Fifty years ago, in a small village in Southern Italy, there lived a taciturn family man with the nickname "Mbrascatu"—"Dirty Face." To this day, when Andrea Algieri returns to his home village of Luzzi in Calabria, most people don't remember who he is until he reluctantly shares the nickname of his grandfather: "Oh! Mbrascatu! Andrea Mbrascatu!"
In 2007, Algieri moved to Portland and formed the Andrea Algieri Band, combining classic Italian vocals with broader world and folk influences. Soon into its existence, though, Algieri realized the band's name wasn't giving enough credit to the contributions of each musician, most of whom he met playing at open mics. One night, he and his bandmates got into a drunken conversation about childhood nicknames.
"Mbrascatu!" Algieri said. "That's it!"
Three years and several new members later, Mbrascatu is set to release its latest album, Tempo. While definitely more worldly than most of Portland's plaid-clad masses, the band's sound is closer to Blind Pilot than Andrea Bocelli. Mbrascatu plays much more diverse and contemporary music than the "Italian folk" label would otherwise give it credit for.
"I try to avoid the word 'Italian,' because every time I say 'Italian,' people think about this standard gondola music," Algieri says. "And every time people think that when I sing, I sing about love. "The first track is about our Prime Minister Berlusconi, and all the affairs [he had] with underage people.â
Mbrascatu cites such a wide array of influences, it's hard to tie its sound down to any physical location. But it does call Portland home, and the band made its latest record with one of the most Portland-y producers out there, Adam Selzer, who's previously worked with the Decemberists, M. Ward and Blind Pilot. The eclecticism is evident: "Non Dirmi," a meandering track with banjo and horns, is followed by "San Francisco Bar," a quickly paced number featuring violins and a jazzy guitar riff. "I don't want to sound like we are original, because I think that there is nothing original on the planet right now," Algieri says. "But we are trying to be interesting."
In a market flooded with distortion pedals and vocal effects, there's something refreshing about hearing folk music with Italian lyrics in the typical Portland haunts. Mbrascatu reminds us that "local" can mean more than a small circle drawn around the metro area.
âThat is the magic around music,â Algieri says. âYou can travel without moving.â
SEE IT: Mbrascatu plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Redwood Son and the Revelry, and Laura Ivancie, on Friday, Jan. 2. 9 pm. $7. 21+.