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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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