As an expat in southern Italy it’s only natural that the second you hear someone speaking English, your ears immediately perk up and your head naturally gravitates to this “foreign” sound. And that’s how I came to meet Ben near the consulate in Naples. He overheard us speaking English and said, “ah, Americans…” and that was that.
Ben Slavin is an American singer-songwriter who has been living in Italy for over 10 years and currently calls Naples home. Last year, he released his first solo album entitled “Palepolis” (ancient Greek for “Naples“) recorded in a 17th century basilica. Ben’s writing gives you an honest bittersweet look at life in this city from a unique point of view, that of an expat’s experience and ever evolving relationship with the city over the years. His video for “Tie and Bound” was filmed in Naples and Capri and gives you an insider’s look at its monuments, people and colorful personality.
I’m thrilled that Ben was able to take some time to answer some questions about his music and his expat life.
So, let’s get started!
The city of Naples was obviously your muse for this album, what was it about the city that really inspired you to write these songs?
I didn’t actually start off with the intention to write a song about Naples per se. I just started writing about the last ten years of my life and the things that influenced me everyday. Slowly, I started to realize that the images I was writing about were about Neapolitan personalities, history, metropolitan myths and politics. After awhile it just seemed natural to write a short “song cycle” about my time here and the people, places and stories that influence me.
How did you team up with the non-profit “L’Altra Napoli” and Apogeo Records?
I met Andrea De Rosa, manager of Apogeo Records, while I was studying guitar at his music school. I passed him an old demo of songs I had done a few years back and he asked me if we wanted to collaborate on an album together. Once I saw the recording studio in the 17th century basilica of San Severo I was sold! I am really excited about working with a non-profit like “L’Altra Napoli” because of the great work they do in the community and being real catalysts of change through social and cultural projects.
The video for “Tie and Bound” beautifully showcases the many different layers of Naples, how did you come up with the idea?
Actually the video was shot by a director in New York named Victor Mignatti (nominated for Grammy for R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet”). Victor is also fascinated with Naples and wanted to show all the sides of the city and not just the “romantic” and scenic parts of the city. “Layers” is a great way to describe Naples…the city is just surrounded by social, cultural and historic layers. It’s been ten years and I’m still trying to find a way to peel through them all!
You made your way to Naples via Milan and Umbria, what made you choose to stay in Naples?
I came here to intern in PR at the San Carlo opera house. I quickly made strong emotional ties and decided to put down roots here. It’s not an easy city to live in but despite the organizational difficulties I find it culturally stimulating. As much as we American expats complain about the city few of us build up the courage to leave. The good definitely outweighs the bad and I really feel that living here is a privilege.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Naples, what do you want potential tourists and/or expats to know about it?
Naples is so often overlooked while it should be included in every trip to Italy. It is as historically and artistically important as Venice, Florence or Rome and you need at least a week to visit all of it’s museums, walk the streets and, of course, eat the best cuisine in all of Italy. It is also seen as a dangerous city but recently an Italian newspaper did a report on intercity crime and Naples didn’t even come in the top 20! Rome,Milan and even smaller more provincial cities have a higher crime rate than Napoli. You are, of course, in a city of one million people so you do have to pay intention (leave your Rolex and pearl strands at the hotel!) but you are in no more danger than any other European capital.
I’m sure My Bella Vita readers would love to know some of your top places in Naples, so could you share a few of your favourites with us?
In my opinion the best pizza in Naples is on Via Tribunali at “Sorbillo” (and it has the hour long lines outside to prove it). As far as restaurants go I love “I Primi” in Mergellina and “Nanella” in the Quartieri Spagnoli (a must also for the experience!).
I think Cafè Nea in Piazza Bellini is by far the best cafè in Napoli and doubles as an art gallery.
…Place to visit?
Naples is slowly becoming a tourist destination. So many people just rush through the historical center and stay around that area. I suggest going up to the Certosa of San Martino which has an excellent museum and probably the best view of Naples. The best place for shopping is on Via Dei Mille in the Chaia area which is almost completely absent of tourists. My favourite spot in the city though has to be the Castel Del’Ovo and the Lungomare. If you go at sunset there is just no place like it in the world. I don’t think there is anything better than enjoying a prosecco with friends and watching the sun set over the bay of Naples.
…Venue to catch some live music?
There are so many great music venues in the city. Of course there is the great temple of opera “Teatro San Carlo” which is the oldest working opera house in the world. One thing tourists don’t know is that Naples is known for having the best jazz scene in Italy (and one of the best in Europe). “Around Midnight” in the center of the “Vomero” neighbourhood has jazz concerts every night. For emerging Italian rock bands and singer-songwriters you can go to Kestè right in the historical centre next to the Federico Secondo University. They have concerts six nights a week and some of Naples most famous bands and singers used to play regularly there.
Thanks so much Ben!
Hope y’all like it!