Thanks to her Arab, French and Neapolitan roots, the singer has created a unique artistic path, which has taken her from Italian television to Hollywood cinema. Then she embarked on a solo career and an unusual musical experimentation project...
M’Barka Ben Taleb, 53, from Tunisia, has been in Italy since she was 19, and is a multifaceted artist. After being a singer with Eugenio Bennato and Tony Esposito, an actress with John Turturro, she landed a solo career with an artistic mission that she called One Music, One God: “Music has no boundaries. I put together the southern Italian Taranta, the Tunisian Fazzani and the Middle Eastern Dabka. I want to explore the common roots of people, through musical experimentation that merges into a shared Mediterranean where walls are broken down and horizons widen. I am a non-practising Muslim, I sing in Arabic, Hebrew, French, Italian and Neapolitan.”
Your interpretation of Dicitencello Vuje sung in Neapolitan went viral on YouTube…
“I will never be able to sing in Neapolitan Neapolitan, I was not born here. But my identity is this, Arab, French, Neapolitan. Let’s get familiar with other languages, with other cultures.”
You came to Italy when you were 19. Why in Italy?
“I left with my whole family. In Tunisia we grew up with Italian culture. Back then, there was only the Tunisian channel or Rai Uno on television. I wanted what I saw on television.”
Had you already decided to become a singer?
“I sang in the choir of my hometown. But it wasn’t until I arrived in Italy that I worked professionally. Although at first I had to do other jobs to support myself: the beautician hairdresser, the club entertainer and then the singer.”
“Until one evening, while performing in a club in Pozzuoli, Tony Esposito and Eugenio Bennato came to listen to me. I’d done a few gigs with Tony. Eugenio wanted to include Arabic in the group. That’s how Che Il Mediterraneo sia was born, which is still the theme tune of the Onda Blu program on Rai Uno. That’s where it all started. But in 2005 I felt the need to pursue a solo career. A difficult choice.”
Why was it difficult?
In Italy there is no openness to other cultures. 20% of the difficulties are because of the competition that exists in the artistic world, 80% because I am a woman
A woman and a foreigner?
“No, a woman and that’s it. We’re used as the icing on the cake. I’m very direct. How many times have I heard someone say, “What do you know about Neapolitan songs?” I don’t listen those comments. I enrich the Neapolitan songs. Music has no boundaries, it is a universal language, without borders.”
A bit like you.
“I’ve travelled three-quarters of the world, I’ve met different people, different cultures. My son is 17 years old and was born here to an Italian father. I am a non-practising Muslim, my son is baptised and confirmed because this is part of Italian culture. I respect Ramadan, but I never forced my son to follow it. He’s going to choose when he’s older. I’ve never made my son feel different from the others. Those who think so have a very low cultural level.”
After the music came the cinema, among the five films you filmed as an actress there are John Turturro’s Passione in 2010 and Fading Gigolo in 2013, in which you starred alongside John Turturro, Woody Allen and Sharon Stone…
“John Turturro is a great man. He listened to 400 or 500 songs without seeing the performers and then chose me. At that point I told myself that what I do is important.”
Then One Music, One God arrived...
“Muslims, Christians, Arabs come from the same God. The way I express this artistically, even with sacred texts, is intended to serve to abolish differences. Only lack of knowledge can allow us to construct the walls of hatred, indifference and fear.”
Translated by Adam Clark