Rosa Balistreri, an activist with guitar


“Baby girl, barefoot, woman, mother, because Prosa Balistreri is an extraordinary figure, I would say a drama, a romance, a movie with no face”. Thus, the poet Ignazio Buttitta said after having heard her singing one night in Florence, at the end of the 60’s.
Her “cracked, dramatic and distress singing voice that seemed to come from the burnt land of Sicily” surprised and enchanted everybody: intellectuals like Dario Fo and Mario De Micheli, artists like Renato Gattuso, writers like Andrea Camilleri, academics, researchers and journalists. She had, sitting at her feet, the cultural ghota of Italy during an important turning point of italian history.

Rosa Balistreri was the personification of the vanguard when the vanguard was intended as commitment, courage, foresight, honesty, but also solitude and effort. Her music went beyond the trends of stiylistic attitudes: it was a music with strong and unconventional themes, still current today despite half a century has passed. She was the first woman, certainly the first sicilian woman, to play a guitar and to sing about slaves and masters, mafia, politics, church as an infernal triptych; she was the first to denounce violent men and humiliated, raped and killed women; she was the first to tell about a beautiful but despicable Sicily.

“Politics and protests can be done in different ways: I love to sing. But I’m not just a singer, I’m quite different, let’s say that I am an activist who protests with a guitar”.

Different from others, yes, because her life has been so different, so unique. She had a painful, suffering and dramatic existence but she has never given up, facing the pain and the death with dignity and a strong willpower. She was very angry but she has always controlled her feelings.

Rosa has lived in poverty and misery since she was a child. She had to do menial and exhausting jobs, like cleaning the fish on different markets in winter and working in the fields during summertime, because of the precarious conditions of her family: an alcoholic father, a paraplegic brother, a mother and two sisters in need of care. At the age of 15 she was illiterate but she learned very early and by her own the power of the words. She did a process of discovery and re-discovery of the words among the various forms of sicilian languages and music. Music was her salvation against her violent husband, the prison, abuses, the betrayal, the lost of her son born by false promises, the murder of her sister by the men she was separating to, and the death of her father, who committed suicide to escape from the pain. Thanks to music she had the courage to left Sicily and to come back later, overcoming her sad memories.

The little barefoot child coming from Licata traveled the world, visiting Germany, United States of America and Sweden. She also managed to participate at San Remo Festival.
Her death of stroke in 1990 marked the end of her project of music as denunciation and salvation for people living on the margin of society.
Despite this, his life and works have influenced whole generations of artists, not only coming from Sicily.
Songs like Cu ti lu dissi and Terra can un senti are still played, because of her ability to sing with no filters about humankind.

From Noa to Carmen Consoli, passing through Paola Turci, Alfio Antico, Emma Dante, Nada, Carmelo Salemi (who performed with her, at a very young age, few years before her death) and Simona Di Gregorio who paid tribute to her elaborating the arrangements for “Dedicato a Rosa Balistreri”, album recorded by the band I Beddi, founded by herself.

«Everytime that we are searching the words, the sounds that lie down in our memory, when we would like to read again a page of the book of our memory, then we will find the voice of Rosa, firmly desperate, sweet and tragic».