Marinai, Profeti e Balene

The title of Vinicio Capossela’s two-disk album is translated as “sailors, prophets, and whales” and if that makes you think of literature or the movies, there’s good reason. The lyrics to the 19 songs were inspired by Melville, Conrad, Celine, Dante and Homer, and the Old Testament. The soundscapes created by Capossela, his co-producer Taketo Gohara, and the multinational cast of musicians and singers, have the intimacy of a cinematic close-up and the grand scope of an epic. The film analogy also applies to the record’s production: making this ambitious work entailed a large cast and crew, multiple locations (it was recorded in several Italian cities and on the island of Ischia, and in Berlin, Barcelona, and Brooklyn, USA) and an auteur with the vision and artistic control to make it all cohere in a satisfying whole. 

Marinai, Profeti e Balene, released in Italy in 2011, has been re-configured for the international market: the songs appear in a different order than on the original. (There’s also a booklet with English translations of the lyrics and detailed production credits.) A representative of Ponderosa, the worldwide distributor, told me the order of the songs had been re-arranged to group the “American” material on one disk and the more “Mediterranean” and “Homeric” selections on the other. 

Commander Capossela tells his wondrous tales in an understated, intimate voice that rarely rises above the conversational. He plays guitar, piano, harpsichord and kalimba; the crew handles guitars and keyboards, bass and percussion, horns, and an array of uncommon instruments – marimbula, boulgari, bendir, Cretan Lyra and gamelan. Tom Waits has been a major influence on Capossela, and he has worked with two of Waits’ best-known collaborators, guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist Greg Cohen. Capossela recruited them for Marinai, Profeti e Balene, but Ribot’s only on one track, the terrific opener, “Billy Budd,” along with Cohen; the bassist appears on several other selections. You might wish for more, especially from Ribot, but you don’t really miss them, given the stellar bunch of players Capossela has assembled. And then there are the amazing choruses — the Coro degli Apocrifi, the Drunk Sailors Choir, Valeria Pilia and the Sardinian Women of Actores Alidos, and the Sorelle Marinetti. 

Yet despite the numerous musicians and singers and the eclectic instrumentation, the record never sounds overstuffed. Capossela’s vessel, though fully loaded, moves with ease and grace. 

The tracks encompass sea chanteys (“L’Oceano Oilala,” with its pennywhistle and hearty chorus of mates), hymn-like ballads (“The Grand Leviathan”), and Latin pop (“Octopus of Love,” with music by Joey Burns and John Covertino of Calexico and lyrics by Capossela). “The Madonna of the Shells,” inspired by southern Italian religious folklore, is both avant-garde (in its offbeat instrumentation) and traditional. The effervescent “Pryntyl,” featuring those Marinetti sisters, recalls the 1950s Italian pop you might hear in a Fellini film. On “The Whiteness of the Whale” Capossela recites the apocalyptic lyrics in a hushed voice while the orchestra, playing the part of the ocean, swells, crests and recedes. “Aedo” and the Homeric-inspired “Calipso” boast some of the album’s most appealing melodies. 

I’ve called Vinicio Capossela Italy’s most audacious singer-songwriter. But that sells him short. He’s one of most original talents from anywhere on the globe. And if Marinai, Profeti e Balene had been written and recorded in English, today’s global lingua franca, no doubt he’d be recognized as such, and this unique and visionary work would have been hailed by critics as one of the best albums of the past year.

George de Stefano


Cd 1

  1. Il grande Leviatano – 4:47
  2. L’oceano oilalà – 3:08
  3. Pryntyl – 4:40
  4. Polpo d’amor – 3:43
  5. Lord Jim – 4:34
  6. La bianchezza della balena – 3:59
  7. Billy Budd – 5:01
  8. I fuochi fatui – 4:41
  9. Job – 6:05
  10. La lancia del Pelide – 4:31

Cd 2

  1. Goliath – 3:28
  2. Vinocolo – 4:02
  3. Le Pleiadi – 4:56
  4. Aedo – 5:16
  5. La Madonna delle conchiglie – 4:11
  6. Calipso – 5:02
  7. Dimmi Tiresia – 4:46
  8. Nostos – 3:37
  9. Le sirene + Ghost Track – 21:07


Vinicio Capossela (piano, guitar, farfisa, mellotron and voice), Zeno De Rossi (chains, drums), Marc Ribot (guitar, banjo, mandolin), Greg Cohen (double bass), Psarantonis (Cretan lyra, voice), Francesco Arcuri (marimbula, gamelan, steel drums, toy piano, bells, kalimba, marimbula, santoor, metalphones), Niki Xylouris (bednir, stamna, daouli, daoulaki), Haralambos Xylouris (boulgari), Alessandro “Asso” Stefana (guitar, e-bow, banjo, divan sazi, fiaboli, cubus outi, Calypso guitar), Yiorgis Xylouris (lauto, oud), Giuseppe Cacciola (drums, marimbas, xilofono, timpans, pots, chimes, vetrophones, kalimbas, udu, teste di moro, symphonic percussions), Coro degli Apocrifi, Mauro Ottolini (trombone, Bb trumpet), Taketo Gohara (kalimba, kashishi, cloud gong, tambourine, shaker, maracas, santur, ondioline), Vincenzo Vasi (gu zheng, tres, xilophone, theremin, marimbas, tampura, sea shells, flute, kazoo, carillon, samples, shaker, glockenspiel, teste di moro, triangle, voice, percussions, tubolar bells), Antonio Marangolo (saxophone, marimba, glockenspiel, vibraphone, xilophone), Jimmy Villotti (guitar), Ares Tavolazzi (double bass), Luisa Prandina (harp), Nadia Rastimandresy (ondes Martinot), Sorelle Marinetti (choir), Enrico Gabrielli (bass clarinet, tenor sax), Alessio Pisani (bassoon), Stefano Nanni (piano, glockenspiel, toy piano, organ, harmonium, celesta), Mario Arcari (oboe d’amore, shanaij, flautofono), Giuseppe Ettorre (double bass), Quartetto d’archi Edodea, Danilo Rossi (viola d’amore, Maggini viola), Mauro Refosco (rhythm arrangments, percussions, udu, tin drums, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, kalimba), Valeria Pilia and Actores Alidos‘ women singers (Valeria Parisi, Manuela Sanna, Elisa Zedda, Barbara Zedda), Mirco Mariani (iceberg effects, celesta, ondioline), Antonio Visioli (cello), Myriam Essayan (bodhràn, tambourine), Stephane Lavis (tin whistle), Guillaume Souweine (violin), Caroline Tallone (hurdy-gurdy), Drunk Sailor Choir (choir), Marco Gianotto (Barberia’s organ), CaboSanRoque (mechanic orchestra), Roger Aixut e Laia Torrents (delfin-bañera), kids choir Mitici Angioletti, Daniel Melingo (voice)