Niki La Rosa has quite a story to tell. If he tells it in Italian, you wouldn't suspect he was anything but a local Livornese boy, but as soon as he breaks into English, you realise that there are hidden depths of Scottish origins!
Niki (originally Nicholas) was born in Glasgow in 1978 to his Glaswegian mother, Joyce Campbell, and Livornese father Iginio La Rosa. He spent part of his early childhood in Glasgow, coming back to settle in Livorno at the age of 8 when his father "could no longer stand the Scottish weather". The family lived for a period in an apartment at the Goldoni theatre, later moving to the Shangay district in the northern part of Livorno.
Music in the family
Niki comes from a background of music: his uncle, Ian Campbell, was the bass player for Scottish singer Gerry Rafferty, and his mother is an accomplished singer. It was his father, however, who used to bring instruments home and who taught Niki the basic skills on the guitar. From the age of 10, though, Niki preferred to teach himself to play. He was too busy playing football for formal teaching, even when offered lessons by local guitarist Bobo Rondelli (Niki's mum offered Bobo English lessons in return for teaching Niki the guitar - but they never got beyond the first two lessons).
The life-changing album
It was while Niki was a pupil at Livorno's Istituto Nautico Cappellini that he first saw slide-guitarist Roberto Luti play at a blues concert at the Nuovo Teatro delle Commedie. Suitably impressed with Luti's playing, he continued to play the guitar himself and to write music and songs. It was around the same time that Niki heard Eric Clapton's Unplugged album and knew instantly that this was the kind of music he wanted to play. "It was a moment that changed my life," he says.
Combining work and music
When Niki left school jobs were scarce, so he decided to head off to Holland to look for work. When he came back to Livorno a few months later, he found a job with a water delivery company which he continued for several years, playing occasionally in local bars and clubs in a duo with saxophonist Massimo Gemini. The time came, however, in 2009, when he felt a need to dedicate more time to his music, so he left this job and found seasonal work on a yacht sailing around Sardinia, allowing him much more free time to play.
Snubbed by Luti!
Around this time Niki met Roberto Luti personally for the first time, and plucked up the courage to ask him if he would consider busking together. But, as Niki puts it, "Luti snubbed me," and it wasn't until Niki entered a competition at the Teatrofficina Refugio in 2009 with a song called "Ciao" that Luti came forward and actually asked Niki if they could perform together. Slightly overawed, Niki accepted, and that was the start of their musical partnership.
First CD "IN TRIO"
With Massimo Gemini on sax, Niki and Roberto recorded their first cd, InTrio in 2010. It was recorded by Antonio Castiello at Spazio Zero, Livorno. The same year saw the three musicians regularly playing the clubs of Livorno.
Buddhist support in London
In 2011 Niki La Rosa got fed up and decided to move away again, this time to London where he had a cousin he could stay with until he found his feet. After a month he found somewhere to live in Hackney, and a job in a call centre, but it was hard and lonely to begin with. During this time he found his Buddhist faith a great help, chanting every morning and attending regular discussion meetings in London.
Busking in Brick Lane
He bought an amplifier with his savings and headed for Brick Lane for his first busking session. He admits he had to walk up and down the road a few times before he found the courage to set up and start playing, but once he started he began to relax, and the passers-by began to show their appreciation. His busking progressed to other locations, like Lewisham Market (where he earned £80 in an hour and a half!), Notting Hill, Greenwich, and Covent Garden.
New songs in Tuscany
After three months in London, Niki returned to Livorno once again. He went back to working on the yachts at weekends only, leaving himself enough space for his music which he was determined to concentrate on. He took lots of new songs he had written in London to the streets of Tuscany, busking in Lucca and Livorno. He began a regular session on Via Ricasoli on Saturday mornings, and with Luti and Gemini busked the streets of Trastevere in Rome.
Francesco Nuti song
Then, in 2013 La Rosa was invited to sing at a concert dedicated to Italian film director and actor Francesco Nuti (who suffered a severe accident in 2006). Shortly afterwards, he was asked by Francesco and Giovanni Nuti through producer Marco Baracchino to perform the song Olga Tu Mi Fai Morir written by Francesco Nuti and his brother, to be presented as a candidate for the 2013 edition of the San Remo music festival (click here to see the official video of the song featuring Niki). Unfortunately the song was rejected by the contest, but is destined be the soundtrack of Nuti's new film Olga e i Fratellastri Billi for which he is currently looking for a producer.
The fan with the cash
Another stroke of luck happened to Niki in late 2013 when he received an email from a fan offering to fund a new album for Niki. The man, Francesco Lorenzini, had bought a copy of Niki's cd when he'd seen him busking in the streets of Livorno and had immediately appreciated his talents. As a result, a new cd will be released in the coming spring.
Those Scottish roots
When asked how he feels about his Scottish side, Niki says "I had always been more attached to Scotland, until Italy won the football world cup! Then, through my tears, I realized that Italy was deep in my heart. But it's strange, because I feel that I'm none of the two! When I look to my Italian friends I feel that I am different, and when I go to Scotland I feel the same.I can only say that when I listen to music that takes me back to my Scottish roots my heart is filled with a profound sentiment that comes from far away."
Niki La Rosa is currently playing on Thursday nights at the Alcatraz club in Livorno (Jan-Feb 2014). His new album "London Journey" will be released in the spring. In the meantime you can listen to the first single from the album, Father: