Voices of Dissent

Interdisciplinary Approaches to New Italian Popular and Political Music

by Giovanni Pietro Vitali (Author)
©2020 Monographs XVI, 396 Pages
Series: European Connections, Volume 41


This book is an interdisciplinary analysis of an art form that is crucial to the understanding of Italian contemporary society: political music from the 1960s to today. The musical activities of left-wing and right-wing bands and singer-songwriters reveal deep rifts in a country which, even today, has not yet come to terms with fascism, the political hatred of the Years of Lead, nor the social division of the 2000s, which climaxed in the Genoa Group of Eight summit in 2001.
This book aims to describe Italian political music, highlighting its relationship with important international genres like American folk music revival, the French chansonniers, punk, ska, reggae and alterlatino as well as traditional music from all over the world. These musical influences shed light on a connection to linguistic dynamics that particularly binds the Italian, Spanish, French and English languages.
A case study based on a corpus of forty-one bands and singer-songwriters uses cultural, digital humanities and literary techniques to provide insights into the sociolinguistic aspects of Italian and reveal the linguistic patterns that are typical of politics and gender discourse. The book also presents a comparative study of the relationship between the lyrics of new popular musicians and literature across the globe.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 Roots of the Phenomenon
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 New Music
  • 1.1.1 American Folk Music Revival
  • 1.1.2 The French Chansonniers
  • 1.1.3 Punk, Reggae and Ska
  • 1.1.4 Patchanka or Alterlatino
  • 1.2 Traditional Music
  • 1.2.1 National Roots
  • 1.2.2 International Roots
  • 1.2.3 Traditional Elements in NPP Music
  • 1.2.4 Revival
  • 1.2.5 Remodelling the Music
  • 1.2.6 Remodelling the Lyrics
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2 New Popular and Political Music from Local to Global and from Traditional to Contemporaneous
  • Introduction
  • 2.1 Digital humanities Inquiries into the Lyrics of NPP Songs
  • 2.1.1 Singer-songwriters
  • 2.1.2 Left-wing Bands
  • 2.1.3 Right-wing Bands
  • 2.1.4 Entire Corpus Analysis
  • 2.2 NPP Music Themes and Language
  • 2.2.1 Socio-political Songs
  • Left-wing tradition
  • Right-wing tradition
  • 2.2.2 Gender Dimension
  • Left-wing tradition
  • Right-wing tradition
  • 2.2.3 Geography
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3 Italian New Popular and Political Music and Literature
  • Introduction
  • 3.1 Italian Neorealism
  • 3.1.1 Italo Calvino
  • 3.1.2 Beppe Fenoglio
  • 3.1.3 Carlo Cassola
  • 3.1.4 Nuto Revelli
  • 3.1.5 Mario Rigoni Stern
  • 3.2 History and Writers
  • 3.2.1 Primo Levi
  • 3.2.2 Carlo Levi
  • 3.2.3 Elsa Morante and Eugenio Montale
  • 3.2.4 Pier Paolo Pasolini
  • 3.2.5 Erri de Luca
  • 3.3 Children’s Literature
  • 3.4.1 Emilio Salgari
  • 3.4.2 Gianni Rodari
  • 3.4 French Literature
  • 3.4.1 Jean Giono
  • 3.4.2 Louis-Ferdinand Céline
  • 3.5 Russian Literature
  • 3.5.1 Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • 3.5.2 Sergei Esenin
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Corpus Band Profiles
  • Bibliography
  • Discography
  • Index


Figure 1: Italian chronology

Figure 2: Chronology of the releases of singer-songwriters’ albums

Figure 3: Consensus tree of the singer-songwriters corpus

Figure 4: Chronology of the releases of left-wing bands’ albums

Figure 5: Consensus tree of the left-wing bands corpus

Figure 6: Chronology of the releases of right-wing bands’ albums

Figure 7: Consensus tree of the right-wing bands corpus

Figure 8: Album releases by decade

Figure 9: Album releases by year

Figure 10: Cluster analysis of the entire corpus

Figure 11: Percentage of type/token ratios by decade

Figure 12: Percentage of past tense verbs by decade

Figure 13: Percentages of subjunctive mood usage by decade

Figure 14: Most frequent words in corpus of left-wing popular music

Figure 15: Resistance words in the singer-songwriters and left-wing bands

Figure 16: Culture of class words in the singer-songwriters and left-wings bands

Figure 17: Most frequent words in the fascist popular music corpus

Figure 18: Most frequent words in the right-wing corpus

Figure 19: Collocations of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in the left-wing popular music corpus

←ix | x→

Figure 20: Collocations of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in the singer-songwriters and left-wing bands corpora

Figure 21: Collocations of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in the right-wing bands corpus

Figure 22: Geographical origins of the artists of the corpus

Figure 23: Geographical representation of the artists of the corpus by region

Figure 24: Network of the toponyms of the corpus

Figure 25: Timeline of the singer-songwriters of the corpus

Figure 26: Timeline of the left-wing bands of the corpus

Figure 27: Timeline of the right-wing bands of the corpus←x | xi→


Musicians throughout the world have often attempted to express political opinions or convey messages in their work and to use their status and fame as a platform to intervene in public debate. At the time of writing, American musicians are voicing criticism of President Donald Trump. The field of popular music studies has seen a number of academic analyses of the relationship between music and politics in various countries. Regarding the English-speaking world, they include work on the counterculture of the late 1960s in the United States and the struggle against racism in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s or against Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The political thrust of particular genres such as punk and reggae has also been frequently examined. However, with a few notable exceptions, there is a relative paucity of work in English on Italian popular music and its interaction with politics. The non-specialist may be tempted to assume that there is little of interest beyond the annual Festa de l’Unità, which is often referenced. Giovanni Pietro Vitali’s groundbreaking work on New Italian Popular and Political Music (NPP) is therefore an important and welcome addition to the literature.

Vitali situates musicians’ political commitments clearly in the context of developments in Italian society since the 1920s. He thus takes into account the particularities of Italy, such as the rise of fascism, the role of partisans in the liberation of the country during the Second World War, the significance of anti-fascism in post-war Italian culture, the preponderant position of the Communist Party (PCI) on the left, the ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1969 and its consequences, the ‘Years of Lead’, the demise of the Communist Party, the rise of right-wing populism with Berlusconi and the struggles against neo-liberalism. However, Vitali does not simply link musicians and their work to Italian politics. He also examines the impact of Italian culture and history on the language used in political songs. This is particularly apparent in his fascinating analysis of the use of dialects and local forms of the Italian language.←xiii | xiv→

Vitali also dwells on how Italian artists found inspiration abroad. Their interest in Bob Dylan and Joe Strummer is perhaps relatively predictable. However, the impact of French and Irish music on them is much less so. The cultural and political histories of France and Ireland are markedly different to that of Italy, and there is also the potential problem of the language barrier. Vitali demonstrates how, in the course of the circulation of music, musicians adapt and transform foreign musical forms to their own context and give them new meanings. The mixing of different musical forms and traditions is obviously one of the most original and surprising aspects of Italian NPP music. Interestingly, this element is not limited to left-wing bands. The left, and particularly its more radical sections, has a long tradition of internationalism, which it sees as one of its fundamental values. Internationalism includes an interest in the cultures and traditions of other countries. Yet right-wing Italian bands, even some professing support for the extreme right, have also been influenced by French and Irish music and musicians, attempting to use them in different ways and to give them different meanings.

Although this book will interest primarily specialists of Italian culture, politics and society, the background information about Italy given by the author makes the book accessible to non-specialists. Moreover, Vitali’s work has implications for the study of popular music in other countries. It suggests that a purely national analysis of popular music is at best of limited interest and at worst impossible. His multilevel analysis (local/regional/national/international) is a fruitful model that could be applied elsewhere. Finally, his observation that, at times of crisis for the left, musicians can take up demands not expressed or addressed by organised political forces and that issues can be displaced from the political to the cultural sphere, can be of universal interest.

Dr Jeremy Tranmer←xiv | xv→


This book is the result of a study that began in 2015 when I started to collect information. In the past three years, I have had the good fortune of being able to share my ideas with colleagues and friends who always found time to help and advise me.

First of all, I am especially indebted to the Research Unit MIMMOC at the University of Poitiers and its team of scholars and researchers. Since my arrival in Poitiers, they have shown their support by endorsing this research.

I would especially like to thank the author of the foreword of this book, Dr Jeremy Tranmer. He read the draft of this work and gave me advice on how to improve the quality of my research; his passion and expertise added considerable value to this finished product.

Very special thanks too to Professors Franco Fabbri and Goffredo Plastino who kindly offered me their precious advice.

I am also grateful to Peter Lang and, especially, to Dr Laurel Plapp, for this invaluable opportunity and for their constant availability.

This work would not have been possible without the support of a special friend who followed this research from its first step, Annette Feeney. She offered her time and her friendship throughout every stage of this journey.

I also wish to thank Claire-Lucie Polès, Jodie Jones and Patience Haggin for their unconditional help, and Marino Severini (Gang), Massimo Ghiacci (Modena City Ramblers), Marco di Domenico and Alessia Autuori who accepted to be interviewed for the purposes of this research.

I am grateful to all of those with whom I have had the pleasure to share the content of my research and who have offered help or suggestions. Above all, I wish to thank especially Anita for her constant help, love, and immense patience.←xv | xvi→


This book consists of a linguistic, thematic and cultural analysis of Italian politically committed music. The point of view of this study is comparative and it aims to analyse the Italian political approach to music as a part of the international popular musical scenario. The idea behind this work is not to apply a musicological analysis but to interpret a music phenomenon as the result of cultural, political, literary and linguistic tendencies across the years.

The period considered for the investigation of the case study extends from the late 1960s up to today in order to establish how a chosen group of Italian popular musicians have described the changes that occurred in their country in the last sixty years. Due to the comparative approach of the book, the subject of this research will be considered through a historical explanation of the case study in order to be totally understandable even to a public without a background in Italian Studies.

This work proposes a linguistic and thematic analysis of the style of popular music bands and singer-songwriters who use folk elements as political tools. Popular music is a complex phenomenon to analyse as it tends to mix different music styles and subjects. It is also important to consider that defining and classifying popular music itself is still very subjective within the field of music studies. Indeed, as Fabbri and Plastino, two eminent scholars who have dedicated their research to Italian popular music, write, ‘the main inconsistency still lies in the (partial) approach to popular music as an object to be studied, and not as a field of study’.1 Their theories and works were instrumental in forming the analysis of popular music proposed in this book.2 Popular music can be considered a third genre, whose birth is derived from the previous invention of the concepts of ‘classic’ and ←1 | 2→‘folk’,3 which has renewed itself continuously through its combination with new music, according to Furlong.4 In contrast to popular music, which is linked with the formation of a music market, folk was an ‘authentic expression of the rural pre-capitalistic communities’.5 As Ronald Cohen has explained, folk music has several specific attributes like distinct local and regional origins.6 On the other hand, traditional folk music, conventionally passed down through oral transmission, is also often performed by amateur musicians using acoustic instruments, and is therefore characterised by simple compositions with little complexity and the authorship of the songs is often unknown.7

Based on these perspectives, it appeared that in order to give a complete interpretation of a musical phenomenon with a cultural, literary and linguistic approach, it was necessary to adopt an interdisciplinary methodology for the analysis of the lyrics and the socio-historical context. The methodologies adopted in this work combine linguistics, textual studies, sociology, and political science with the support of digital humanities as a central tool in order to have a better understanding of the lyrics and to add a thematic and linguistic analysis to the musical perspective. This methodological approach was essential in order to give a thorough account of all the aspects of popular music. On this topic, Cook declares that music can only be understood through an approach that takes several elements into account:8

it is not possible to arrive at a satisfactory definition of music simply in terms of sound […] because of the essential role that the listener, and more generally the environment in which the sound is heard, plays in the constitution of any event as a musical one.

←2 | 3→

For my study of Italian politically committed bands and singer-songwriters, I created a corpus of chosen artists who present some linguistic and thematic characteristics in common such as a similar approach to music. The corpus includes those musicians most linked to the Italian political movements from the late 1960s up to today. In order to create a criterion to harmonise the corpus, the musicians of the first part of the corpus – from the 1970s to the 1980s – were chosen according to the role that they continued to have during the Italian politically committed culture at the beginning of the 2000s. This choice does not include a substantial part of the Italian left-wing popular music of the 1970s, but it allowed me to assemble a corpus where each discography is large enough, in terms of word numbers, to be studied with digital humanities tools. The proposed analysis deals with the use of two corpora of reference. In the first I collected examples from songs written by musicians who displayed a politically committed activity. I define this corpus as ‘illustrative’ because the artists mentioned describe some characteristics of the case study. I cite examples taken from lyrics written by those artists according to each specific topic of the book. Furthermore, I wanted to give some examples of lyrics analysis through the use of digital humanities tools because I thought that a distant reading analysis of these lyrics was essential. Following Moretti’s methodological suggestions,9 I pioneered a digital investigation on the writing of those artists because I knew that their lyrics would reveal recurrent linguistic patterns highlighting a proximity with a discourse quite close to a historical political rhetoric.

I then selected forty-two bands for my second corpus, a ‘quantitative’ corpus, which was inquired digitally.10 For these forty-two artists I collected all the lyrics, often transcribing them while listening to the music. My choice did not aim to declare that these authors were more important or prominent than others. They were selected on the basis of how representative they were of Italian politically committed music for the period between the 1960s and 2010s, and for the kind of artists they represented: bands ←3 | 4→and singer-songwriters. Moreover, I had to be sure that each musician’s group of lyrics was composed of at least 4,000 words, which I consider the minimum number of words for a good linguistic and stylometric analysis. It is undoubtedly possible to add other authors to this corpus, as it is also possible to consider some bands more appropriate than others, but when a study is conducted with digital tools, it is necessary to make precise choices concerning the selection of data from all the datasets available in order to create the right balance. Moreover, it is also important to consider the limits and the advantages of software and computational languages used to conduct a digital investigation on a group of texts. I limited my corpus to forty-two artists because I wanted to create a case study which included a number of artists that was not too high, so that a non-Italian reader would not get lost, but which, at the same time, was culturally representative and linguistically and digitally analysable.

I composed the inventory of musicians, which I have also listed in the appendix of this book, providing some information on their biographies and historical context. To compose the corpus I also aimed to select artists representative of two types, according to their political affilation: left-wing artists, which I distinguish further into two groups (singer-songwriters and left-wing bands), and right-wing musicians, which I called simply right-wing bands. In its final form, the corpus of forty-two bands and singer-songwriters totals 317 albums and 2,841 songs.11

The following elements were essential for inclusion in the corpus:

Clear authorship of the songs that can be recognised by the general public.

Political and social content in several songs by the same artists.

The simultaneous presence of old and new elements in one or more of the following aspects:

The artists analysed in this work present all these characteristics and in order to identify them in the complex scenario of Italian popular music, I chose to refer to them as ‘new’ popular and political musicians. This definition, for the purpose of this study, aims to underline their behaviour towards their artistic work that blends together linguistic, cultural and musical elements of the tradition with the new tendencies of the period of their artistic production. With the term ‘new popular and political music’, I aim to underline the way in which these artists think about music. They are popular musicians with a political background who want to innovate their style through the use of a constant combination of new and old music, languages and themes in order to distinguish themselves from other popular musicians. From now on in this book, I will refer to ‘new popular and political music’ as ‘NPP music’.


XVI, 396
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
popular and traditional music Italian music political culture and social transformations multilingualism and literature digital humanities
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XVI, 396 pp., 27 fig. b/w, 5 tables.

Biographical notes

Giovanni Pietro Vitali (Author)

Giovanni Pietro Vitali is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at University College Cork, the University of Reading and New York University. He is also an associated researcher at the University of Oxford, where he is the Digital Humanities advisor on the project «Prismatic Translation».


Title: Voices of Dissent
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