Album Review of
La Petite Naples, vol. 2 Opération Sultan

Written by Joe Ross
March 22, 2023 - 12:13pm EDT
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Guitarist Roberta Roman’s new musical project, La Petite Naples, vol. 2 Opération Sultan retraces the history of “Little Naples,” and the influence of Neapolitan culture and music, as well as the city’s relationship with Marseilles, the stopover on the long journey to the United States or Argentina.  Thus, with a dozen reference songs ranging from 1885 (“Marechiare”) to 2023 (“Operation Sultan” and “Lacrime del Mare”) we hear music that is presented not only for its musical and artistic purpose, but also for its social, ideological and historical perspectives.

Collaborating with historian Michel Ficetola, the opening track “Operation Sultan” recounts the story of how General Philippe Pétain, Pierre Laval and René Bousquet took advantage of the German occupation of Marseille in late-1942 to destroy the Saint-Jean district during the last phase of Operation Sultan in February 1943. Over 1,500 buildings were destroyed, and 20,000 inhabitants were expelled by the Nazis in partnership with their cronies. The action was recognized as a crime against humanity by the French Public Prosecutor on May 17, 2019.

Guitarist Roberta Roman is joined by Marisa Mercadé (bandoneon), Michèle Pierre (cello), Vincent Beer-Demander (mandolin), Claude Salmieri (percussion) and Antonella Mazza (bass). The vocals are spoken, sung or rapped to thell the various stories are provided by Petra Magoni (Italian singer), Manu Théron (Marseilles singer), Raiz (Neapolitan singer), Akhenaton (rapper), Lucariello (Italian rapper) and Vincenzo Volpe (voice narrator). This is an interesting project, and I wish I spoke French or Italian to better understand the lyrics.

Other interesting tracks that obviously tell poignant stories are “Guaglione-Bambino,” “Marechiare” and “Argentina.” As a mandolin player myself, I was somewhat more intrigued by some of the masterful instrumental work by Roman and Beer-Demander in tracks like “O figlio d'o' Marsigliese,” “Guapparia,” “Ecoutez les mandolins,” “Tango delle Capinere (Tango des Fauvettes),” “Ojos Negros,” “Lacreme Napulitane,” and “Fantasia Napoletana.”

Roberta Roman began her classical guitar training in Milan, and she moved to Paris at a very young age. Her first album, Les Quatre  Saisons was dedicated to the music of the great Argentinian composer and musician Astor Piazzolla. In 1996, Roberta Roman founded her own tango trio featuring guitar, bandonéon and cello, and with a chamber music interpretation of an original repertoire that spans in between “learned music” (Musica Colta) and “music of the people” (Musica Popolare). Her musical research of tango, T4NO, brought together musicians from different nationalities and cultures. Roberta’s passion for history also led her to rediscover the ancient connection   between Tango’s origins and Neapolitan song (Canzone Napoletana). She is currently a teacher at Erik Satie Conservatory in Bagnolet (Paris). With this project, Roberta Roman vows to continue fighting all forms of discrimination and advocating for the strictest respect for human rights. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)