Anna Bassy’s voice, a sophisticated and genuine singer-songwriter, is one that impresses the senses on the first listen. That’s why her five-track EP Monsters, which officially introduces her to the music industry, stands out, not only for the elegance of the melodies and the arrangements, but above all, for the feeling of authenticity and the emotions it conveys.
Born and raised in Verona, Northern Italy, Anna Bassy has been trying to give her thoughts, feelings and fears a musical form since she was a young girl. Now that she is more mature and aware, she faces the need to talk about herself by shaping a sonic matter made of soul, pop, folk elements and electronic contaminations, while lining up the stages of a—still ongoing—journey inside and outside of her. On the occasion of the release of Monsters, we reached out to her for a long chat about her music, her songs and her world.
GRIOT: When and how did you approach music and singing?
Anna Bassy: My musical memories go so far back in time that it feels like music, and in particular singing, have always been in my life. I was part of various choirs, from the parish choir to school one, and then I would perform with some friends for fun, forcing our parents to be the audience of our shows. Music was present, even if not in a structured way, but in a more spontaneous, natural one, to mark moments of life. Studying music came relatively late. I took my first singing lessons at eighteen, as soon as I had a bit of independence, a driver’s license and a job on the weekends.
When did you start writing your songs?
There had been some attempts at writing since I was a teenager, and then with some bands I used to hang out and rehearse with. My path developed into cover projects, but in 2016 my first songs finally began to take shape and, above all, they took the shape I wanted to give them. And at that moment I felt the need to share them.
Your musical project is very personal, you expose yourself to weaknesses and fears. How were the Monsters’s songs born?
Some songs come out with “urgency”, they were written almost in the space of a day. Words and melodies are born together, they already know what they mean and my job is just to make room for them. Others songs, come a little at a time instead, a phrase or a verse every now and then. Sometimes I leave them aside for months, years, and only decide to go back to them after some time. Actually, I didn’t decide: at some point they came back to me, insistently. I have understood the meaning and the potential of them, but almost all of these songs were created to “heal”, and as you say, they are very personal and contain many words and thoughts that I would not normally be able to express.
What was your main source of inspiration?
The inspiration really came from the questions I ask myself every day, from the challenges I encounter in everyday life, in short, from life. That’s why I said they were born to heal. Because they are the tools I use to answer questions, indeed, even before formulating them. And in the same way they help me to focus on my efforts, to give a face to my “monsters”. Not necessarily to understand and face them, but at least to try to look them in the eyes, to define them.
And how did the songs reach their final form? How did the collaborations with the other musicians and Francesco Ambrosini, the producer of the record, start?
For many of these songs the work actually started in the rehearsal room, where we worked thinking about the live dimension. The collaboration with the band that accompanies me today —Pietro Girardi, Pietro Pizzoli, Andrea Montagner — was born exactly for live gigs. In 2018 I had my first demo with three unreleased songs, and many other drafts in my head, and I really wanted to go back to doing gigs. I was able to find people who supported me in this path, they made me and my music grow, they supported it! So after an intense period of live gigs, we decided to bring these songs to the studio and we relied on Francesco Ambrosini, whom we knew for the work he had done for other musical projects in Verona and whom we particularly respected. I am grateful for this encounter. Today, Monsters exists as it is also thanks to him.
The theme of the EP is fear in its many forms: what are your fears and how do you try to overcome them?
I have got a lot of fears, some are more concrete, others are irrational. But many of these stem from insecurity: the fear of not being enough, of not doing enough, of not being worth enough. I can’t identify all my fears, but the path also lies in this, firstly on discovering them, on calling them by their name. Surely, turning them into music, writing them, singing these fears really helps to define and face them. But in order to try to overcome them, it is also essential to seek help; it was important for me, and it still is. I don’t want to be alone in the dark, I want someone to hold my hand.
What are your most important influences? And which artists do you consider your reference points, even outside of music?
My teenage years were the moment I began to look music up with awareness. I started buying my first CDs, I did not just passively listen to what was on the radio, and in that moment I also started looking for the music that touched me the most, that I felt closest to. So, I ended up in the world of black music: hip hop, R’n’B, gospel, funk. The influences that have left a mark on me up until now certainly come from there. Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, Erikah Badu … Then Ben Harper, Nina Simone, and finally, Ayo and Nneka, with whom I share Nigerian origins and who have always struck me for their ability to communicate in a simple and direct, but so deep, intense, meaningful way. However, lately I don’t have any real reference points, I like to stay with my eyes and ears (and heart) open and collect inspiration from anyone who can give it to me, whether it is music, literature, photography, or everyday life.
Your songs and images are often linked to natural elements: what is your relationship with nature and how do you live it?
I was born and raised in a place surrounded by nature, and as much as I dreamed of living in a metropolis as a young girl, every day I realise more and more that the contact with the natural element is essential for me. This is where I breathe again, where my mind opens up, maybe because spaces become wider, and there is more room for me, for my thoughts. Walking in the woods, being close to water leads me to be silent and to listen. And this silence, inside and outside, brings me back to balance, it allows me to look at things from another perspective. You touch the bark of a tree and it feels like you are more rooted in the ground. And then sounds, noises, colours are pure inspiration. There, you perceive beauty more clearly.
Embarking on a path or a real career in the world of art and music is not easy, especially for a woman. What difficulties and obstacles did you encounter? Have you ever felt diminished, misunderstood, undervalued, frustrated due to prejudice and stereotypes?
I think it’s complicated, at least for me, to be objective, to know how to recognise one’s limits, and at the same time one’s strengths, in order to understand when an opportunity is denied to us because the artistic project is not valid or adequate, or because one is judged on the basis of how they are perceived outside. That being said, I felt — and sometimes I still feel — belittled, misunderstood, underestimated, frustrated, but I struggle to attribute it to being a woman. Rather, I tend to think that I am not capable enough— to return to the fears I mentioned earlier. But ultimately, this feeling of mine can be partly traced back to a tendency of thought that lies outside of me. If you just look at the line-ups of many of the major festivals last summer, you’ll immediately notice the discrepancy in terms of representation. And it is the same thing that I have experienced in smaller situations, for example in many contexts in which I have played in the past months, where out of the five bands on the line up, with an average of three or four band members, the women present were overall a couple at the most. And this certainly does not help building the perception that the world of music is a place where we are recognised, valued.
Is there any artist, band or musical project in the Italian music scene that you feel akin to in terms of genre, atmosphere, content? And is there something or someone you simply like?
I admit to being more attentive to music that comes from abroad than within Italian borders. I struggle to find similar projects, but I think the difficulty lies mainly in being able to see myself from the outside, and precisely in understanding where I am musically. It is much easier for me to find affinity with regards to the contents, perhaps not so much with respect to those of my songs, but rather those that I look for in the music of others. For example, Mannarino, Brunori Sas, and then some artists I have had the opportunity to see live in recent years and who have particularly struck me for their communicative strength on stage come to mind, such as La Rapprensentante di Lista, but also Alessio Bondì and Chris Obehi, whom I met and saw live last summer. He is an incredible talent, so authentic.
You were born and raised in Verona: how is the relationship with your city? Where would you like to live elsewhere?
Sometimes I had the feeling that living in Verona took away my opportunities, but it is still a place where I am deeply rooted, where my family is. However, when I happened to go to London for a few days, I immediately felt a lighter air. Free from gazes and judgments. Many times, I felt like a “foreign body” or perceived as such in Verona. While in London you are… whoever you are, and that’s okay. Thus, surely London is a place where I would like to try and stay, also and above all for its cultural and musical liveliness. And there is also a piece of my personal story, and therefore of my heart, in this city. And speaking of story and heart, I’d like to try to live in Nigeria too, I’ve never been there, but I’m also a daughter of this country and I’d like us to give each other the opportunity to get to know each other.
So, how is the relationship with your Nigerian roots?
A little troubled. I seek them, but I do not always find them. After all, it is a relationship that I had to build on my own. I have no contact with my Nigerian family and therefore it is a part of me I define by attempts. But it is a bond that I cannot and do not want to ignore. I’m on a journey to regain possession of it and rediscover it, sometimes definitely looking for it in the wrong way. Very often I search it in music, books, stories of others instead.
What are your plans for the next few months?
I will devote myself to promoting the EP, I would like to reach as many people as possible (of course!). We have a few live gigs scheduled for the next few months and I hope there will be many more. Doing live gigs is an essential dimension for me, a moment that, to be honest, I fear and look forward to at the same time, but it’s very important to make my music and myself evolve. And it is beautiful and challenging and stimulating to be able to communicate directly with whoever receives my music. And then, I’d like to go back to the studio, I have some songs ready to be recorded. I also hope to be able to take some time off to write, and resume the countless drafts of lyrics and melodies scattered here and there on voice notes in my phone.
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Half Italian, half Egyptian, I was born in Marche, I lived in Bologna fora while, and I’ve been adopted by Milan. I work in the field of communication and media. I write about music, street art, counter-cultures and I’m deeply fascinated by cultural contamination at any level.