14 November 2013
By: Sam Murray
Welcome to another edition of Union of Sound, a unique exploration of Popular Music in Europe taking in music from acts that innovative, creative and exciting. Last week I talked about music that is exciting me from Portugal and this week we are going to Italy and country renowned for its culture particularly its food, art and fashion. It is also one of the countries that made a massive contribution to the development of Western Arts music with composers such as Vivaldi creating timeless music and setting the standard for music development. Even today those who learn how to read scored music encounter Italian words such as ‘adagio’ and ‘fortissimo’ annotating how their music should be performed. Italy has given a lot to music as a nation but we don’t really hear much about their popular music scene. In terms of artist popularity I’m sure you could name classical stars such as Andrea Bocelli but perhaps struggle to name the artists topping the charts. Perhaps this is because we expect in a global music market for songs to be sung in English and are afraid to touch music in another language. Perhaps we shouldn’t if we don’t understand the words because it presents a barrier to finding a real meaning. But the actual music is quite accessible, the genres used in Italian popular music are ones British and American ears hear all the time.
Out of all the non-English popular music scenes in Europe the Italian scene to my ears has a consistent grasp on producing top quality pop music. Even the talent programmes are producing great pop music that even a manufactured pop cynic might give a second look at! One of the reasons for this might be the, Europe’s original song contest. This contest pits songwriters and singers together to find what the best song in Italy is every year. The results it is producing are astounding with many of Italy’s best singers topping the charts after scooping the top prize in the contest. The artists I am going to talk about this week are Sanremo alumni and are making Italian pop that bit more exciting.
I first came across Nina Zilli whilst researching an old edition of San Remo for my father who used to live in Italy in his younger days. Using that great tool, the internet, I found that she had won best newcomer at San Remo with her track L’Uomo Che Amava Le Donne a wonderfully catchy pop song that was double A-sided with a unique Italian cover of the motown hit You Can’t Hurry Love. After this exposure I was talking to a friend of mine Leo from Milan and he showed me even more Nina Zilli and introduced me to the song I fell for Nina’s music to Baccio d’A(d)dio. Baccio d’A(d)dio is the height of cool Italian soul, with such a laid back feel and classy vocals like drinking a can of lilt and taking a long exhale after drinking. Nina is the queen of Italian soul and is the pioneer of the resurrection of the beehive sporting the look before Amy Winehouse. She is not keen on the comparisons made as Nina sees herself as a unique entity and musically proves it with a diverse output. She has a keen affection for reggae and even appears on Italian rastamuffin Alborosie’s latest record singing a groovy ska tack.
Alboroise is a strong Italian artist in his own right becoming one of the most successful exports the country has had. He is a reflection of the strength of the Italian reggae scene with the genre being highly popular with teenage, student and twenty-something’s alike. He’s had a huge international hit with ‘Kingston Town’, a staple for the likes of tope reggae DJ David ‘Ram Jam’ Rodigan. Alboroise shows innovation in new ideas of dancehall and roots reggae and connecting them in homage. He is also fully committed to Rastafarianism and lives in Jamaica.
The next artist I want to share with you is Annalisa Scarrone, another titan of female led pop in Italy. She had one of the big pop hits of 2012with Tra Due Minuti de Primavera a quirky orchestral pop song that I first heard on Italian music television while on a family holiday to Rome. My father and I saw the music video and were astonished by the song, so much that we had to track it down on our return to the UK. Luckily the song was part of the music channels promotion campaign and Annalisa was on the front page. I immediately ordered her record and fell for the album ‘Metre Tutto Cambia’ which is full of quirky pop tracks and soulful ballads. Her follow up ‘Non so Ballare’ is a more ballad based record with more interesting breathing spaces and conjured atmospheres. She has attempted San Remo this year but failed to pass through to the final despite a strong song in the form of ‘Scintille’.
A singer who has had success from San Remo is the charming Arisa, who made her fame out of Italian’s answer to X Factor and American Idol. Arisa produces a sweet tasting pop that fills its listeners with immense joy. One only has to listen to the delicious ‘Sinceritá’ as an example of her beautiful performance, a very simple song that leaves behind the sugar dust you used on your last cake. With flirtations in different musical ideas including electro swing and melodic orchestral pop Arisa is a singer who defies expectation but promotes musical reliability.
Recently I made another trip to Rome and was keen to find out what had musically changed since my last visit. It didn’t take long to find out who has attracting public attention with posters all over the city. The Rome metro was dominated by posters of Laura Pausini whose work is a mixed bag of pop but hat surprised me was the popularity of Raphael Gualazzi. Those of you who know the Eurovision Song Contest know that Raphael was Italy’s first entrant after an absence of over 10 years in the competition. His song ‘Madness of Love’ a smooth yet raucous jazz number came second in Dusseldorf losing out to a pretty shocking song. The contest is synonymous in some circles with being a poisoned chalice into obscurity but sure enough Raphael is back with one this year’s best records ‘Happy Mistake’. I went into a music shop near the Trevi Fountain, something of a rarity in Rome as I found out from a gelataria owner that Italians culturally don’t do CDs anymore and downloads are king , and found this album so bought it and found it to be a happy mistake! Raphael has crafted a perfect piece of jazz pop with the perfect blend of cheeky lyrics and virtuosic solos. The highlights come in his collaborations on the album ‘L’amie d’un Italien’ on which he’s joined by French singer Camille, and his duet with The Puppini Sisters (UK) ‘Welcome to My Hell’ a filthy bluesy gospel song with sweetheart backing touches make this a soulful track. My personal favourite on the album is a track called ‘Baby What’s Wrong’ a jazz tune with a syncopated almost reggae lilt to it that’s just charming. With predominantly English sang record maybe those of us in the English speaking world can hope to see him on tour soon!
What is clear form a voyage into Italian music is that a nation festooned with musical history is still creating and being part of music’s contribution to the world. Italy still brings to romance into music and its songs are full of wonder, delight, heartache and devotion. So keep your ears on Rome, San Remo and Puglia for the land that once conquered the ancient rule will conquer again with its songs and soul.