The Mediterranean and Naples
|It is difficult to imagine a more
Mediterranean repertoire than that of
Neapolitan song. Not only for Italians, I believe. Many
of the clichés on Italy and Italians - which include
abundant references to the sun, the sea, unmistakably
Mediterranean food such as spaghetti or pizza
- are tied to the Neapolitan song. In the last few weeks
France 2 showed an advert that utilized magnificent sunny
images of Venice commented by O sole mio (or
was it maybe Torna a Surriento? What matters is
that there were mandolins) to support the promoted
product. The French advertisers ignorance of the
regional specificity of songs in Italy comes as no
surprise. Firstly, France 2s audience would not
know how to interpret a more geographically correct
soundtrack such as La biondina in gondoleta, and,
what is more, for decades even Venetian gondola singers
have learned to intone O sole mio for
American newly-weds or Japanese tour parties, putting on,
at least musically, Southern clothes otherwise not always
appreciated in the area. The Neapolitan song is
identified with Italy: it is still considered abroad as
an integral part of the mainstream of Italian popular
music, rather than one of the regional, dialectal
repertoires. Indeed, popular texts on World
Music generally do not refer to it, just as they
would generally not refer to Frank Sinatra or Elvis
Presley when discussing the United States, or the Beatles
in relation to England. In fact, in the first edition of World
Music. The Rough Guide (Broughton et al. 1994) there
was no entry on Italy. In the new 1999-2000 two-volume
edition, little more than a single page is dedicated to
Naples; that is, less than what is granted to the
discussion of the nonetheless very interesting Sardinian
traditions. Neapolitan song is allocated approximately
twenty lines. Evidently, Neapolitan song is not
acknowledged as having those requirements of otherness
vis-a-vis the mainstream which are considered essential
in World Music ideology. While this is a
rather significant symptom of the fragility of that
ideology, it nonetheless reveals a common feeling
certainly preceding this particular ideological
formation. Fado (even Lisboa antigua) is
roots, tango (even La cumparsita) is
roots, but the Neapolitan song is mainstream.
After all, Caruso and Beniamino Gigli used to sing it.
But this is not the fault of foreigners. Even Italians who express surprise that their image abroad is that of short southerners with little black moustaches who gesticulate and eat garlic from morning to night think the same of the Neapolitan song. It would be difficult to understand the history of Italian popular music in the last forty or so years without considering as a given this common feeling, this form of identification, and the resulting need to re-locate the Mediterranean components of Italian popular music whichever these may be - outside of the mainstream, to rescue them from the mark of conservatism.
2. Urlatori and melodici. And cantautori.
|Towards the end of the 1950s the signs of change
manifested themselves strongly with the emergence of the
urlatori, or shouters (the name
that the critics of the time gave to local rockers), and
the cantautori, or singers-songwriters (who
were influenced both by the French chansonniers and
rocknroll: the name was suggested by a record
producer, Vincenzo Micocci) (1).
The fact that Modugnos repertoire featured songs in dialect, although composed by the singer himself, and that Claudio Villa referred mainly to his Roman origins (he was from Romes neighborhood of Trastevere) complicates, but does not really interfere with the ideological implication of this confrontation, which rapidly assumed broader dimensions.
While the southern dialectal song was intoned, tenor-like, at the top of ones voice, and was considered to be conservate, song in the Italian language - interpreted with the crooners or the chansonniers quotidian voice, and earlier on Modugnos curious, cabaret-style drawl - was considered to be innovative. The representatives of the Neapolitan song (authors, singers, publishers, record producers) consciously sheltered behind this hostile position against innovation increasingly making the festival of Neapolitan song (threatened by the competition of the Sanremo festival whose rules excluded songs in dialect) the sanctuary of tradition. Furthermore, they contributed decisively to the identification of Neapolitan song with the conservative past. As byproducts of the dialectic, to adapt Adornos useful notion to a different kind of music, always emerge; that is to say, musics and musicians eluding categorization, whose existence challenged a polarity that had already come to constitute common sense. Renato Carosones parodistic genius confirmed that very same dialectic, especially since it redeemed Neapolitan-ness through parody.
On the other hand, the treatment reserved for E la barca tornò sola (a song in the language but modeled on the rhetorical examples of the Neapolitan tradition) could no longer allow for doubts as to whether Carosone should be listed among the innovators.
E la barca tornò sola (mp3 file, 335 kb, 1.52 min)
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