The eclipsing of the Neapolitan song
|The persistence of the idea that nothing new could be
done to the Neapolitan song is demonstrated by the
clearly articulated position towards it taken by those
Neapolitan musicians who have obtained recent national
success. These successes took place after an eclipse that
lasted at least a decade, during which the only pop hits
of Neapolitan inspiration were those - largely
Americanized in their sound and adapted to the vocal
style and musical logic of the singer-songwriter - by
Peppino di Capri. The so-called 'Neapolitan school'
advertised by record companies at the beginning of the
Seventies was formed by musicians for whom references to
jazz and soul music were stronger than any regional
reference, despite the use of their dialect:
southern-ness consisted of a metonymic play with
In the first half of the 1970s, the Nuova
Compagnia di Canto Popolare affirmed itself
nationwide, proceeding to recover, decidedly and
explicitly, the repertoires, instruments and expressive
methods of the Neapolitan tradition although
according to some their efforts were mostly
focused on written sources.
It was no coincidence that new groups that privileged the relationship with the still living or revitalized oral tradition, such as the Gruppo Operaio E Zezi di Pomigliano dArco, were soon opposed to them.
Both were cases of work of great quality whose nationwide success is particularly significant: nonetheless, one must note how the repertoire of Neapolitan song was again considered as an other to whom one could be compared, in a manner reminiscent of the urban popular vs. peasant dialectics of Bartòkian origin.
The period between 1964 (the year of the scandal-causing presence of the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano at the Spoleto Festival) and 1978 (the year of the assassination of Aldo Moro and the end of the political movement known as il Sessantotto, or Sixty-eight) is characterized by the strong presence of popular music, and the recovery of the oral tradition on the musical scene and in the conscience of Italian musicians, even of those committed to song and popular music. At times the revival took on commercial connotations that disturbed its scholars and most serious practitioners, such as when folk music ended up being performed on the TV program, Canzonissima, the epitome of television consumerism. What is of interest is that in those years a great deal of popular music circulated in Italy. Singer-songwriter and rock groups declared that they wanted to escape American influences in order to be inspired by the authentic roots of Italian song. Since the Istituto De Martino was at the height of its activity there was no difficulty in learning its sources, from the Genoese trallallero and Sardinian choirs to the dances of the tarantolati, to quote but a few of the musics unequivocally Mediterranean on the basis of their geographic location. Italy is a country that stretches into the center of the Mediterranean, whose repertoire of songs in dialect has been identified worldwide with the sun and the sea of Naples (and Venice, and all of Italy), and had a recently rediscovered heritage of oral tradition. One could reasonably have predicted that a search for authenticity (if the meaning of the word is what it seems to be) in musica leggera, or in Italian popular music, would take place through a relationship with these repertoires and traditions.
tradition to be invented
|But this did not happen. There were sporadic, limited
cases in which this was the case, such as the explicit
arrangements that the Premiata Forneria Marconi
(PFM) made of some of Fabrizio De Andrés songs for
a tour in 1979. However, one must not forget that
as the author himself admitted - De Andrés
tarantellas were derived from Brassens, and not Naples.
1981 saw the release also in Italy of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne, and 1983 saw that of Peter Gabriels fourth album. It is beyond any doubt that these were very influential albums, also consumed and devoured in Italy by all involved in popular music. Piero Milesi, the producer of Fabrizio De Andrés last album, Anime Salve (1996), relates how at one of the early meetings to start recording De André came along with an album by Peter Gabriel to indicate the sound that he would have liked to recreate. My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, with its editing and superimposition of Arab melodies upon the vocals, and basses à la Talking Heads, suggested a starting point to armies of DIY enthusiasts armed with 4-track recorders and collections of Unesco records. The album might be said to have initiated the World Music sound in the most ideologically explicit way: by uprooting music from outside of the Anglo-Saxon and/or economically advanced world and transplanting it in a context of digital delays and sequencers.
In short, at the beginning of the 1980s, all of the premises required to create a Mediterranean that did not exist, or that had not yet been imagined in existing Italian music were in place. This was a non-existent Mediterranean, not the first and not even the last in a series of musical genres or categories (the first that springs to mind is that of Italian rock) created out of an ideological postulate, but for this reason not any less real, less solid. It was, in this respect, much like a character from one of Italo Calvinos novels who was born out of the will of the people, animating an empty armor and making it undertake extraordinary deeds.
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