Listening to Amanda Pascali is an auditory passport, she manages to mix a traditional American Folk sound with the Mediterranean sounds of her ancestors. Her songs often narrate the experience of many first generation Americans; not being American enough for this country and yet being too American for their country of origin. “I think that when people hear my music before knowing where my family is from they immediately connect me with their family.” says Pascali.
Family is an inescapable influence in almost everyone’s life but for Pascali, her family is everything. “I love them, they are my best friends.” she says wholeheartedly. Their stories and cultural influences resonate in her music and the Pascali family has a rich history full of stories.
Her parents met as youngsters in the historical mecca for immigrants, New York City. Her mother, originally from Egypt, spent time all over the world as the daughter of an interpreter for the United Nations. Pascali’s father, originally from Romania with Sicilian roots, came to New York seeking a better life.
Growing up, Pascali admits she did not fully understand her parents' pasts. “I remember thinking, my family is strange, why are we like this?” The singer specifically recounts her father wearing a sweater with numbers on it throughout her childhood, she found it strange but never knew the origin until one day the two sat together on a long flight to his hometown in Romania.
“I ended up asking my dad what life was like for him when he was younger and he told me the entire story. He told me about how when he was 18 he spoke out about the government and got sent to a forced labor camp where he had to stay for two years. Then he was able to flee to the United States as a refugee.” The mysterious numbers on her father’s sweater were the numbers assigned to him as a prisoner.
The Pascalis wanted to give their family the American dream and implemented an English only rule in the home but as both went off to work everyday leaving young Amanda with her grandmother, she was able to absorb Romanian culture and language. “The only language that I knew how to speak growing up was broken English.” laughs the singer.
Her roots called to her deeply and she never could separate from the richness of emotions found in her family's stories and languages. “The last time I went to Romania with my dad we got a rental car and I told him I wanted to go to that place where he was in the camp. We ended up going to that town and walking around there and it was very moving for him and I to go back there. It was like that place had stayed the same, but my dad had changed.”
The past echoes in her songs but the topic of immigration and refugees seeking a better life while longing for home are as relevant now as ever. “Really what I’m doing first and foremost is being honest about the stories that I’ve gone through living as a first generation American and it’s a coincidence, and a somewhat an unfortunate coincidence, that it's becoming a hot issue right now.” says Pascali.
Pascali has a extended family in her band, which she admits are very much part of her real family. She is almost always joined on stage by Addison Freeman on violin/Cello/Mandolin and “Uncle" Felix Lyons on accordion. “The first show that we played all together was Felix’s 70th birthday. Every time Felix would come over, my dad would come over with all the alcoholic drinks and be like ‘Felix welcome to the family! What are we drinking tonight?’ and in a lot of ways the guys in my band are like my family.”
Pascali and her band released their debut album, Still It Moves, late last year. “I think it’s really great to have recordings of the songs I’ve been playing live for the past six years of my life. I think a lot of people are happy to hear the songs I’ve been playing live in recorded form. I have yet to go to Europe with these CDs so we will see what the reception is there.” The title is a nod to Galileo and his commitment to facts, "The truth will be true, whether or not we want it to be." says Pascali.
Next month Pascali will perform at the Kerrville Folk Festival where she will compete with artists from all over the world in the new folk competition and then she is off to Europe for a solo tour but admitting she will be “Carrying with me that feeling of making new friends and therefore making new family as I go.”
When asked how her songs have been received overseas in the past Pascali says, “I remember being in Europe and touring for the first time last year and being so pleasantly surprised, especially in Italy, at the reception of my songs because although they have a Mediterranean kind of Italian element to them, they are very much dependent on that fact that they are a little bit of folk and a little bit American.”
Amanda Pascali and the Family will perform Thursday May 23 at McGonigels Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, doors at 7 p.m. For more information, visit amandapascali.com $20-22
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