Adele Nigro - Navigating Sexism

Adele Nigro - Navigating Sexism

Written By:

Alice Venir

Published:

July 5, 2018

1. Introduction

Undeniably, hearing voices that speak from different positions is a bit like a breath of fresh air. Italian musician Adele Nigro aka Any Other released in 2015 her first album Silently. Quietly. Going Away out on Bello Records, bringing some welcome diversity to the music panorama.

There was a DIY and unapologetically melancholic yet ironic feel to Any Other’s first album. Moreover, Adele is quite outspoken, having shared in texts and interviews her experiences with being a self-taught musician, her relation to feminism and her body, the struggles with choosing a non-conventional career and the material aspects of artistic labour. She is recently enjoying a fresh wave of fame, as Rolling Stone Italy named her “the best Italian female musician”. At the same time, she recently performed at the iconic festival Primavera Sound in Barcelona and she is soon to come out with a new album: Two, Geography, on 42 Records. For now, only one track has been released, Walkthrough, a cleaner and yet rough piece which only managed to raise anticipation and curiosity for more.

People ask you “is it hard to be a woman in the music scene?”, while at the same time they draft lists at the end of the year without including women’s records in them. Or promoters who care so much about adding to their events’ descriptions “this new female voice”, but who then don’t book any other artist who isn’t a man.

2. Playing Live

How did it go at Primavera Sound? What are your impressions?

I’d never been at Primavera Sound before, so let’s say that it was a conjuncture of first experiences: the first time in Spain, the first time at Primavera, the first time I was playing live the new tracks. Everything was amazing and overwhelming! Usually I’m not anxious before shows, but this time I was kind of freaking out. Anyway, at the end all three shows went great, the audience was really engaged and thankfully we weren’t the Italian band playing for Italian audience only, since there was loads of people from all over the world. It was a great context, loads of different people, really cool! I managed to see some performances, too. First of all Bjork; I was speechless. She had an incredible band and scenography, it was an amazing show. Then The Internet, Idles, which is a quite cool English punk band, Thundercat. Overall everything ended up being cooler than I thought it would be.

You have a quite ambivalent relationship with technique and music, in an academic sense. Did your feelings towards technique change or did they remain the same? Do you think that your beginnings as a self-taught musician gave you a different view on composition and on music in general?

Currently I am indeed studying music and I am looking much more at musical theory rather than at “physical” technique (like how you handle the instrument itself), because, since I’ve learnt by myself there are things I know I should correct, but I don’t care about correcting. While now that I got a solid base with myself as a musician, this grants me access to a lot more of the theoretical aspect with some more peace of mind. I now realize that I somehow believed in this myth according to which if you study music then you risk to be inhibited, which, by the way, I still do believe from a certain point of view. But I think it really depends a lot on the type of approach you have concerning music theory and music in an academic sense. If you manage to approach this world of learning as something functional and instrumental to your personal and artistic growth, then it has a lot of sense to pursue it. It really makes your life easier as well as your communication with other musicians. If, on the contrary, you take it as some sort of pillar or dogma, then no, I think it’s useless.

Apart from Any Other, you also collaborate in a lot of other projects. How do you approach collaborative work? Taking part in a more collective style of work have much more to do with a material economy, or a social and emotional economy?

It has to do with both. If you want to be a musician or you have to do with music as a job, either you’re someone who can afford to only do one thing because you’re part of a system in which money operates in a different way, or it’s way more difficult to manage to do only one thing. So obviously, you need to do some more. There’s a material aspect to it and I don’t want to deny it. But at the same time I am realizing over the years how doing different things and taking on different roles is fun and enjoyable. I like it because I find it stimulating, I don’t get bored. And secondly, I feel like instead of staying in my own place all day (metaphorically speaking), I am going around, I am seeing what’s outside of my own house, and then I can come back home being nourished thanks to things that I wouldn’t have ever approached on my own. I like the social aspect of being part of a community, of doing things together. I think there’s even a purpose into solely being together; that’s all I care about at the end.

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3. All Men?

Adele Nigro aka Any Other. Photo Credits: Mattia Savelli
Adele Nigro aka Any Other. Photo Credits: Mattia Savelli

The article of Rolling Stone that praises you as the best Italian female musician felt like a poor attempt to remedy to their previous publication of a men-only list of best Italian albums of the years. How do you navigate this patriarchal hipster-macho environment as a feminist, and what reactions did you have to the article I am talking about?

I won’t hide you the fact that I appreciated it to a certain extent, in the sense that there were some really nice words. But yes, the first thing I thought was: ok, now I should draft a list of women who released records this year and send it to Rolling Stone. But then I remember that in those same days it came out an article about Tiziano Ferro in which they criticized the fact that he’s gay but writing “songs about straight people”…and then I thought: “come on guys! What are we talking about? No!” I was like, look Rolling Stone, now I won’t even send you the list at all! But yes, it was quite like an attempt to cover up something that for me is untrue because it is untrue that women don’t make records. Surely there are women in Italy that released some records, good records, and that maybe aren’t necessarily pop, but they are here, they exist. Music is not only that one circulating by MI AMI or the indie circuit. Music is also a lot of other things, which unfortunately are overlooked. There are too many cis straight males playing [laughs], and most of the times they actually haven’t got anything interesting to say! And unfortunately the thing that drives me mad the most is that it seems like when it’s about people who aren’t men, aren’t white, aren’t straight, etc, it’s as if there’s only one free slot. If there’s a girl who plays, if there’s one then that’s it, that’s enough. It seems to me that no one ever compares, let’s say, Motta and Colapesce [Italian male indie musicians], while this happens quite a lot with non-white, male musicians.

I decided that for this new record by Any Other, concerning interviews and so on, I won’t talk anymore with men about this matter. And that’s precisely because I realize that even concerning the whole press stuff around my old album, there was a lot of useless pornography on this subject. People asking you “is it hard to be a woman in the music scene?”, while at the same time drafting lists at the end of the year without including women’s records in them. Or promoters who care so much about adding to their events’ descriptions “this new female voice”, but who then don’t book any other artist who isn’t a man. So, well, honestly, it’s a subject that I don’t want to touch anymore in interviews unless it’s with someone who’s indeed not a man only interested in it for self-congratulatory purposes.

You’ll end up being cornered in this category of “oh look, how special, there’s one of this kind”.

Yes, when actually it isn’t like this at all. For the new record by Any Other, out of the musicians who played in it, we’re 5 women and 2 men. It was something I really cared about. And at the end out of the two guys one is Marco (aka Halfalib), one is Alessandro, the drummer who plays with us live, too. But all the others are female musicians. For bari sax I wrote to Laura Agnusdei, for violin I wrote to Yoko Morimyo.

I don’t know if you follow the Italian trap music scene (a world I don’t know so well), but anyway, there’s this friend whose album I produced with Marco, he’s called Generic Animal, and he happens to work with this guy Ketama126. I recently saw some videos on Instagram where there’s this guy and another trap guy saying: “We’re feminists”. It was quite oversimplified as a discourse, but they were saying “if you touch women you’re shit, if you’re racists you’re shit, if you pick on the weaker ones you’re shit, we’ll kick your ass”. I mean it was quite an easy approach, it was quite simple, but I thought: they’re actually the first guys (in Italy) with some followers who explicitly say they are feminist. At least they’re doing something. We’re here as women thinking so much about these things, quite rightfully so, while men who are playing and who have a big audience don’t even pose themselves the problem, when they could really have a quite strong media impact. Especially the ones who present themselves as politically active. And this really bothers me.

4. Composition and Writing

Tell me a bit more about the new album.

It’s quite a different album compared to the previous one. That’s surely due to the fact that, after all, three years passed between one and the other, and I’ve done so many things in the meantime. I developed as a person and as a musician, I have more interests, I started to play a new instrument, which surely influenced me.

Which one?
Well, in the album apart from the guitars I played acoustic and electric piano, tenor sax, the drums. It’s an album I basically composed all by myself. I am so happy because I wanted to prove to myself that I could write the music from beginning to end also for the instruments I don’t play, and I made it.

How does your writing process work, and how do you approach the filtering of this honesty through a language that is not your native one?

I live in Italy and clearly I speak Italian, it’s my everyday language. But for a series of reasons I find myself speaking in English quite often.I’ve listened to stuff wrote and sung in English since forever, I’ve always watched movies and so on: English subtitles, English books, English texts for university. It may seem like silly things, but they are actually quite formative. So it’s something I always kept alive and for me in my life it’s quite normal and automatic to think and write in English. I never wrote in Italian and then translated into English, because it’s a kind of language, the one of lyrics I mean, that I’ve learnt in English, so that’s what is spontaneous for me. When I write for Any Other I essentially write about my own business and personal things. Maybe to do it in English may seem weird since I’m Italian… but I can’t tell that I am filtering through language, precisely because of this thing of feeling quite natural in using English to write.

The lyrics in the new album touch different themes, but they are still about my own life. After all I would say it’s a break-up album, which for me it’s quite weird because the old album was all like: “no! no track about love here!”. If girls write lyrics about love it’s considered bullshit, while if men talk about love it’s considered deep. And I asked myself: “no, why does it have to be like this?” There’s this artist called Mitski, who I love and whose new record is out soon; in 2016 she released a record called Puberty 2 in which she basically talks about love and passion and about how to love when you’re depressed and unwell. And I listened to it in a moment of my life in which I was exactly in that situation and it helped me so much more of all the records by men who talk about it. I felt like it was talking about me and to me.

Do you feel ready for the new tour you’ll be starting soon?

Yes, I can’t wait to start! In September and October we’ll be touring Europe and UK, then in November we’ll start with the Italian dates, then we’ll tour some more. I like to play for others, but sometimes it is good to come back home. Because it really feels like coming home, at some point. It’s really about this feeling, about coming back home and loving yourself, which for me it’s always the coolest thing.

About the Author

Alice Venir

Freelance researcher with a background in Sociology and Anthropology, interested in social movements, sexuality and identity, and how they reflect in arts and culture. She divides her time between Romania and the Netherlands.

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