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The Crazy Open Jam of the Spazio Ligera – Finally a Cool Music Scene in Milan

September 3, 2016

Spazio LigeraMILAN, Italy – The via Padova part of town in Milan, is apparently a little bit of the seedy corner of things. But I didn’t notice any of that last night as I took part in the coolest jam session I have yet been in in this otherwise not very musical – in the pop music sense – city. Oh, once upon a time I had another fabulous jam similar to this, at the anarchist’s club not far from the location of last night’s jam at the Spazio Ligera. And it should be no surprise, then, that the way I found out about this regular, if occasional, jam at this music bar/venue was thanks to my friend Emiliano Laurenzi – who plays the didgeridoo – the very man who had organized the anarchists’ jam at the Circolo Anarchico Ponte della Ghisolfa seven years ago!

Seven years between amazing jams? Of course, I’ve attended the blues jam at Frontera regularly since then, but that is a blues jam. The Chitarrata at the Ligera last night was a jam the likes of which I have only really run into before in Sao Paulo, with everyone gathering around a table and spread out throughout the café and playing whatever instrument comes to hand, with any song that they feel like. Last night I heard more Italian songs in one single night than I’ve ever heard anywhere, and they ranged from pop to rock to the song of the resistance against fascism. But there was also Bob Dylan, 4 Non-Blondes and everything you can imagine in between from the 60s on up to today.
Third at Ligera in Milan

Spiral DidgeridooEmiliano was there, too, with the most bizarre didgeridoo that I have ever seen: A mini, snail-shaped, or spiral, handheld didgeridoo that seemed to have a voice as big as the long, encumbering instrument we know so much better. There were at least four guitar players, a bongo, a kazoo and I don’t know what all else. And vocalists galore. Amazingly, I was never really intimidated by a situation that usually makes me feel a little ill-at-ease, playing with no microphone. But it was best to find a vocal that could be belted out very loud above the din of the joyous gathering of people at the Ligera.
Second at Ligera in Milan

The walls of this underground café are covered with photos and posters of crime movies, and other interesting pop culture phenomena – I also noticed some kind of Stratocaster hung up high on the wall above our head – and I regret that I missed my chance to delve into the cave to take a look at the regular concert space, which in the photos looks like a typical European vaulted cave room. (Think “Cavern Club.”) It is there that Ligera usually holds its gigs with local bands. On occasions when there is no gig lined up, they often decide to hold an open jam like last night’s on the ground floor of the bar.
Fifth at Ligera in Milan

Incidentally, the café is also called a 70s café, whatever that is. All I know is that it was a fabulous cross-section of people attending, and there was as much warmth coming from the jam as there was from the other people in the bar there just to talk, occasionally listen and occasionally sing. It completely and totally lifted my previous sense of Milan as a pretty stuffy place musically speaking into being as capable as any other city of having a very cool and musically vibrant scene.
First at Ligera in Milan

It also confirmed my desire NEVER to jump to conclusions about a city’s musical environment when I have a very poor grasp of the language and cannot therefore easily find the musical get-togethers. To say nothing of my unfortunate timing in Milan in early September when everyone and every venue is still contemplating summer at Lake Como or some cooler place. How could I possibly have found out about this “Chitarrata” without a little help from my friend….

Jamming With an Anarchist on a Didgeridoo at the Leoncavallo Social Center in Milan

September 12, 2011

leoncavallo social center

leoncavallo social center milan

The last thing I expected on my last night in Milan was to have a wonderful jam and an educational and cool cultural experience. But thanks to my friend Emiliano, the didgeridoo-playing anarchist, I had both – and more. We played for two or three hours at the Leoncavallo social center, which is one of the most important of these squat-like places (called a Spazio Pubblico Autogestito) that I will describe in a moment. Emiliano, I just wanted to mention, was someone I met two years ago in Milan during my first open mic adventure. Milan had proven to be one of the world’s most difficult cities to find a jam or open mic in, but it turned out there was indeed an open jam session on the Saturday night I was there, at the Circolo Anarchico Ponte della Ghisolfa, which is the longest lasting anarchist’s association in Italy.

That jam turned out to be a wonderful, almost family affair, in the association’s club locale on the Viale Monza, and there I met the former university professor, PhD and didgeridoo player Emiliano, and his wife Barbara. I won’t go into the details on that one, but simply say that when Emiliano learned I would be there again this year and was looking for a jam session, he decided to set one up at either the club or elsewhere. He chose the Leoncavallo social center, and so I got a history and culture lesson. The place, as I said, looks like a squat and reminds me of the Szimpla space in Hungary. There is graffiti everywhere, it has several different buildings, rooms, gathering spots. It has bars, computers for the public, baby foot tables, ping pong tables, gardens and massive gathering spaces.

The movement of the social center was born a few decades ago, particularly in the 1970s when there was a housing problem in Italy and people did not even have many of the basic needs either from a home or a community. So abandoned buildings were squatted and the social centers were born. The Leoncavallo is one of the biggest – Emiliano said it could hold thousands of people – and it had been closed down by the police periodically in its history. There seems to be some sort of legal status to these social centers, however, which makes them seem a little different than the squat.

In any case, Emiliano brought a couple of his didgeridoos and there was the bass player Fabio, another guy who dropped in to play didgeridoo alone with Emiliano – we had two going with my Borderline song – and Abdul and Willy – they are of Moroccan origin – played percussion, sang and played guitar. It was pretty wild playing Borderline in this situation, but we did some plain old jamming of the never-ending-song kind as well. Later, I interviewed Emiliano in a different room at the Leoncavallo for my film about open mics and jams around the world.

The total of my four night trip to Milan and Monza, therefore, came to two jam sessions in Milan, one at a bar and one at the social center, and playing in a restaurant in Monza with a band. Far, far more than I ever expected, and I revise my previous idea of Milan as being a city without live music jams and open mics!

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