with these guys. They have become such a huge part of the realization of this album and a huge part of my life in general.”
Pascali started life in Queens, New York but grew up in Houston. Her music has taken her lots of places already. Last summer, she toured Europe, playing in Italy and Romania and even gaining her European Union citizenship while she was there. She’s played in the States, too, and said one of her favorite gigs was in New Orleans.
“I ended up playing a couple of songs to a small crowd in a coffeehouse with a trombonist from the Marine Corps Band whom I met at the show that same night. These are all experiences that involve close encounters with extremely beautiful and interesting people. This human connection is what I value the most when performing.”
She found her voice early on, but was reluctant to share it right away with listeners.
“The earliest song on the record, ‘Saturn Sal,’ was written when I was 15 years old. Each of the songs follows my journey from girlhood to womanhood, sharing the passion and stories of a first generation girl growing up in the United States. More than anything, this album is a coming of age story and a collection of songs dedicated to all things true, whether or not we want them to be,” she explained.
“I started playing music in bars seven years ago. When I was in high school, I began traveling internationally a lot, especially with my father and for the first time alone during my senior year. Reconnecting with my roots through travel lead to a special internal reflection, which manifested itself in songs and poems,” she continued. “I have been a songwriter since I learned to play the guitar when I was 12, but never shared my songs with anyone until I was in my late teens. These songs, especially the ones with words not in English, were kept in hiding. I had a fear that my experiences growing up as a daughter of two immigrants were strange and unrelatable. It wasn’t until late high school and early college that I built up the courage to stand alone before a room of people and tell the stories of my family which had been brewing for so many years before.”
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Given the current political climate, Pascali understands why her songs might resonate on a political level.
“Most importantly, I highlight issues of resistance and diaspora in my work simply because without it I would not be alive. If my father never spoke out against the government in his home country and never met my mother in the United States, I would not be here, and I certainly would not be writing songs. My entire existence is credited to the two most important elements in my music- love and resistance,” she said.
“Galileo Galilei was thrown in jail for speaking out against the Catholic Church and saying that the Earth moves around the sun. 'Still It Moves' has been translated directly from his words 'Eppur Si Muove.' The point of Still It Moves is that the denial of true things has persisted over centuries of time. This mentality still exists and it is important now more than ever to address it, during a time in which telling the truth can be a revolutionary act in and of itself. The truth will continue to be true, whether or not any of us want it to be. I write a lot about social issues, stories about diaspora, immigration, hope and true love. But more than an activist, I consider myself a truth-teller.”
Amanda Pascali and the Family celebrate the release of Still It Moves 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 14 at Anderson Fair, 2007 Grant. They perform again January 3 at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck and a complete list of tour dates can be found at www.amandapascali.com.