On 27th October of 2013 we lost Graziella Di Prospero,
she was journalist, researcher, writer, screenwriter and scriptwriter.
Anyway I knew her above all as a folksinger performing popular
songs of Southern Lazio, especially from Sezze area, where she
was born and raised. I started listening to folk music when I
was still a teenager and Graziella's voice and the songs she sang,
were for me a kind of call of the wild, maybe because they were
so similar to Ciociaria song that I learned from my mother, my
grandmother and my aunts, maybe because I started to have the
themes of suffering and struggles of workers, so brutally exploited
in the countryside, at heart (and still I have today).
One of Graziella's songs that I never forgot, even though I haven't listened to it for decades is "Tengo no bove se chiama Rosello" (My ox is named Rosello), the title track of 1975 album, which is about an ox-driver talking with his ox that, seeing the position of the sun above the horizon, would like to stop plowing and put an end to his endless workday. But the ox-driver, exploitation fellow of the animal, asks him to keep on pulling, because their common master never gets tired of the work of others, and demands them to make a hundred plough turns ("votate") per working-day. Their master, says the ox-driver "pulls our skin out, he spreads it on the shrubs and then he sells it" (link for the lyrics). Along the past forty-plus years I have listened to many popular songs, from many lands, near and far, but I've never heard a song like that, with such a strong solidarity between man and animal, seen as a real workmate. I always kept in my mind the air and the lyrics of this song, as well as the warm and sorrowful voice of Graziella while she sang it, even if I hadn't been listening this piece for at least thirty years (now, after learning of the death of Graziella, I found and bought the disc on e-bay and finally I can listen at it again).
Graziella knew how to find these
songs and give them back to us with her beautiful voice, making
us feel fellows and comrades to the labourer that for a starvation
wage works so hard that his soul makes her own way ("l'anema
se va pe' conto suo"), or to the child who doesn't want
to go to school because his teacher beats him and steals his lunch,
or the woman who was born unlucky in her swaddling clothes ("so'
nata sfortunata in de le fasce") because she was born
a woman, but despite this she doesn't tremble and says "we
are stronger than columns" ("semo più
forte noi che le culonne").
I saw Graziella several times, she was always on stage with her guitar and I was in the audience to clap my hands, the last time must have been in the late 70's in Rome, piazza degli Euganei, in Tufello district, bagpiper Francesco Splendori accompanied her, and maybe also a concertina player was on stage. I enjoyed her concert very much and I didn't know that it was the last one I attended. In the following years I tried in vain to find news about Graziella, when You tube appeared I tried there too, with very few results. Then one day, searching on internet, I learnt that Graziella passed away, and with that person I had only seen from afar, up there on the stage with her guitar in her hands, I felt I had lost a beloved person, so the very same day I created this page, as a tribute and thanks to Graziella, hoping to make her known to the largest number possible of people.
From the little information I can learn from internet I know that Graziella Di Prospero was born in Sezze on July 29th, 1943, she studied and lived for a long time in Rome, she was active since the mid-sixties to the early eighties, as a singer , writer, screenwriter and scriptwriter for cinema and television (see "bibliography" at the foot of the page), journalist, satirical actress and folk music researcher, collecting, since the Seventies, together with her partner, the cartoonist Giorgio Pedrazzi, more than 300 hours of field recordings, mainly from Southern Lazio, which partly she reinterpreted in her records and concerts.
Most of the recordings were transcribed in the collection: Itinerario della memoria, Una ricerca di canti, detti, proverbi, testimonianze della tradizione popolare del Lazio (A Route of Memory, A Search for Songs, Sayings, Proverbs, Testimony of the Lazio Folk Tradition). Moreover Graziella was the author in 1977 of the radio broadcast of Rai (the Italian public broadcasting corporation) Radiotre channel Sezze - La Passione raccontata dai protagonisti. Religiosità Popolare, Canti e Testimonianze sulla settimana santa (Sezze - The Passion Told by the Protagonists. Popular Religiousness, Singing and Testimonies on Holy Week), for which George Pedrazzi, co-wrote the texts, and in 1980 of the TV film of Rai 3 channel Itinerario della memoria (Route of Memory) (source: http://www.antiwarsongs.org).
The artist recorded three albums with Fonit Cetra, in the Folk series, directed by Giancarlo Governi, she gave concerts and tv performances, and collaborated with various artists of the folk scene of Lazio, like Ettore De Carolis, the concertina player Pino Pontuali from Anguillara Sabazia and the bagpiper Francesco Splendori, from Anticoli Corrado.
Graziella took an active part in the working group on popular traditions of the Cultural Center Section of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), coordinated by Sergio Boldini, with the accessions and collaborations of artists such as Caterina Bueno, Omar Calabrese, Maria Carta, Gilberto Giuntini, Enzo Gradassi, Ivo Lisi, Paolo Natali, Giorgio Pedrazzi, Eliana Pilati, Alberto Sobrero, Renato Sitti and Antonio Uccelli (source: http://www.antiwarsongs.org).
Therefore Graziella was part of
the cultural and political movement aimed to recover the culture
produced by lower classes, rescuing it from the oblivion in which
rural flight and spread of television relegated it, above all
by saving their voices with recordings made in the villages and
in the countryside, without which we would have lost forever these
testimonies. But the work of Graziella and others went further:
having a wonderful voice, she decided to bring these songs to
life and make them known to the children and grandchildren of
the peasants and shepherd who produced them.
The songs revived by Graziella never appear as a vintage project, as archeological finds put back into life, on the contrary her great voice made them alive, recalling the emotions and giving back the emotions of those who created them, urged by pain, love or anger of lower classes, oppressed by exploitation, sexual or political discrimination and poverty.
Moreover the lyrics of these work and struggle songs give a testimony of the conditions in which laborers, shepherds and workers lived, seen from their own point of view which is very different from that we can find in scientific or parliamentary investigations, even accurate, but produced by middle class members, and therefore biased by communication problems and reserve that can not be found instead in popular songs and poetry, which, since had been handed down, are guaranteed as truthful and sincere.
Together with some of the women participating in the working group at the PCI, cited above, Graziella was the emblem and symbol of the struggle in defense of women's rights, and on several occasions she was invited to perform some of her pieces in popular feasts organized by protest movements. For the same reason in 1989 she was invited to perform in Los Angeles, as one of the most representative artists of the Italian folk traditions (source: http://www.antiwarsongs.org).
It's not easy to describe Graziella's voice, it's a mighty, daring, warm, expressive voice, probably the best thing is to listen to her on music or video-sharing websites, for the little that was uploaded there (see "online videos" at the foot of the page); it would be nice to find her three albums released in a digital version, maybe one day somebody will do it.
Tributes to Graziella
Some of Graziella's songs were featured by the group Canusìa. from Sezze, by Banda Jorona, Lavinia Mancusi. Mantice, Sara Modigliani and others, and even before her death, various tributes were dedicated to her, such as benefit concert "Il folk è vita" (Folk Music is Life) in Sezze on 25th November 2006 (link), the event dedicated to Graziella on August 19th, 2008, in the 8th Edition of Civitella Alfedena Folk Festival (province of L'Aquila) (link) and "Omaggio a Graziella Di Prospero" ("A tribute to Graziella Di Prospero") in Bassiano, on May 19th, 2012 (link), during which the project of the "Centro di musica popolare dei monti Lepini" (Lepine Mountains Center of Popular Music) dedicated to Graziella was presented.
At her funeral, that took place at the cemetery of Ariccia, a small town where she lived for years with her husband George Pedrazzi, and his son Francesco, besides relatives and close friends, took part the Mayor of Sezze Andrea Campoli, who commemorated Graziella with these words: I offer on behalf of the city of Sezze my condolences for the death of a personality who, with her passion and with her undoubted artistic talent has helped to make known, hand down and promote an extraordinary heritage of popular culture and art that connote the identity and traditions of our community" (source: http://www.onirikaedizioni.it).
Paraphrasing Fabrizio De André I can say that it was better mourning Graziella than having never known her, and in any case artists like her survive even their own body, thanks to the works they leave and this is, in my opinion, the only kind of life after death.
Tengo no bove se chiama Rosello. (Cetra LPP 273-CF 22) March 1975; IMAGE
AEIOU, alla scola n ci voglio ì più. (Cetra LPP 307-CF 46) July 1976: IMAGE
In mezzo al petto mio ce sta n zerpente, (Cetra Folk LPP 387-CF/) October 1978. IMAGE
Graziella DI PROSPERO (1971) Sex + amo = sesamo.Trevi editore, Roma. IMAGE
Graziella DI PROSPERO, Giorgio PEDRAZZI (edited by (2003) Cara Isabella: lettere a un'eroina dei fumetti (cover and illustrations by Giuseppe Manunta). Nuvoloso, Albano laziale. (ISBN - 9788890541926) IMAGE
Graziella DI PROSPERO () Da New York al Prenestino il passo è breve. (collection of poems)
"Io Emmanuelle" (A Man for Emmanuelle), director: Cesare Canevari (release: September 11th 1969): screenplay and story from the tale "Disintegrazione 68"). link with IMDB
So' nata sfortunata in de le fasce https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-vThVKWRgA
Tengo no bove se chiama Rosello (beginning of the video, then tribute by Sara Modigliani and Mantice) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-G6_TCJXuM
Alziti bella (Sara Modigliani) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7V4eMJDczU.
Stornelli anticlericali del '48 ( Canusia ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3O6VymBr5I
La Cecilia (Canusia) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuNoL_5fxn4
Saltarello dell'infamità (Canusia) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ju4qaeE_zCU
Caro capoccia non tanta aroganza (Bianca Giovannini, Alessandro Mazziotti) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssu_sIPKCoQ
l'Unità, photo archive http://archiviofoto.unita.it/index.php?f2=recordid&cod=7888&codset=SPE&pagina=405#foto_2