From Calabria to Canada to New York to Clarks Summit, Michéal Castaldo's love for his homeland is as essential to his life as the very air he breathes.
Castaldo is the featured performer at this month's Downtown Go Around, sponsored by the Arts Committee of the Abington Business and Professional Association. This Friday evening, Oct. 11, Castaldo will take the stage at the Clarks Summit Borough Building, 304 S. State St., at 7:30 p.m., and sing a medley of Italian and Calabrian songs as well as several of his own compositions.
Castaldo has donated his performance to this month's Downtown Go Around, which will help support the UNICO Scranton Foundation in its efforts to assist Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton with the construction of St. Francis of Assisi Commons, a housing project for local homeless veterans. UNICO is the nation's largest Italian-American service organization and the month of October is traditionally celebrated as National Italian-American Heritage Month.
Born in the town of Seminara, located in the Province of Reggio Calabria, Castaldo emigrated to Toronto with his family in the 1960s. A classically trained musician, he began performing in his parish's choir as a child. In his teens, he had the opportunity to tour Italy with Calabrian singer Mino Reitano, which inspired him to pursue a career in music and enroll in the Berklee College of Music.
Castaldo explained that his original musical path did not focus on the music of his native land.
"For a long time, I resisted singing Italian songs," he said. "Yes, I grew up in an Italian home, listened to Italian radio and followed Italian artists, but I was trying to create my own path and that was more of a pop career singing English songs, writing and producing my own music."
His aspirations changed when, in 2003, a friend called him asking for recordings of Italian songs as a tribute to his late father. These recordings later became his first Italian album, "Villa."
"At that time, Andrea Bocelli was hot, classical crossover music was cool again and I was at an age where, if you don't make it by a certain time in Top 40 radio, that's it," he said. "I've now released 6 Italian CDs and have reinvented myself by singing classical crossover music, and by singing and writing in Italian. I am a three-dimensional artist; it is about the music, the story, the background and my roots. I've embraced my Italian culture and heritage fully. With my Bergamot album, I even went deeper into my Calabrian roots."
Following his return to his Calabrian roots, Castaldo had the chance to dive deeper into his heritage when he renovated the house he was born in, transforming it into the "Villetta Mimma Vittoria" where people can stay and even get the chance to take a Calabrian cooking class and learn about the art of making olive oil, which dates back several generations in Castaldo's family. Castaldo also founded the New York City Olive Oil Cooperative, which imports oil from Calabria annually.
"I am bringing attention and focus on all of the positive things that come from the region of Calabria," Castaldo said. "My God, there is enough negativity on Southern Italy in the media. We can't undo any of that because of the amount of money that goes into promoting the negativity of Southern Italy, but one person at a time can do something."
"Your heritage can lay dormant for a time but then you get into it because it is so strong of a calling," he added. My roots are deep, deep in Calabria. I feel like an unofficial ambassador to the region."
To learn more about Michéal Castaldo, visit www.michealcastaldo.com