Students visiting Italy are regularly surprised by the large volume of American music they hear. Almost immediately they ask “but what is the music of Italy?” The answer is complex. Alongside a mix of recognizable genres like rock, jazz, and pop, Italy boasts a pantheon of Cantautori (Singer/Songwriters) ranging from internationally known artists like Zucchero, Eros Ramazzotti, and Laura Pausini to left-field artists like Mina. Add in the traditional summer ‘Tormentone’ hit and Italy has a musical landscape far from the stereotypical nation of opera singers.
Italian singer-songwriters often appeal to the regional location they’re most familiar with. A singer like Pino Daniele, Neapolitan through and through, will sing songs of love, the sun, and the sea all in his local dialect. He is idolized all over Italy for showcasing the beauty of Naples everyone loves to hear and feel – “La dolce vita” the sweet life of the South. From Genoa, in northwest Italy, you’ll discover the sounds of Fabrizio De Andre’. As Genovese as Christopher Columbus, De Andre’ is an icon of the Italian left and his songs are typically centered on social challenges and political themes. He sings in the dialect of Genoa as well as the dialect of Sardinia.
One of the greatest things about music is its ability to disregard age and connect generations of listeners. When sprightly 61-year-old rocker Vasco Rossi plays sold-out gigs large parts of his audience are in their late twenties and thirties. For them, Vasco is the legend they grew up listening to and singing along with their parents.
The “Tormentone,” or Torment in English, is another kettle of fish. These are purely commercial Italian songs that you just cannot get out of your head, and summertime is Torment time. All of a sudden musicians, writers, and performers strike unholy alliances to produce pure bubblegum pop music. Next time you are in Italy start singing or just humming “Vamos alla playa! O-oh-o-o-oh!” It won’t be long before Italians around you launch into their own version of the 1980-something classic. Few recall who sang the tune, but these words alone are enough for locals to conjure up images of past holidays on packed beaches. Unsurprisingly the song’s title translates into “Let’s Go to the Beach.”
On your next student tour of Italy, I encourage you to take out your iPhone earbuds and discover the authentic music of Italy. Don’t expect to hear opera on every street corner, but instead anticipate a nation with a fascinating and diverse musical scene waiting to be explored. Even if that summer’s “Tormentone” is what you fall in love with…