On Wednesday, 22 July the first episode of Blues in Mi: Milan neighbourhood identity was launched at the Milan Triennale at the AriAnteo Arena. A Folco Orselli project, directed by Terzo Segreto di Satira, the film was issued online at the end of June. The Milanese songwriter is used to playing the Blues in numerous original ways, always centred on affairs of the heart. In this new venture, Orselli has drifted along to the outskirts of his city to produce five inspiring docufilms on urban identity passages. In all the episodes, the Blues becomes the point of departure for exploring various artistic forms and discussing environmental issues at the outskirts of the city. The first chapter, entitled Blues Contest, Hip hop, Rap & Trap; neighbourhood music, stars the young performers: Lokita, Islam Malis and Jay Dee.

The Blues acts as a glue between different cultures (Italian, Egyptian, Philippine) and styles (rap, hip hop, trap), passing through three areas (Baggio, San Siro, Giambellino). The song Neighborhood was born from this explosive mix. A multicultural synergic experiment arranged by Orselli and supervised by rapper Ernia

The future is also in the suburbs

Certain people have tried to paint a negative image of the city outskirts, presenting them as unsafe areas. On the contrary, as I know them, they hold great potential and opportunity as that is where the real experiment of coexistence between different cultures takes place. You just have to listen to the stories told by the young people who live there to understand that these rumours are unfounded. Big cities are a breeding ground for multiculturalism and whoever opposes this fact goes against the course of history. The future is already here, you just have to meet it along the way. A relationship based on trust and respect was built with the youths during the making of the film, Orselli says. He firmly believes in a narrative that is able to communicate reality through the creative act of a song. “I represent Dante descending”, jokes the songwriter, “then there’s my Virgilio who is Ernia”.

The Blues comes from the soul

“I needed a language that could sustain the true being of people. The Blues transcends the concept of gender, it is a feeling, an emotion. You can’t fake it. It’s something you have inside. It originates as a song of freedom and it tells the story of people’s labours. In actual fact, trap, hip hop and rap originate from funk, and funk was born from the Blues. Hip hop was born from James Brown’s samplings, for example. So it wasn’t hard to find common ground with the youths”. This common ground for Lokita, Islam Malis and Jay Dee is more like an initiation when you think that they are usually used to working on pre- existing bases and not with instruments and musicians in a recording studio.

I wrote the piece of music using the recording and only gave the youths rough indications for the lyrics. They each wrote separately, unaware of what the others were doing. Then out of pure magic, their notes assembled together perfectly. This goes to show that when diversity is mingled together the potential multiplies and becomes explosive

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Jay Dee, Lokita, Islam Malis (photo: Lorenzo De Simone)

Islam Malis

After cracking a couple of jokes with the rapper Islam Malis, one of the three performers, we understand how the neighbourhood where you live determines your choices as a twenty year old. Born in Milan to Egyptian parents who “had undergone an insane journey to get to Italy”, he presently lives in the Baggio area, but grew up in the Giambellino area, where he is a key figure at the Centro di Aggregazione Giovanile (Youth Centre). “The Centre helped me when I was going through a rough patch. We have organized many initiatives there. When Covid arrived, we organized a fundraising event for people who had real difficulties in making ends meet. I care deeply about my neighbourhood. I’m also involved in the project for the redevelopment of the block of flats 181 in via Lorenteggio”.

Islam began to compose rap verses around 13 years of age because he felt a growing unease he needed to explain in some way. “In Neighbourhood I say How much does freedom cost…..millions, a phrase that represents me enormously. Because if you live in the suburbs you have nothing ready for you. Everything that I’ve got I have earned through hard sweat and enormous sacrifice. I realize I’m tough but this life leaves you feeling really bitter”. He’s enthusiastic about having taken part in Blues in Mi, about sharing with other musicians and with different kinds of music, and also because of the laid back atmosphere that was established between everyone.

There is heaps of talent trapped inside council estates. That’s why I like Folco’s project, as it shines a light on young men and women who want to be active and emerge

Photo: Lorenzo De Simone