Voices of Dissent

Interdisciplinary Approaches to New Italian Popular and Political Music

by Giovanni Pietro Vitali (Author)
Monographs XVI, 396 Pages

Table Of Content


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’.

I first started to think about the term NPP music after reading an essay by Andy Bennett on music and media. Describing the relationships between old and new media and popular music, Bennett explains that ‘the mediation of popular music has also seen a range of other media forms, both traditional and new, come into play, particularly from the 1950s onwards, when popular music began to diversify and new, larger audiences were created’.12 Following this passage Bennett describes how after the beginning of the 1950s a new way of interpreting popular music through the new media, radio, as well as magazines and journals, started to be common and ‘new popular music genres’ started to appear. The artists analysed in this book represented, at their time, a new approach in Italian popular music that mixed the traditional approach to music, language, culture and politics with the characteristics proposed by international artists of several genres, whose music began to arrive in Italy, by means of radio and magazines, in the late ←5 | 6→1960s. According to Varriale, this happened thanks to a process of ‘cultural globalisation as economic modernisation and a subjectivist understanding of cultural hierarchies’ that ‘gave space to a wide variety of international pop music, helping the magazine maintain its position of commercial leadership in a changing musical landscape’.13 As Fabbri pointed out, the interest specialised newspapers showed towards popular music was not shared by periodicals,14 almost as if the Italian traditional media maintained a resistance towards the spreading of popular music and the consequential innovation of the genre. Also B. Lee Cooper insists on the importance of the role played by specialised newspapers in the creation of a new popular music. The American musicologist shows how ‘Billboard and Cash Box, the major music trade journals of the period, provided weekly documentation of song acceptance within the public forum. These two journals also trace the rise and fall of particular recording artists. By the end of the 1950s, a new popular music galaxy was established’.15 Another example of a previous use of the term new popular music is given by Robert Burnett, who analyses the relationship between the music market and popular music in the United States from 1948 to 1990. Burnett highlights how the music market displays a sort of contrast between an ‘old popular music model’ and a ‘new popular music model’:16

Today they are continually forced to present new styles and new artists to maintain their dominance. A growing international youth market and an ageing rock audience have fundamentally helped to change the way the phonogram industry works. The cyclical model is unable to explain this new situation. The ‘new popular music ←6 | 7→model’ must take into account that thousands of small independent labels help produce the music, in symbiosis with the transnationals, who in turn must sell to a differentiated audience. Thus the transnationals are able to respond more rapidly to the latest trends in music and youth culture.

The analysis in Burnett’s work adapts perfectly to the artists who are the protagonists of this study. The majority of them started their careers with independent labels, later passing to well-known labels in the music market. For example, Fabrizio de André, who started his career in 1966, released his first album, Tutto Fabrizio De André [All About Fabrizio de André],17 with Karim, a small record label, which went bankrupt the same year. This singer-songwriter’s popularity increased over the years and his following works appeared with more renowned labels such as Produttori Associati or Ricordi. Another more recent example is the band Modena City Ramblers, who first recorded in 1991 with Helter Skelter records, a small label specialising in punk and industrial rock. A few years later, their music was being distributed by Universal. Moreover, many of them faced one of the most difficult moments for music distribution, the arrival of the digital era and the consequent modification of the music market, which had to compete with social media platforms such as YouTube and Spotify, as well as deal with the illegal aspects of peer-to-peer sharing.18 These artists had to rethink their way of making and distributing music, like the band Rein who in 2006 released their album, as did others, under a Creative Commons license on the website Jamendo, a digital service for free music.19

NPP is not a declaration of genre but I identify it as a group of artists who wrote their music and lyrics blending old and new styles, as Tim Wall affirms, ‘the past of popular music, therefore provides us with a set of musical and cultural repertoires out of which we can make new popular ←7 | 8→music’.20 New popular music is a polymorphous definition which is often used to identify the mixing of different elements in order to create something new that has still not been classified. For instance, Tony Mitchell in his essay on Western World music describes the introduction of African elements in Western music as ‘a desire for the exotic, and a quest for new popular music forms capable of regenerating repetitive music forms’.21 In this example, a combination of genres is defined as new popular music but it can also be the use of an instrument. Indeed, John Shepherd uses the term ‘new popular music’ to define the result of the use of synthesisers in popular music:22

An increasing emphasis on the use of synthesizers (and MIDI sequencing) was also evident in a variety of popular dance music styles, such as techno, that emerged during the late 1980s and the 1990s. In these ways, synthesizers have not only achieved a permanent status within popular music, but have also come to play an influential role in the development of new popular music styles.

The term new popular music has been used by several critics in order to describe an innovation in the usual practice of a genre. For instance, Michael Campbell asserts that in the United States during the 1920s a new popular music was born that was opposed to the mainstream model:23

The soundtrack for these momentous changes in American life was the new popular music created between the two World Wars. It was strikingly different from the mainstream popular music from the turn of the century, for three main reasons: (1) the application of the new technology; (2) the infusion of black musical features – riffs, rhythms, instruments, performing styles; and (3) the more open and vibrant sensibility expressed in the songs and their performance. […] For ease and clarity of reference, then, we’re labelling the period from the early 1910s to the early 1960s the modern era in popular music. This new popular music was modern because it became increasingly dependent on new technology for performance and dissemination; it ←8 | 9→took a leading role in improving race relations; and it introduced into popular music so many features that are still part of the sound of popular music, such as the rhythm section, the backbeat, riff-based melodies, and conversational lyrics.

Campbell describes the factors that he considers fundamental in the definition of popular music as an ensemble of elements which did not concern uniquely music. The construction of a definitive terminology about new popular music is not the aim of this definition, but instead the description of an approach to society highlighted by a group of musicians through their language, political thought, cultural references and approach to music. By calling the artists in the corpus NPP musicians, I did not aim to elaborate a musicological definition, but rather I wished to describe their behaviour towards song composition with particular attention to their thematic and linguistic approach and their impact on society.

Popular music is strongly tied to the theme of each individual song. One important example of this can be seen in blues music, which was born out of the unbearable conditions endured by black slaves in the United States before the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawing slavery was passed in 1865.24 This genre developed in the farming communities of the Southern United States where Afro-Americans worked as slaves.25 As Gerhard Kubik has shown, it is not only the result of an African legacy but it also ‘included nearly every aspect of the New World music from the Caribbean and from South and North America’.26 The influence that the blues style of music, written and sung by hired hands,27 has had on the world was overwhelming, and, as is common in the diffusion of popular music, it has transcended the borders of the nation in which it was born.

Like the music, the themes of folk song lyrics are reinterpreted by NPP artists who want to evoke the experience of people who have similar ←9 | 10→social problems within different traditions. A good demonstration of this tendency can be observed in the repertoire of the Italian singer-songwriter Bobo Rondelli, who wrote a song called Blues in tre quarti [Blues in three/four time].28 It follows a typical Italian popular time signature but deals with the problems of Italian hired hands before and after the arrival of the US army at the end of the Second World War. The lyrics are as follows:

E questo è un blues delle nostre parti,

This is a blues of our land

questo è un blues suonato in tre quarti

This is a blues played in three/four time

che suonavano i nostri nonni

That our grandparents sang

prima che arrivassero gli americani.

Before the arrival of the Americans.

E questo è un blues dei nostri braccianti

And this is a blues of our hired men

Non eran negri ma eran bianchi

They weren’t black, they were white

Che cantavano nei nostri campi

Which they sang in our fields

prima che arrivassero gli americani.

Before the arrival of the Americans.



E questo blues non è da ballare

This blues is not for dancing

Questo è un blues da dimenticare

This is a blues to forget

Con le foto dei nostri nonni

Like the photos of our grandparents

Che salutano gli americani.

Who were greeting the Americans.

The song suggests a comparison between the slaves in the US and the Italian farmers who worked in the fields. Like their American equivalents, Italian peasants sang popular songs about their humble origins. Here, the author wanted to pay specific attention to the slave-like conditions in which Italian hired men lived after the arrival of the Americans. In fact, he specifies that the photos of their grandparents greeting US soldiers should be forgotten – a common philosophy amongst Italian left-wing supporters – as they felt Italy had become a colony of the United States after the Second World War.29 The common denominator in these two ←10 | 11→categories of workers is the terrible conditions that they endured, both at the hands of Americans.

Therefore, it can be deduced that popular music tells stories concerning people’s situations, conditions and feelings, yet this does not necessarily define it, as the borders and definitions of all types of music are always vague and changing. Distinctions can be made according to cultural differences, which classify genres of music in relation to their audience.30 Supposing that classical, avant-garde and conceptual music belong to a more ‘elevated’ social context, the main difficulty is in understanding what differentiates the several kinds of music that could be defined as ‘popular’.31

At the beginning of the 1970s, a new generation of singer-songwriters and bands began describing the contrasts and values in Italian society during the period between the anni di piombo [Years of Lead] and the progressive end of ideologies, which started approximately after 1989.32 The main characteristics of these groups were: the blending of several popular music genres, social and political commitment, and the literary values of their lyrics, which often included narrative elements of national and international culture. It is important to note that the Italian NPP music phenomenon can be divided into two distinct phases. The first is the singer-songwriters era, characterised by musicians who emerged at the end ←11 | 12→of the 1960s, also known as cantautori.33 The second is the phase of bands, notably the left-wing bands that started up at the beginning of the 1990s, following the example of the singer-songwriters. I also looked at a third group of artists – right-wing bands – who reinterpreted popular music, infusing it with a right-wing agenda. Traditionally, political popular music has had left-wing connotations and it is interesting to see how the bands in this third group illustrated a particularity of the Italian folk song as a result of the political clashes that have continued to affect Italian culture and society since the end of the Second World War.34

The main aim of this research is to analyse those artists that I have defined as a part of a renewal in Italian popular music, based on the mix of new music and traditional music, in order to underline the ways in which this politically committed music describes Italian society and culture. As will be demonstrated, the re-use of elements that are typical of traditional music, combining them with international influences that arrived in Italy from the 1960s onwards, created a class of singer-songwriters and bands who place political topics at the core of their artistic activity. Indeed, the constant ebb and flow of struggles that have characterised the last sixty years of Italian history – particularly the 1970s and the 2000s – has conditioned these musicians’ success. In order to gain a better understanding of the historical events which had the greatest influence on NPP music, I have built a timeline that will help guide the reader in the analysis proposed in this work (see Figure 1).

The artists chosen for this case study are those that represented, and in some cases still represent, a role in politically committed Italian culture.

Fausto Colombo describes perfectly how popular music, especially by politically committed songwriters, was particularly successful during the 1960s and 1970s in the environment of social protest, as shared left-wing political feeling rose in the Italian working class.35 But how did Italian society in general receive these artists?←12 | 13→

The success of this music is a difficult concept to measure. For sure these artists were successful during the period taken into account, from the 1960s to 2017, but measuring the audience reception of popular music is not easy. In an attempt to describe the impact of this music on Italian society in terms of album sales, I collected data regarding the positions in the top 100 best-selling albums of the musicians I inserted in the corpus. Nevertheless, the reader must be aware that those data are only indicative. They cannot describe completely the Italian diffusion of popular music, especially politically committed music. Indeed, it must be specified that in Italy many albums were sold in bookstores, political associations, cultural and social circles and at concerts, in other words, outside the traditional record stores where rankings are monitored. Political songs were sung by people in the osterie [inns], during demonstrations or other public events. Moreover, a successful album is not always a disc that sells millions of copies when it is released. It can also be a long seller, a disc that sells many copies over time, even decades, and therefore never appears in the charts. To give an example, the album Bella Ciao recorded in 1965 has sold more than one million copies, and has never entered the charts. As Fabbri describes, ←13 | 14→another case is the success of the Inti Illimani (from Chile) in 1974–1975, when their very high sales in the alternative channels also influenced the traditional market, pushing some major labels to consider political music. For instance RCA initially launched Francesco De Gregori and Antonello Venditti, as exponents of the Nuova Canzone Italiana [New Italian Song], a clear reference to the Nueva Canción Chilena [New Chilean Song] of which there was much talk after the 1973 coup.36 Among other things, this contradicts the claim that the record companies in the 1960s and 1970s were hegemonised by the left. On the contrary, left-wing artists were often submitted to censorship, also by the RAI, the Italian national public broadcasting company, owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance. For instance, in 1968 the Rai banned Enzo Jannacci’s performance of the song Ho visto un re [I saw a King] written by Dario Fo (1926–2016) during the television programme Canzonissima for political reasons.37 In June 1981, Charles Hamm presented a very important paper on the measurement of popularity in music at the first conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music in Amsterdam.38 The American musicologist highlighted how the diffusion of popular music was a complex phenomenon that cannot be based only on album sales but has to consider other factors like radio playlists.39 Unfortunately, it is impossible to find appropriate data for Italian radio.40 In order to give the reader an indication of the diffusion of the music of artists in the corpora, I was able to have access to some incomplete data concerning the top 100 best-selling albums. Based ←14 | 15→on the partial data of album sales, the success of these musicians appears progressive but durable and successful, growing steadily until the 2010s. One example is Fabrizio De André. At the start of his career, the Italian public gave him only a tepid reception, though it later recognised him as one of the leading artists of his generation. Indeed, his third album Tutti morimmo a stento [We All Nearly Died] in 1968 was not very successful.41 In the top 100 best-selling albums in Italy, this record only reached number 38 in the charts and stayed there for four weeks.42 In fifteen years this singer-songwriter became a paragon of Italian singer-songwriters. When his posthumous album In direzione ostinata e contraria [In Obstinate and Contrary Direction] came out in 2005, it immediately went to number 1 and remained in the charts for 373 weeks. Like De André, Francesco de Gregori had similar sales results: although his 1974 album Francesco De Gregori reached number 15 for only two weeks, his 2001 album Amore nel pomeriggio [Love in the Afternoon] reached number 1,43 where it remained for sixteen weeks. Another key example from the Italian singer-songwriter community is Francesco Guccini who reached number 1 in the charts, where he stayed for eighteen weeks, with his 2004 album Ritratti [Portraits].44 In the early 2000s NPP artists became more successful with the dawning of new social movements that exploded in July 2001 during the G8 summit in Genoa; I will deal with at greater length later in Chapter 2. Admittedly, Francesco Guccini rose to number 1 in the charts, in part because his political activity was representative of the 1970s. Guccini, De André, De Gregori and other political singer-songwriters were appreciated, thirty years later, even by the non-politically committed public that considered them classics not only of political song but of Italian music more generally. Even so, the 2000s seems the most successful decade for all bands in the case study. ←15 | 16→For example, the case of one of the study’s most important NPP bands, the Modena City Ramblers, shows how the decade represented an incredible moment for this genre. The band’s first album, Riportando tutto a casa [Bringing it all back home],45 was at number 95 in the charts for just one week in 1994. But in 2002 the band climbed to number 9, where it stayed for six weeks. And in 2004, McR did even better, reaching number 7 in the top 100, where it stayed for fourteen weeks. After that, the Modena City Ramblers, like many other folk bands, began to see sales decline, in part because the advent of mp3 and digital audio depressed physical album sales, as I will show later.

The Modena City Ramblers’ 2013 album, Niente di Nuovo sul fronte occidentale [All Quiet on the Western Front],46 was number 29 (for seven weeks). Their 2017 disc, Mani come rami, ai piedi radici [Hands Like Branches, Roots at the Feet],47 reached number 72 (three weeks). Even Bandabardò, another band in the corpus that often shared the stage with McR, saw their sales decrease in the early 2010s. For example, their 2002 album Tre passi avanti [Three Steps Forward] reached number 7 (eleven weeks),48 as did the following disc Ottavio (nine weeks) in 2006.49 In 2012 the band released L’improbabile [The Improbable], which reached number 12 (ten weeks).50

The artists who seem to have survived this crisis are the older singer-songwriters, due to the success they have built up over the years, as well as those of the new generation, whom the public identifies less with political movements. The most relevant example is Vinicio Capossela, who, after his 2000 album Canzoni a manovella [Crank Songs] reached number 7 (seven weeks),51 had one success after another, always reaching number 1 or number 2 in the charts until 2016. Also lesser-known singers like Zibba saw ←16 | 17→an increase in their sales. Indeed, although his 2014 album Senza pensare all’estate [Without Thinking About the Summer] reached number 40 (three weeks),52 his 2015 Muoviti svelto [Move Quickly] reached number 24 (seven weeks).53 Finally, the last example is a young man from Rome whose albums received exponentially growing attention from the public: Alessandro Mannarino. In 2008 he released his debut album, Bar della rabbia [The Bar of Anger], reaching number 97 (three weeks).54 Just two years later his second disc, Supersantos, reached number 17 (fifteen weeks).55 His third studio album Al monte [To the Mountain], released in 2013, confirmed his success, arriving at number 3 (eighteen weeks).56 Mannarino finally got to number 1 in the charts in 2016 with Apriti cielo [Good Heavens] (thirty-seven weeks),57 his last album. It must be noted that these artists are not considered mass-market musicians and because of that, their very presence on best-selling charts shows the importance of the politically committed culture in Italy.

This research aims to answer three questions concerning the main topics of this work: language, culture, and society.

Are there, in the lyrics of these artists, any linguistic patterns that allow us to understand the transformation of the Italian language after the 1970s?

How do these politically committed musicians describe society and gender dynamics?

What is their relationship with literature, which is considered by NPP musicians as the intellectual foil to their art?

This work is composed of three chapters, which seek to answer those questions, describing NPP music through an interdisciplinary approach that spans the fields of linguistics, digital humanities, literary criticism, social sciences and cultural studies. In the first chapter, the musical roots ←17 | 18→of NPP music are presented with a historical approach, underlining the influences that Italian NPP musicians received from contemporary forms of popular music and traditional music. The former is the product of several international influences that have inspired Italian music: first, the American folk music revival and the French chansonniers and, in later years, punk, reggae, ska and alterlatino. These musical genres are then blended by the NPP musicians with traditional music: the second part of this chapter is devoted to the traditional elements of Italian and international traditions that are used by these artists. This mixture of old and new is exemplified at the end of the chapter, which focuses on some cases where these artists have remodelled traditional music or lyrics.

The second chapter aims to describe how NPP music reveals a contradiction between local and global identities, and a distinction between traditional and contemporary language and themes. To underline these peculiarities, I created a corpus in which three groups of representative musicians are distinguished: singer-songwriters, left-wing bands, and right-wing bands. This corpus is subjected to a digital humanities investigation that discloses the particularities of the language used by NPP musicians in the different groups. The analysis of the corpus data also shows what kind of themes are most frequently tackled by these artists. Drawing on discourse analyses, the socio-political and gender aspects of NPP songs will be discussed, parallel to a section devoted to quantitative geographical analysis, putting forward the origins of these bands and singer-songwriters but also the place names most frequently mentioned in their lyrics.

Finally, the last chapter of this work will deal with the relationship between Italian NPP musicians and literature, notably Italian literature. References to writers and literary works are manifold, but these musicians seem to have much in common with Italian neorealism. The following section will describe the way in which NPP music recounts history through literature. Particular attention will be paid to children’s literature, which appears to be one of the favourite literary sources of these musicians. The concluding section of the chapter will be devoted to some considerations on the relationship between French and Russian literature and NPP music.←18 | 19→

1Fabbri, Franco, and Plastino, Goffedro, Made in Italy: Studies in Popular Music (London: Routledge, 2014), 6.
2Manuel, Peter, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 7.
3Scott, Derek B., ‘The Popular Music Revolution in the Nineteenth Century: A Third Type of Music Arises’, in Vesa Kurkela and Lauri Väkevä, eds, De-Canonizing Music History (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2009), 3–21 (p. 4).
4Furlong, Andy, Youth Studies: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2013), 237.
5Frith, Simon, ‘“The magic that can set you free”: the ideology of folk and the myth of the rock community’, Popular Music, 1 (1981), 159–168 (pp. 159–160).
6Cohen, Ronald, Folk Music: The Basics (New York: Routledge, 2012), 2–3.
7Sanga, Glauco, La comunicazione orale e scritta. Il linguaggio del canto popolare (Milan: Giunti Marzocco, 1979), 12.
8Cook, Nicholas, Music, Imagination, and Culture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 11.
9Moretti, Franco, Distant Reading (New York: Verso, 2013).
10These data are published in open access on my Github profile: digitalkoine <https://github.com/digitalkoine> accessed 26 July 2017.
11In order to help readers orient themselves amongst all the groups of the ‘quantitative’ corpus, the appendix contains a description of the groups and the singer-songwriters that are analysed in the central chapters of this book.
12Bennett, Andy, and Waksman, Steve, The SAGE Handbook of Popular Music (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2015), 435.
13Varriale, Simone, Globalization, Music and Cultures of Distinction, The Rise of Pop Music Criticism in Italy (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 5. Varriale talks about the musical magazine Ciao 2001 [Hello 2001], which was first published in 1968, but it was only one of many music magazines at that time spreading Italian and international music in Italy like Ciao amici [Hello Friends] and Big.
14Fabbri, Franco, La musica che si consuma (Milan: Edizioni Unicopli, 1985), 19–20.
15Cooper B., Lee, ‘Charting Cultural Change, 1953–57: Song Assimilation Through Cover Recording, in George Plasketes, ed., Play it Again: Cover Songs in Popular Music (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 43–76 (p. 44).
16Burnett, Robert, ‘The Popular Music Industry in Transition’, Popular Music and Society 17/1 (1993), 87–114 (pp. 110–111).
17Fabrizio De André, Tutto Fabrizio de André, Karim, 1966.
18Asvanund, Atip, Clay, Karen, Krishnan, Ramayya, and Smith, Michael D., ‘An Empirical Analysis of Network Externalities in Peer-to-Peer Music-Sharing Networks’, Information Systems Research 15/2 (2004), 155–174.
19The website of the service is <https://www.jamendo.com/> accessed 30 August 2018.
20Wall, Tim, Studying Popular Music Culture (London: Sage, 2013), 48.
21Mitchell, Tony, ‘World Music and the Popular Music Industry: An Australian View’, Ethnomusicology 37/3 (Autumn, 1993), 309–338 (p. 323).
22Shepherd, John, Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Volume II (London: Continuum, 2003), 267.
23Campbell, Michael, Popular Music in America: The Beat Goes On (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2018), 60–61.
24Burnett Gary W., The Gospel According to the Blues (Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 2015), 30–31.
25Kubik, Gerhard, Africa and the Blues (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), 12.
26Ibid., 155.
27Lawrence, Levine W., Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 229.
28Ottavo Padiglione, Ultime follie/Best a bestia, Arroyo, 2003.
29Cooley, Alexander, Base Politics: Democratic Change and the U.S. Military Overseas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 175–176. Desiderio, Alfonso, ‘La basi Usa in Italia’, Limes (27 July 2008). <http://www.limesonline.com/rubrica/la-basi-usa-in-italia> accessed 31 April 2017.
30Lena, Jennifer C., and Peterson, Richard A., ‘Classification as culture: Types and trajectories of music genres’, American Sociological Review 73/5 (2008), 697–718.
31Rigolli, Alessandro, and Scaldaferri, Nicola, Popular music e musica popolare. Riflessioni ed esperienze a confronto (Venezia: Marsilio, 2010), 57.
32The Years of Lead is a term used to describe the period during which Italy was plagued by political terrorism, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. During these years, subversive far right groups planted several bombs to attack democratic institutions, while far left movements, such as the Brigate rosse [Red Brigades], tried to intimidate the Italian ruling class by kidnapping and, in some cases, killing businessmen or politicians. The most famous example was the kidnapping of the secretary of the right-wing party Democrazia Cristiana [Christian Democracy] on 16 March 1978 by the Red Brigades, who then murdered him on 9 May 1978. Morlino, Leonardo, ‘Le tre fasi dei partiti italiani’, in Leonardo Morlino and Marco Tarchi, eds, Partiti e caso italiano (Bologna: il Mulino, 2006), 105–144 (pp. 113–114).
33Santoro, Marco, ‘What is a “cantautore?” Distinction and authorship in Italian (popular) music’, Poetics 30/1–2 (2002), 111–132.
34Fiori, Umberto, and Michael, Burgoyne, ‘Rock Music and Politics in Italy’, Popular Music 4 (1984), 261–277.
35Colombo, Fausto, Il paese leggero. Gli italiani e i media fra contestazione e riflusso. 1967–1994 (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2012), 5–17.
36Fabbri, Franco, Around the clock. Una breve storia della popular music (Torino: UTET, 2008), 133.
37Ibid., 129.
38Hamm, Charles, ‘Some Thoughts on the Measurement of Popularity in Music’, in Philip Tagg and David Horn, Popular Music Perspectives (Göteborg: IASPM, 1982), 3–15.
39The musicologist brilliantly showed how it was possible to predict the victory of Ronald Reagan in the US elections just by seeing what kind of music was broadcast by American radios in their playlists.
40During the research period I tried to ask for data concerning album sales and radio playlists but without success. Nevertheless, the data concerning positions in the top 100 best-selling albums can give a sample of the activity of the artists included in the corpora.
41Fabrizio De André, Tutti morimmo a stento, RCS, 1968.
42All data on the public’s appreciation of the artists are taken from the Swiss Project ‘Hitparade.ch’, a site that aims to help musicians to understand the music market. It is open-source, collaborative and often cited by Wikipedia collaborators. Unfortunately it does not contain data on all the musicians in the corpus. The website is <https://hitparade.ch/> accessed 24 July 2018.
43Francesco De Gregori, Amore nel pomeriggio, CBS, 2001.
44Francesco Guccini, Ritratti, Capitol/EMI, 2004.
45The title of this McR album is a tribute to Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan, which came out in 1965.
46Modena City Ramblers, Niente di nuovo sul fronte occidentale, Mescal, 2013.
47Ibid., Mani come rami, ai piedi radici, MCRecords, 2017.
48Bandabardò, Tre passi avanti, On the Road Music, 2004.
49Ibid., Ottavio, On the Road Music Factory, 2008.
50Ibid., L’Improbabile, Warner Bross, 2014.
51Vinicio Capossela, Canzoni a manovella, CGD East West, 2000.
52Zibba, Senza pensare all’estate, Almafactory, 2014.
53Ibid., Muoviti svelto, Almafactory, 2015.
54Alessandro Mannarino, Bar della rabbia, Leave Music, 2009.
55Ibid., Supersantos, Leave Music, 2011.
56Ibid., Al monte, Leave Music, 2014.
57Ibid., Apriti cielo, Universal Music, 2017.

CHAPTER 1 Roots of the Phenomenon


The aim of this chapter is, firstly, to highlight why Italian politically committed artists perceived popular music and traditional music as a cultural element in their work and, secondly, to analyse music as a cultural element, not interpreted through the filter of a musical analysis. The artists I mention in this chapter chose to create their new popular and political style by mixing several kinds of music, according to the cultural values that a certain music symbolised in a given period. To give an example, we can mention a band that blends contemporary music such as punk with Irish traditional music, like the Modena City Ramblers, in order to strengthen the message of their lyrics. Punk is one of the most common types of protest music in the world and Irish music, as will be shown, is often politically perceived by punk musicians as a means to recall the struggles of the Irish people against British domination. These two fighting elements become the musical background to accompany fighting lyrics, even if their contents are not necessarily linked to those normally mentioned by punk and traditional Irish music. Because of this, the chapter is divided into two parts, ‘New Music’ and ‘Traditional Irish Music’, according to the impact that these types of music had on the work of Italian NPP musicians. As regards New Music, I have chosen to describe four main moments where foreign music made an important contribution to Italian politically committed society, by using the examples of Italian singer-songwriters and bands who adopted those musical influences as a constitutive part of their style. The part on traditional music describes how Italian and foreign traditional music played a part in the construction of the political identity of those musicians. Traditional music represents the ←19 | 20→origins of people, its relationship with territories and for this reason it is an element with political relevance. This is why traditional music is one of the essential components of Italian NPP music, produced by politically committed artists who have always considered traditional music an essential part of their political and cultural heritage. This chapter does not aim to study how those artists blend different kinds of music, but why they try to do so, and also looks at the cultural sources of Italian politically committed music in order to understand how they influenced political parties and movements.

According to the theories of Richard Middleton and Ron Moy on popular music,1 it could be said that one of the biggest differences between popular music and traditional folk music concerns the audience’s knowledge of the lyrics and the musical authorship of popular songs. According to Fiori, authorship is one of the biggest differences between art music and all other genres, as art music is characterised by the pre-eminence of the work itself over the identity of its composer.2 In that respect, those who listen to traditional songs are often unaware of the origins of the songs and, in terms of authorship, are usually only able to say vaguely which national/ethnic traditional repertory a song comes from (Irish, Arabic, Klezmer, etc.). Traditional music songwriters are often unknown to a public that only identifies traditional songs as a piece of the jigsaw that makes up the cultural identity of any given community. On the other hand, NPP music mixes new music trends with traditional music, thus an audience’s loyalty is garnered thanks to an author’s style or sometimes through his/her public political commitment.

The certain authorship of a folk music song is one of the characteristics of the American folk music revival.3 The new generations of folk ←20 | 21→singer-songwriters and bands like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, The Weavers, Burl Ives, and Johnny Cash represented one of the first national examples of American folk song that gained significant public appeal. The work of these musicians might be described as a cultural product – one that is entirely and characteristically American. Indeed, until this moment, traditional music in the United States was mainly that which immigrants or slaves, in the case of blues, brought from their countries of origin to America.4 Individual families and ethnic communities, even if they were well integrated into the social fabric of the United States, continued to pass their popular music down for generations, and this music can be traced back to origins such as Ireland, the Balkans, Africa, or Italy.5 This ensemble of foreign music and ethnic groups, which represented the specificity of American culture, gave rise to American folk artists who defined a new notion of popular music. From this multicultural musical environment,6 these artists maintained the concept of music as a collective act, and demonstrated social engagement through the socially committed connotations ←21 | 22→of their lyrics, which often described people’s struggles during the Great Depression.7 However, their approach to music was also individual because the circulation of their songs was not, as it had been in the past, linked to an oral tradition. Instead, the development of the music industry allowed for the diffusion of their songs on long-play (LP) records. These technological audio supports enabled music, lyrics and also singers’ names to enter households across the nation rapidly. The American folk music revival contributed to giving birth to one of the first waves of popular music with a definite authorship for its audience. The public loyally followed the work of these artists, and record labels used the name of the singers to advertise their new releases.8 As in the American example, Italian NPP music also mixes traditional elements with a new perception of music. Italian artists have always been inspired by traditional music and combined it with contemporary influences from other countries like the American folk music revival, the French chansonniers, punk, reggae, ska, and alterlatino.

1.1 New Music

One of the characteristics common to all Italian NPP artists is the reworking of new musical tendencies in an Italian way. They transform music and themes by adapting them to the case of Italian society. In order to explain how NPP musicians rework traditional elements with other more contemporary music, I will show an example of this propensity, which is the Italian adaptation of ragga hip hop – a fusion-genre that blends Jamaican reggae and hip-hop music – to the sounds of the tarantella.9←22 | 23→

Ragga hip hop was originally pioneered by the Jamaican singer Daddy Freddy in collaboration with British rapper Asher D, whose album,10 Ragamuffin Hip-Hop (1988), is considered the first work of the ragga hip hop genre.11 Generally, this genre is considered to be the expression of a subculture,12 born through Jamaican immigrants’ encounter with British culture and American rap. It is characterised by linguistic choices that raise questions of identity. It is connected thematically to Rasta culture, and linguistically to Jamaican Patois and British slang.13 Raggamuffin artists predicated a non-violent culture in opposition to the growth of gang culture, and the genre developed in the midst of other protest movements like anti-Thatcherism.14 Furthermore, it is often combined with other types of music from British immigrant subcultures, for instance Jamaicans, professing the religion of Rastafarianism,15 or Caribbeans or Asians, especially regarding Bangla music.16

In Italy, raggamuffin music and its rise were also viewed as being closely connected to France due to the fact that the most popular Italian group in this genre, Sud Sound System, always had strong ties with the most important French Ragga group, Massilia Sound System, from Marseilles.17 However, Italian raggamuffin was a large movement composed ←23 | 24→of numerous bands, musically reminiscent of raggamuffin but altering some of its characteristics.18 Rather than using slang, Italian artists used dialects to reinforce their autochthonic traits in a style that Lapassade defined as etnorap, raggafolk or tarantamuffin.19 Lapassade showed that ragamuffin culture, in its meeting with Italian Southern culture, radically changed its original form and incorporated a new folk expression, which was rhythmically similar to the obsessive dances of tarantismo: a form of hysterical behaviour, popularly believed to be the result of a bite by a wolf spider. The only way to neutralise the spider’s poison was said to be through the trance into which one entered during the dance of the tarantella;20 this phenomenon contains remarkable similarities to a mystic tradition from Southern Italy in which music and dance are characterised by an indissoluble connection,21 thus raggamuffin meets Italian folk tradition and changes certain aspects to become NPP music.

The most important example of this is Sud Sound System’s song, Le radici ca tieni [The Roots you Have],22 which has become a symbol for several radical left-wing movements in Italy even though the lyrics were written entirely in the Salento dialect. The song starts with an instrumental part taken ←24 | 25→from the popular melody, Lu rusciu de lu mare [The Noise of the Sea] – a typical pizzica salentina.23 The classic rhythm of ragamuffin then increases progressively, complimenting the Southern Italian melody. The first stanza declares the attachment of human beings to their homeland as the only way to understand and respect one another, even though the music is intended to be entirely anti-nationalistic. The second stanza is simply a poetic declaration, which not only defines Italian ragamuffin but also Italian NPP music:

Simu salentini dellu munnu cittadini,

We are Salentini, citizens of the world,

radicati alli messapi cu li greci e bizantini,

Deeply rooted with Messapians with Greeks and Byzantines,

uniti intra stu stile osce cu li giammaicani,

United through this style with Jamaicans,

dimme mo de du ede ca sta bieni!

Tell me where you come from!

In four verses, Sud Sound System displays the poetry of many Italian politically committed bands, which is the result of the influences of numerous different civilisations on Italian history and society. The combination of their diverse origins transforms them into citizens of the world even if they have a strong and unique relationship with their homeland.24 The second verse references three ancient peoples in order to describe Salento: the Messapians, a tribe which inhabited southern Apulia, represent the original core of the region, which affirmed its identity only ←25 | 26→thanks to migratory movements such as those of the Greeks and the Byzantines who colonised Apulia and gave the region its unique and fascinating character. This mixed nature is the soul of the Apulian people; in the song, it is combined with Jamaican traits to create a mix of pizzica melodies built on ragamuffin rhythm, which becomes the tarantamuffin hypothesised by Lapassade.

Italian NPP music often displays a diachronic approach to music and lyrics trying to describe the present whilst taking inspiration from the past and hoping to send a message to the future. It is because of this that NPP artists have always, as shown by the aforementioned Sud Sound System, reworked international musical trends by incorporating a critical consciousness. In the construction of contemporary NPP music, there are four composite main phases that summarise the impact of foreign music, as a cultural element, on Italian artists. The first is the American folk music revival – a phenomenon that had an impact on all Italian musicians, as did the second – the French chansonniers.

These two folk song revolutions, protest songs and chansons engagées [committed songs], had many elements in common, such as the importance of the artist as the voice of social contestation or the proximity of its language to poetry. Both these musical genres, French and American, are the cultural backdrop to the birth of the Italian singer-songwriter movement.

Artists like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, and more recently, the English songwriter Billy Bragg, reinvented a folk style characterised by a focus on the lyrics, which are almost comparable to poetry put to music.25 Their example transformed the image of the folk singer who became a protagonist in his own songs: their music was no longer the voice of the people because the figure of the singer defined folk as the voice of a single individual from among the people. Even if, in general, these musicians’ songs tell of the interests of a community, the folk singer has become a kind of modern troubadour who, thanks to the new ←26 | 27→music industry, now has the opportunity to be heard by entire groups of people during their concerts. Moreover, they can establish an individual relationship with their listeners thanks to advances in the distribution of albums and audio support. It is not a coincidence that these artists were typically represented alone with their guitars contrary to the punk, reggae and ska bands, which represented the third biggest international influence on Italian NPP music. These bands changed how music was perceived, and the audience was no longer particularly aware of who wrote the songs that the band sang. Song authorship passed from an individual to a group of people.26 The musical aspects became more elaborate than in singer-songwriters’ work and the thematic approach passed from social awareness to political militancy. The language became simpler and the lyrics were mainly thought to be adapted to the music: the prosody following the rhythm of the music. Finally, the fourth international contribution which inspired Italian NPP music came from alterlatino music, which in Italy is called patchanka – a genre produced by combining other styles, such as alternative rock, metal, electronica, hip hop, new wave, pop rock, punk rock, reggae, and ska with traditional Ibero-American sounds. The militant aspects of punk, reggae and ska are particularly pertinent for artists such as Mano Negra and Manu Chao who wanted their music to play an active role in social protest, not just through story-telling. The lyrics combine different languages as a representation of the constant exchanges taking place on a global level, and as a symbol of the fact that many different people have the same desire for social justice.

1.1.1 American Folk Music Revival

The roots of Italian NPP music are complex given the fact that the musical style used by these artists is a mixture of several musical genres, as mentioned above. For instance, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan effectively wrote songs in which folk and ethnic music coexisted with the rhythmic constructions of blues and rock. The process that led to ←27 | 28→this lively musical innovation notably started with Guthrie and then continued when Dylan revisited his music. Guthrie, known as the Oklahoma cowboy, was embraced by New York’s left-wing folk music community in 1940,27 and his folk songs also helped to establish the thematic bases of NPP music. The NPP band Modena City Ramblers, in their song Celtica Patchanka [Celtic Alterlatino],28 describe Woody Guthrie and the Chilean Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez as the two masters of left-wing politically committed music in the following verse: ‘Woody Guthrie l’ha nascosta dentro la chitarra, Victor Jara l’ha cantata chiara e forte’ [Woody Guthrie hid the rebellion inside his guitar, Victor Jara sang it clear and strong]. Guthrie’s guitar is a symbol of left-wing music that Italian artists consider mythical. Indeed, Guthrie put a sticker on his acoustic guitar which stated that ‘this machine kills the fascists’ – a gesture which inspired Joe Strummer to do the same thing on his Fender Telecaster in homage to the American singer who was one of his idols. Modena City Ramblers considered the message on the sticker as a mise en abyme of the entire message of Guthrie’s music. This American songwriter was really a master for the future generation of politically committed musicians. It is therefore no coincidence that one of these Italian bands, The Gang,29 chose to cover his most famous song, entitled This Land is your Land.30 On their web-page, under the Italian translation of Woody Guthrie’s song they add:31←28 | 29→

Con Guthrie le lotte, le sconfitte, le speranze dell’Altra-America, quella dei braccianti, degli immigrati, degli operai, dei neri, dei poveri, hanno trovato nella canzone popolare una voce che è diventata controstoria e controcultura insieme. ‘This land is your land’ è la canzone più famosa di Guthrie. Un inno.

With Guthrie, the struggles, defeats, and hopes of the ‘Other’ America, that of hired men, immigrants, workers, blacks, and the poor, found in popular songs a voice that has become one of counter-history as well as counter-culture. ‘This land is your land’ is Guthrie’s most popular song. An anthem.

These words confirm Guthrie’s importance in the folk music community and, due to his central role in this world, Bob Dylan followed his example, restyling the concept of folk, as well as writing a poem in his memory entitled Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.32 In an interview, The Gang’s lead singer, Marino Severini, confirms his view that Dylan founded a new way of thinking about popular music:

Dylan riuscì a vincere e far risorgere, nella Rivoluzione industriale, la Canzone, la stessa di Guthrie, ma per farlo dovette fare i conti con la scolarizzazione di massa, con la radio, il cinema, con le nuove forme delle

comunicazioni di massa.

Dylan was able to conquer and revive the Song, that of Guthrie, during the Industrial revolution. But to do that he had to deal with mass education, the radio, the cinema and the new kinds of mass media communication.

Dylan effectively continued the same call to protest proposed by Guthrie and, in the Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home,33 when asked ‘Why have you stopped singing protest songs?’, he simply answers ‘All my songs are protest songs’. Dylan definitely reinvented the concept of folk music, demonstrated most clearly on his album, Highway 61 Revisited – a milestone album that marked the transition from traditional folk music to electric rock.34 In this work, Dylan disregarded the rules ←29 | 30→dictated by tradition at the Newport Folk Festival,35 putting aside his acoustic guitar in favour of the electric ones that restyled the folk sound with louder and more dissonant tones.

Bob Dylan’s music is characterised by thematic criteria, which are typical of the history of folk that came mostly from the country and blues traditions, where a strong sense of membership related to the roots of each author can be found. Dylan also completely changed the relationship between the folk songwriter and his songs. Before him, folk songwriters remained rarely used the first person in their songs to describe any of their personal feelings and experiences.36 Dylan, like other songwriters such as Johnny Cash, demonstrated his personal involvement in social engagement as an artist and as an individual through his lyrics.

The impact of Bob Dylan’s music on Italy was widely felt, and many artists were inspired when they listened to his songs. One example is Francesco Guccini, an Italian folk singer-songwriter who started his career in the 1960s. He was passionate about American history, literature and music, and the style of his song-writing was strongly influenced by Dylan’s example. In particular, there is a song entitled Farewell,37 which Guccini rewrote with the song Farewell Angelina in mind,38 a song originally written by Dylan and sung by Joan Baez. The Italian songwriter’s lyrics also echo some of Dylan’s verses: ‘The triangle tingles and the trumpet plays slow’. Guccini quotes these verses as a reference to his ex-wife Angela (Angelina in Italian is a diminutive for Angela), who is never directly named in the song.

This is just one of the many references to Bob Dylan’s work in Italian songs; others include reworked versions such as La risposta è caduta nel vento [The Answer has Fallen in the Wind], sung by several Italian songwriters, such ←30 | 31→as Luigi Tenco,39 who also covered Dylan’s intergenerational hymn, Blowin’ in the Wind.40 Recently, Italian singer-songwriter Francesco de Gregori released an entire album in tribute to Dylan, therefore demonstrating his success and importance, called Francesco De Gregori canta Bob Dylan – Amore e Furto [Francesco De Gregori sings Bob Dylan – Love and theft].41

For Italian music, not only for NPP artists, Bob Dylan is the symbol of one of the biggest changes in contemporary music before the arrival of rock, counter-culture and Woodstock. To give another example, Franco Battiato mentions Mr Tambourine Man,42 in the song Bandiera Bianca [White Flag].43 Battiato quotes the American songwriter as a symbol of hope for the future – a hope typical of the generation that witnessed the social contestation that started in 1968 – which he feels ended definitively when the 1980s began.

Mr. Tamburino non ho voglia di scherzare

Mr Tambourine I don’t want to joke,

rimettiamoci la maglia i tempi stanno per cambiare

Let’s put on a sweater, the times are about to change

During the 1980s, the first wave of Italian NPP music ended, as did people’s confidence in the possibility of any significant change in society, which had been strongly compromised during the Years of Lead and the Cold War.44 This is why Battiato called his song Bandiera Bianca – he wanted to underline the capitulation of contestational values. Moreover, he chose to start his song speaking to Mr Tambourine, the imaginary protagonist of Dylan’s song, because this song is one of the symbols of ←31 | 32→social movements during the 1960s and 1970s.45 The Italian singer tells Mr Tambourine that the jokes and the disputes are over, and that he has to put on his sweater to cover his shoulders because of his age. The metaphor represents Battiato after his youth: after a past of protests he feels disillusioned about the future. Battiato again quotes Dylan, saying that he is waiting for the hard times that are coming. Also in this case, he directly mentions a Dylan song, ‘i tempi stanno per cambiare’ [The Times They Are A-Changin’],46 turning his optimism about the future into pessimism: the times are indeed changing, albeit for the worse.

Folkabbestia is an example of another band that used the positive symbol equated with Dylan and turned it into a negative one in their song, La sinfonia di Mr Tamburino [The Symphony of Mr Tambourine],47 which tells the story of an Italian immigrant in the United States who finds himself in trouble. The lyrics end with a verse which, like Battiato’s song, recalls The times they are a-changin’. The song says ‘per domani non sappiamo il tempo che farà’ [for tomorrow we do not know what the weather/time will be like] and it plays on the semantic dualism of the Italian word tempo that means both time and weather. The present condition of the immigrant is entirely uncertain and, though times will change, there is no certainty for the future. The particularity of this song is the chorus in which the Klezmer melody and rhythm proposed by Folkabbestia fuses with that of ←32 | 33→Mr Tambourine Man in the first two sections, and Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver in the third.48 The chorus is in English but the original lyrics are modified.

La sinfonia di Mr Tamburino

Mr Tambourine

Take Me Home, Country Roads


Bob Dylan

John Denver

Hey Mr Tambourine man

Hey! Mr Tambourine Man,

Play again your symphony

play a song for me,

Sing a song, sing a song all for me

Hey Mr Tambourine man

Hey! Mr Tambourine Man,

Play again your symphony

play a song for me,

Country horse take me home,

Country Roads, take me home

To the place

to the place, I belong

The effect created is that of a non-native speaker, like an Italian immigrant, who tries to sing in English but gets the original song lyrics wrong. Even though he does his best, the mistakes are representative of the lack of full integration into the cultural and linguistic systems of the new country. The integration process of Italian people in a foreign country has always been an important theme in the songs of Italian NPP artists, as the previous example suggests. Another example is the song L’italiante [The Italian emigrant] by Casa del vento,49 which is entirely dedicated to the integration of Italian emigrants around the world, or Cervelli in Fuga [Brain Drain] by Ars populi,50 a song about the brain drain of Italian young people looking for a better future abroad.←33 | 34→

1.1.2 The French Chansonniers

Another important contribution to the development process of Italian NPP music came from the French tradition of the chansonniers.51 This movement was born in France at the beginning of the twentieth century and included extraordinary French artists such as.52 Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf, the Belgian Jacques Brel and the Monegasque Leo Ferré. One of the most interesting attributes of this group of singers and authors was the high literary value of their lyrics.53 Indeed, personalities such as Vian were not just singers but also men of letters and many of their lyrics were composed by renowned poets such as Jean Cocteau or Jacques Prévert.54 Their approach to writing shows a particular attention towards the lyrics construction that transforms their songs in poems accompanied by music. The chansonniers’ output can essentially be divided into two distinct periods. The first is characterised by lyrical texts, poetry, and love, in which the social reality of the lower classes is explored, whereas the second is composed of more hardline texts, which speak of the difficulties of life in working-class districts, especially in Paris, and have a clear political agenda.55 As might be expected, due to the influence of the United States and Bob Dylan, even French songwriters had a strong impact on Italian musicians who were called cantautori [singer-songwriters] by the record company RCA.56 The chansonniers’ main contribution to the cantautori was the literary significance of their lyrics – Italian songwriters gave a relevant importance to the writing aspects of a song like their French equivalents, focusing on the socio-political aims of their songs, which were often overtly left-wing. One Italian songwriter ←34 | 35→who clearly demonstrated ties with the aforementioned French songwriters was Fabrizio De André. He was one of the central characters of the Italian singer-songwriter movement and was therefore responsible for the significant change in the way songs were written and played. He said about himself:57

Lessi Croce, l’Estetica, dove dice che tutti gli italiani fino a diciotto anni possono diventare poeti, dopo i diciotto chi continua a scrivere poesie o è un poeta vero o è un cretino. Io, poeta vero non lo ero. Cretino nemmeno. Ho scelto la via di mezzo: cantante.

I read Croce’s Aesthetics, in which he wrote that all Italians can become poets up to the age of 18; after this age, those who continue writing poems are either real poets or idiots. I was neither – not a real poet, nor an idiot. I chose the middle way: the singer.

De André pays great attention to the language used in his lyrics, yet like his French influences he continues to use social references such as his famous translated versions of Le gorille and Mourir pour des idées by George Brassens:58 Il gorilla and Morire per delle idee [To Die for Ideas].59 Indeed, Fabrizio de André’s family had many ties with France thanks to his father. He spoke and read French fluently, thus his translations and rewritings were produced directly by him.60 Besides the previously mentioned example, French songs influenced the Italian songwriter on several levels, and he also translated traditional songs such as Le roi a fait battre tambour (Il re fa rullare i tamburi [The King is Rolling ←35 | 36→Drums]),61 and file la laine (Fila la lana [Spin the Wool]).62 The latter, however, cannot be considered a true traditional song because it was composed and sung in 1949 by Jacques Douai, who wished to write a song according to the criteria of the French musical folk tradition. These songs have a strong relationship with the troubadour tradition and show how De André was influenced by the medieval imagination. It is because of this that he set the famous Italian sonnet S’i’ fosse foco [If I were fire] to music in 1968.63 It was originally written by Cecco Angiolieri at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Using popular song, De André told exemplary stories about love, misery, the injustice caused by the cruelty of power and resignation in the face of human destiny, as well as stories about rebels (bandits, outlaws, blasphemers, etc.). The presence of these elements in his songwriting is both striking and undeniable.

Fabrizio De André demonstrates some common traits in his prosody with the French tradition; Brassens, for instance, was liberal with the alexandrine poetic metre,64 which was extremely common in French poetry of the early modern and modern periods. The Italian equivalent of this dodecasyllablic verse is the hendecasyllablic, which was also used in Ancient Greek and Latin quantitative verse.65 However, in the song La città vecchia [The Old City],66 De André shows a rare example of the alexandrine metre, which is unusual in Italian poetry.

De André was also one of the first to think of an LP as a novel whereby each song corresponds to a chapter within a story. The beginning of the ←36 | 37→1960s in Italy saw the start of the trend of the concept album,67 sometimes even in collaboration with major writers. For instance, in 1969, the Italian songwriter Sergio Endrigo, alongside Vinícius de Moraes, a Brazilian Bossanova composer, and Giuseppe Ungaretti, one of the most important poets of the twentieth century, wrote a concept album entitled La vita, amico, è l’arte dell’incontro [Life, my friend, is the art of the encounter].68 De André prompted this trend, publishing Tutti morimmo a stento [We All Nearly Died] in 1968.69 Here, his lyrics were inspired by the poetry of the fifteenth-century French poet François Villon,70 who used his poems to tell the tale of his experiences in the lower classes.71 Even if Tutti morimmo a stento was not the first concept album in Italian history,72 from a literary point of view it paved the way for De André’s works. One of these works was La buona novella [The good message],73 which revolves around the New Testament apocrypha. The songs of this album tell the story of the characters in the gospels seen from a human point of view. According to De André, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the two thieves Titus and Dumachus ←37 | 38→are examples of those who fall prey to the injustices of authority largely due to their impoverished backgrounds. The process of humanising these characters is the same as that proposed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in his film, Il vangelo secondo Matteo [The Gospel According to St Matthew],74 which preceded La buona novella by six years. For both authors, Jesus’ life is narrated as a popular epic of the downtrodden, in which the son of God is considered a human being before being considered a divine entity. There are so many similarities between these two works that it is possible to affirm that Fabrizio De André was inspired by the Italian director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini. Moreover, it is also clear that the singer was attentive to the cultural tendencies of his period. Indeed De André was greatly influenced by many different artists; for instance, in 1972 he translated the song Suzanne,75 originally written by the Canadian Leonard Cohen.76 However, one of the most interesting works that De André produced was his fourth concept album, Non al denaro, non all’amore ne’ al cielo [Not to money, not to love, nor to the sky].77 Each song is a translation of a poem from the Spoon River Anthology78 – a collection of short free-form poems by Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950).79 In one interview, De André explained which of Masters’ characters he chose to set to music:80←38 | 39→

[Il suonatore Jones] è l’unico personaggio che viene chiamato per nome, è l’unico che afferma di aver vissuto una vita lunga e serena, senza nemmeno un rimpianto. Il musicista mostra di saper vedere meglio dell’ottico i messaggi reconditi della realtà; di saper guarire, più del medico, gli animi di chi lo ascolta regalando un sorriso; sa trovare, a differenza del matto, un proprio efficace linguaggio per esprimersi; gusta appieno la vita, come il malato di cuore non ha potuto fare e, cosa più importante, sceglie la libertà o, meglio, sceglie di vederla anche quando non è scritta. E con la vita può essere spezzato anche quello che di materiale lo ha accompagnato: il suo strumento [il violino in Masters, il flauto in De André], perché comunque il suo segno resterà.

[Fiddler Jones] is the only character who is known by his own name. He is the one who affirms that he had a long and peaceful life, without regrets. The musician shows that he can see the hidden messages of reality better than an optician; he can cure the souls of those who are listening to him better than a doctor just by smiling at them. He knows how to find his own language to express himself, unlike a madman; he enjoys life fully and, just like a heart patient, he cannot do anything and, most importantly, he chooses freedom or, in other words, he chooses to see freedom even when it is not written [when it is hidden]. And in life, he can break like the objects that accompany him, such as his instrument [the violin in Masters, the flute in De André], because, besides, he will have left his mark.

De André composes an elegy to the simple life in Non al denaro, non all’amore ne’ al cielo, similar to Masters in The Spoon River Anthology. Both propose an argument which contrasts the virtues of poor people with the immorality of the middle classes – a theme central to all of De Andre’s songs.81 It is because of this that he carried out some research into the Italian ethnic-folk tradition of writing songs linked to the music of the people. This can already be seen through a theme expressed by Pier Paolo Pasolini – the refusal of a coherent and normalising entity that flouts singular local realities.82 In both there are numerous similarities that link their works to one another: ideological, ethical and sentimental connotations, which claim to be the symbols of a radical diversity that is expressed in an unceasing opposition to the bourgeois world and its alienating and destructive rationality.83 In this perspective, the return to dialect has a deep ←39 | 40→anti-capitalistic meaning; Genovese and Neapolitan (dialect of Genoa and Naples) for De André and, Friulano and Romanesco (dialects of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Rome) for Pasolini, become linguistic symbols of obstinate opposition, and act to preserve the culture and identity of each human being. The Carrugi, the poor districts of Genoa, and the Borgate, the slums of Rome, both represent true humanity, which, even when is humiliated and despised, is capable of self-liberation. This can happen because it can still demonstrate the true feelings that the middle classes mask as self-righteousness. De André best expresses this concept in his song Via del Campo [Road of the Field]: ‘dai diamanti non nasce niente, dal letame nascono i fior’ [from diamonds nothing is born, flowers are born from manure].

Social and political aspects are crucial in the work of Fabrizio De André, who wrote another important concept album called Storia di un impiegato [Story of a White-collar Worker] in 1973,84 which highlighted the contradictions present in Italy during the Years of Lead when the nation was disturbed by the destruction of the political norms by terrorism. It is clear that this album is, in reality, a political declaration by the author, as he states:85

La ‘Storia di un impiegato’ l’abbiamo scritta, io, Bentivoglio, Piovani, in un anno e mezzo tormentatissimo e quando è uscita volevo bruciare il disco. Era la prima volta che mi dichiaravo politicamente e so di aver usato un linguaggio troppo oscuro, difficile, so di non essere riuscito a spiegarmi.

The ‘Storia di un impiegato’ was written by me, Bentivoglio, Piovani, in an extremely difficult year and a half. When it came out, I wanted to burn it. It was the first time that I had made political declarations, and I know that the language I used was too difficult to understand and too obscure, I know that I hadn’t expressed myself as I had wanted.

This is partially true; in fact, in one song from the album, La canzone del Maggio [The Song of May],86 the author uses the first-person narrative to tell of his affinity with the student riots of 1968. The song was inspired ←40 | 41→by one of the most well-known revolutionary songs in France:87 Chacun de vous est concerné [Each of you is concerned] written by Dominique Grange in 1968.88 Generally the entire album concerns all aspects of this difficult Italian period, and it manages to provide a clear image of the contradictions within the protest movement engaged in a public struggle. It presents a dualism between the students who took to the streets and the more individualistic white-collar workers who chose armed struggle as a means to express their discontent. The latter are considered to have betrayed the ideal which animated the movement at that time.

Fabrizio de André uses Italian traditional music as an integral part of his style, which had never before been represented in the country’s national music. The Italian folk heritage, of course, is as rich as the French one, yet it did not always have an impact on the Italian audience.

A particular connection between the French chansonniers and Italian NPP music is the trilogy Fleurs [Flowers] by Franco Battiato, who dedicated these three albums to French and Italian music, also reinterpreting French songs translated into Italian.89 It is not a coincidence that La chanson des vieux amants [The song of the old lovers] by Jacques Brel and Que reste-t-il de nos amours [What is left of our love],90 by Charles Trenet appear in Fleurs beside songs by the most important Italian artist with a French approach to music: Fabrizio de André. This project is a literary bridge between two very close cultures. This relationship is well represented by Battiato who also inserts American songwriters’ and French chansonniers’ music into his songs. Battiato and De André quote foreign artists, highlighting their self-awareness concerning their musical influences.←41 | 42→

The Franco-Italian musical interconnection created a particular case concerning folk music in Italy: right-wing singers and bands that chose to express their ideology through folk music. This is interesting as normally right-wing music, especially when it adopts an extreme right-wing position, is identifiable with genres like Street Punk and Oi!, which had their heyday in Italy during the 1990s. Folk music is generally considered to be a genre with left-wing connotations.91 Some militants of Italian right-wing culture remained connected to the fascist political heritage after the end of the Second World War, through the activity of the Movimento Sociale Italiano [Italian Social Movement], acquiring an anticapitalistic tone paired with the populism typical of fascism.92 Some people who experienced nostalgia for the regime felt an attraction to the fascist popular music that some artists have replicated since the 1960s. Leo Valeriano, who performed in the troupe of Il Bagaglino, which was famous for its right-wing stances, was one of the first of these artists.93 The model of this group was the French Cabaret – the cultural environment in which many chansonniers performed at the beginning of their careers.94

Italian right-wing folk evolved thanks to the creation of right-wing political associations and movements during the 1970s. Thanks to them, Italy saw the appearance of several bands or singer-songwriters composed of right-wing militants like ZPM, Michele di Fiò, Amici del vento, La compagnia dell’anello, Massimo Morsello,95 and Janus. The latter, a folk-progressive band, started a strong collaboration with the French cartoonist and musician Jack Marchal – an activist and co-founder of the extreme ←42 | 43→right-wing movement GUD (Groupe Union Défense [Union Defence Group]) and, later, also co-founder of the Front National with Jean-Marie Le Pen. Marchal recorded his albums in Italy with the group Janus and began prolific activity with all of the protagonists of the Italian right-wing music scene, especially Morsello and Janus. Meanwhile, Italian right-wing music was enriched through collaboration with similar politically committed groups from England. During the 1980s, the connection between Italian and British right-wing movements intensified. For instance, Massimo Morsello and Roberto Fiore, two prominent militants, spent several years in the United Kingdon to elude the Italian justice system as they had been implicated in the Years of Lead bombings.96 Morsello became a link between Italy and England and Jack Marchal between France and Italy – these connections were also founded on music. Over the years, these relationships grew stronger, resulting in a strengthened connection between music and politics. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the Italian extreme right-wing movement, Casa Pound,97 was founded by the leader of one these right-wing bands – Gianluca Iannone, the lead singer of Zetazeroalfa. The experience in the establishment of Casa Pound inspired the activities of the French GUD. They used the same strategies as Casa Pound to broaden ←43 | 44→its support.98 Music helped with recruiting new followers to a neo-fascist ideology that had appeared outmoded, rather like fascism. The experience of the French chansonniers partially influenced the Italian right-wing NPP musicians who created a new generation of politically committed individuals. Their experiences broadened the right-wing cultural world in a continuous exchange between Italy and France that transmitted ideas and political projects through music.

1.1.3 Punk, Reggae and Ska

Another step in the analysis that is essential in order to gain a better understanding of the birth of Italian NPP music is the impact that John Graham Mellor, better known as Joe Strummer, has had on Italian rock.99 He was a British singer, songwriter and guitarist best known as the co-founder and member of the punk rock band The Clash. He completely reinvented the figure of the singer-songwriter after the 1970s. His central role in Italian music and his overall significance are demonstrated by the fact that two annual festivals have been held in Italy to commemorate him since his death in 2003: the Stay Free Festival in L’Aquila and the Joe Strummer Tribute in Bologna.

Strummer was the proponent of a form of punk music that had a great deal in common with folk heritage.100 In particular, the central point of Strummer’s idea of rock was the notion of protest that was also sung about in folk. Indeed, Joe Strummer defined himself in this way: ‘I write protest songs, so I’m a folk singer. A folk singer with an electric guitar’.101 This ←44 | 45→motto became renowned in Italy, inspiring many musicians and kickstarting the birth of similar bands. One of these groups was The Gang, which was composed of the two Severini brothers. They started their musical activities in 1984, singing in English, clearly inspired by the music of The Clash. They also performed I fought the law,102 which was written by Sonny Curtis in 1959 and covered successfully by the punk band in 1979.103 The Severini brothers also wrote a song about Joe Strummer: Bandito senza tempo [Eternal outlaw], which described the metaphorical journey of the spirit of anarchy through time. The song ends with a homage to the leader of The Clash:104

Un tempo questo tempo

One time

con un’arma un po’ speciale

With quite a special weapon

una Magnum Les Paul

A Magnum Les Paul

spara canzoni che fanno male.

Which shoots songs that hurt.

Ora ha una nuova banda

Now he has a new band

e un fazzoletto rosso e nero,

And a red and black kerchief,

quando attacca ‘I Fought the Law’

When he starts ‘I fought the law’,

fa saltare il mondo intero.

he makes the whole world jump.

Ma un tempo fu un bandito,

But once upon a time he was an outlaw,

bandito senza tempo,

An eternal outlaw,

veniva con la pioggia

He came with the rain

e se ne andava via col vento …

And he went away with the wind …

This song mentions some of the major figures of the Italian left-wing tradition such as Gaetano Bresci – the anarchist who killed King Umberto I on 29 July 1900105 – and Pietro Cavallero, the boss of a gang (Banda ←45 | 46→Cavallero) that robbed banks in the pursuit of an ideal concept of social justice during the 1960s.106 These kinds of references ensure that The Gang, given their politically active nature, can be considered as the progenitor of the new generation of NPP musicians in Italy during the 1990s. Similarly to The Clash, they always proposed a music genre which could be defined as combat rock, a designation which, following their example, became the symbol of a precise approach to underground song-writing. Indeed, for the first time in music history, this genre was defined by the content of the lyrics more than the melodies or musical style of the works themselves. The adjective combat in combination with the names of musical genres (combat folk, ska, punk, etc.) shows that the kind of music being described is politically committed. At the heart of The Gang’s poetics, there is a strong link to the (his)story of the oppressed: their aim is to give a voice to those who do not have the possibility to convey their own story to the majority of the population. Gang’s songs are normally about the true stories of people from all over the world and at different times who were engaged in social struggles. Their lyrics mention, for instance, the Italian Resistance, the situation in the South American liberation movements, immigration, and many other themes. Like Strummer, the Severini brothers believed themselves to be a part of the social groups that they sang about; however, they also felt the responsibility of their role as singers to represent other people.

It seems that they took up the heritage of Italian politically committed literature of the post-war period. One example of this was the Florentine writer Vasco Pratolini, who in 1955 started a trilogy of novels that described the evolution of the Italian working-class movement starting from the beginning of the twentieth century until his own time.107 The Gang thought, as did Pratolini, that to create a complete image of the working class in one novel or on one album was not enough. Therefore, in 1991 they published ←46 | 47→the first concept album, Le radici e le ali [Roots and Wings]108 of an ambitious trilogy, entitled Triade folk rock [Folk Rock Triad], which described the path taken by the proletariat in many parts of the world. The influence of Strummer on these discs is huge. For instance, in the song Socialdemocrazia [Social Democracy], a verse quotes directly from a famous sentence by the British punk rocker that highlighted the necessity of a personal commitment to changing society: ‘The future is unwritten’,109 a phrase also used on the back cover of the album Combat Rock.110 The Gang’s song is a promise to fight against the injustices in Italy in the 1990s. It says that even if the future is compromised by politics, the Mafia and Freemasonry, people can change it. The lyrics at the end highlight the importance of an active commitment to the fight as the only way to make a better tomorrow: ‘Il futuro non è ancora scritto: ci saranno guai’ [The future is unwritten: there will be trouble]. The Gang uses Strummer’s words to issue a threat against the power which corrupts society, promising those whose aim it is to exploit people would face trouble and conflict. Musically, this song is inspired by The Clash’s style, which represented a turning point for punk that then became hybridised with international folk music. This occurred with The Clash when they wrote Sandinista!111 and started their collaboration with the Irish band The Pogues, as well as with Lee Scratch Perry – the Jamaican music producer who produced the Clash’s single Complete Control in 1977.112 This connection between the English band and the Jamaican world is also testified by the song Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin that The Clash covered in their first album. The international ambition of Le radici e le ali was confirmed by the release of the song which followed: La lotta continua [The Fight Continues]. In the lyrics, The Gang affirm that the fight against injustice has to continue and they go on to mention all of the places where this struggle has to be kept alive: Northern Ireland, Nicaragua, Palermo (Italy), Palestine, El Salvador, and South Africa. The ←47 | 48→song is intended as an anthem for those who fight for their own rights throughout the world.

The sequels in the trilogy, entitled Storie d’Italia [Histories of Italy]113 and Una volta per sempre [One Time forever],114 are set in Italy. Noticeably, Storie d’Italia saw Massimo Bubola, who also wrote the lyrics of some tracks with Fabrizio De André, as one of its lyricists. One such song with high literary value was Eurialo e Niso [Euryalus and Nisus]. It is an adaptation of an episode of the Aeneid when the characters sacrifice themselves to defend the Trojan camp. In the version written by Bubola, Euryalus and Nisus are two partisans who are killed by Nazi soldiers whilst defending their homeland. The song, which boasts many cover versions, enhanced the myth of the Italian Resistance against fascism, reinforcing this theme in the imagination of all brands who were influenced by The Gang. The memory of the Italian civil war is one of the central topics of Italian NPP music, as demonstrated again by The Gang who, in 2011, decided to publish an entire album in homage to this historic event. The album, called La rossa primavera [The Red Spring],115 comprised traditional songs written at that time and songs taken from the repertory of other musicians. This concept is not the first example of a whole album about the Resistance. Indeed, in 1995, the Consorzio Produttori Indipendenti, an independent record company, started a project on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Resistance. The final result of their effort was a collection entitled Materiale resistente [Resistent Material]116 which featured the same characteristics as La rossa primavera, but the songs were performed by various artists. The Gang also participated in this project with the aforementioned song Eurialo e Niso. In line with this, Materiale resistente is also the concept behind an album by the Modena City Ramblers – Appunti partigiani [Partisans’ Notes] – on which the band performed a mixture of old and new songs about the Italian Civil War.←48 | 49→

These bands were starting to create a community based on a common set of interests and ideals; they also started sharing songs and featuring on each other’s albums. Membership of this community, which often arose from the left-wing orientation of participants, was an opportunity for younger bands to be noticed through collaboration with older and better-known groups who became their ‘mentors’. In a sense, The Gang also assumed the role of ‘older brothers’ for new bands. They released an album in 2011, Gang e i suoi fratelli [The Gang and Their Brothers],117 on which they gathered various musicians and performed fifteen different kinds of musical styles: hard-core, folk-rock, rock ‘n’ roll, British pop, patchanka, etc., on seventeen songs. The Italian punk revolution coincided also with the arrival of ska. Many Italian bands, which followed the example of Strummer and The Clash, started to perform music with ska and reggae influences. These Italian bands performed a genre called ska-punk or ska-core,118 which had appeared in England during the 1970s thanks to the collaboration between punk-rockers and Jamaican musicians in London.119 This genre, which is associated with the Coventry group The Specials, became very popular in Italy where many bands started to perform songs of English ska bands like Madness.120 Moreover, in the early 1990s, ska-punk started to be associated with the anti-globalisation movement in Italy thanks to the activities of the Spanish band Ska-P, which had a strong influence on Italian music and politics.←49 | 50→

An example of a song linking ska and punk with political connotations is Tartamudo Ska [Stammerer Ska] by Banda Bassotti.121 The lyrics draw on the names of the Italian, English and Spanish fathers of punk, such as Joe Strummer, and ska-reggae, namely Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

Mo te bombardo con li Clash,

Now I bomb you with The Clash,

Dopo vado a lavora’, otto ore de lavoro

Later I go to work, eight hours of work



Lucida gli scarponi,

Polish the boots,

Strummer lo aspetta per andare al bar.

Strummer is waiting for him at the bar.



A la playa ya me voy,

I go to the beach,

Junto a Marley y Peter Tosh,

With Marley and Peter Tosh,

Que dia mas guay!

Such a beautiful day!

This song recreates Banda Bassotti’s idea of genre contamination, which is common to the majority of NPP bands. They see themselves as being part of an international music heritage, underlined by references to their musical models (Strummer, Marley and Tosh), the use of linguistic code-mixing, and membership of a specific social class: the working class.

1.1.4 Patchanka or Alterlatino

The last example of this review of international influences on Italian NPP music concerns a French artist with Spanish origins: José Manuel Arturo Tomás Chao Ortega, better known as Manu Chao.122 His solo career and previous activity with Mano Negra represent an important turning point in the perception of international music. His songs show signs of many influences such as rock and roll, French chanson, Spanish-American salsa, reggae, ska and Algerian rai. These influences are primarily derived from Manu Chao’s relations with other immigrants in France, from his Spanish ←50 | 51→origins and the time he spent in Central America. He has tied his success to his overt political activity, and in 2001 his music became a symbol of the anti-globalisation movement after his concert against the G8 in Genoa.123 His songs are also diverse with respect to the linguistic aspects of his lyrics; he sings in French, Spanish, English, Italian, Arabic, Catalan, Galician, Portuguese and occasionally in other languages. The many realities within the globalised world find their greatest expression in Manu Chao’s songs because his aim is to assemble the voices of the world in one unique sound.124 Manu Chao can therefore be considered one of the most important global musicians after Bob Marley. Manu Chao said in an interview: ‘L’Italia, come la Spagna o la Francia, non è un paese solo, ma l’insieme di decine di paesi diversi’ [Italy, like Spain and France, is not a single country, but the totality of dozens of different countries].125 Therefore, his conception of the world is very similar to that of Pasolini since each reality is composed of singularities that represent its richness. This concept, which Lebrun defines as rock métis [crossbred],126 offers a new idea of humanity in his songs as in the case of Bongo Bong,127 which is a metaphor of how capitalist society does not take stock of cultural differences. The protagonist of the song, a bongo player, plays for the denizens of the city but they ignore him; he would like to be appreciated by the others but at the end of the song he says: ‘I’m so happy there’s nobody in my place instead of me / I’m a king without a crown hanging loose in a big town / But I’m the king of bongo baby I’m the king of bongo bong’. The protagonist of the song understands that even if he cannot be accepted by society, he will not be deprived of his identity. It is impossible to say that Manu Chao’s music is not global; he believes in and promotes a new system based on the coming together of cultural differences as the only ←51 | 52→way for society to achieve a truly globalised world where equality prevails. The enormous impact that Manu Chao’s songs, especially the ones written in Spanish, have had on Italian bands has been increased by the strong influence of Latin American culture which gained currency in Italy after the EZLN128 insurrection in Chiapas, Mexico.129 The Spanish language as well as appreciation of South American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and the ideological wind of insurrection blowing from South America, has also caught the imagination of many Italian artists. One of the Italian bands that notably followed the example of Manu Chao is the previously mentioned Modena City Ramblers also known as McR.

This band represents the second generation of the combat folk tradition; indeed, in the spring of 2001, McR was the co-founder of the project Gang City Ramblers, which aimed to connect two generations of combat-folk-rockers, the Modena City Ramblers with the Severini brothers’ Gang. They toured together, performing a combination of each other’s songs on stage.

The period of the early 2000s was crucial for Italian society. The events in Genoa on 21 July 2001 and the intense political activism following the disaster at the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001 drastically changed people’s social perceptions. Manu Chao found himself having to interpret these difficult times artistically because he was considered an icon by the international left-wing community. His patchanka ←52 | 53→influences on the Modena City Ramblers became incredibly sophisticated, contributing to transforming their combat-folk-rock into a almost explosive mixture of sounds and images. Their album Radio Rebelde signalled a new and deep change in Italian NPP music.130 It contains influences of traditional music from Africa, South America and the Asian world that are woven together with punk, ska, reggae, electro-acoustic, concrete music and dub – sometimes the style is really hard to distinguish. Radio Rebelde is the symbol of an entire world movement that tried to create a global opposition to capitalist society during those years.131 The name of the album reflects a plurality of voices, like a radio that allows listeners to hear several different kinds of music. Moreover, radio is counterpoised to television,132 one of the instruments of mass culture, and has been seen as a typical tool of the Italian left-wing imagination,133 since the emergence of Radio Londra during the Second World War134 and the free radios during the 1970s.135 To understand how patchanka bands were interconnected, one must bear in mind that just six months after Radio Rebelde was released, Manu Chao ←53 | 54→released a collection album entitled Radio Bemba Sound System,136 which is also the name of the band founded by the French singer after 2001.137

After the 2000s, for Italian patchanka bands, Spanish was undoubtedly the most common language next to Italian – considering that patchanka is an essentially multilingual genre. Spanish had a strong influence on the Italian left-wing tradition, which also influenced politically committed music. Since the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), many Italians have empathised with the struggle of Republicans against Franco’s fascist army. This historical event saw a new type of figure emerge, namely the fascisti di sinistra [left-wing fascists]: some Italian fascist intellectuals hoped that Mussolini would aid the Spanish Republic against Franco because they thought that the Republic was the expression of popular will while Franco was supported by the clergy and the aristocracy.138 Many of them, after Italy officially supported Spanish fascism,139 changed their mind and became Marxist partisans and members of the clandestine Communist Party like Elio Vittorini, Romano Bilenchi or Vasco Pratolini.140 Franco’s linguistic ←54 | 55→policy towards regional languages like Galician, Catalan or Basque aimed at suppressing them. In official documents, Franco frequently described these languages as dialects of Castilian.141 Spanish fascism fought against regional diversities in the same way as Italian fascism tried to restrain the use of dialects. Hence in Spain, the Spanish language was imposed by the government. It also became a linguistic symbol of the power of Franco, who also banned foreign words and expressions.142 After the end of the Spanish Civil War, the international left-wing community felt a sense of proximity to this country due to the repression that antifascist militants endured during Franco’s regime. The impact of Spanish civil war songs on Italian NPP music is significant as many bands reworked the lyrics and the music to pay homage to Franco’s victims. An example of this is the adaptation of the anarchist song, A las barricadas [To the Barricades] by Casa del Vento.143 This band alternates verses of the original song with new verses inspired by the protests in Prague against the International Monetary Fund on 26 September 2000. The barricades are the symbol that links Spanish partisans to today’s activists in a never-ending fight against power. Casa del Vento declared modern capitalism, as well as fascism during the Spanish Civil War, as the enemy of the people. This call to the barricades is reminiscent of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of the ‘cry of the people’.144 Gramsci states that, in the emancipation process, the people discover their own culture while fighting oppression.145 Casa del Vento interprets this concept equating the Spanish working class in revolt with the social movement against globalisation. A similar cultural statement is made by Ivan della Mea in his song Ringhera, where the songwriter ←55 | 56→inserts the chorus of El Quinto regimento inside verses mainly written in the Milanese dialect.146 As in the case of Casa del Vento, Della Mea links the Spanish song, dating back to 1933, to the struggle of Milan’s working class during the 1970s. Left-wing people are united by a unique history that started in Spain during the civil war.

This penetration of Spanish into Italian political committed culture is also due to the Latin American revolutions. The central figure of these movements was the Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara (1928–1967), the major figure of the Cuban Revolution, a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and a global insignia of popular culture. His actions brought the Spanish language to light as the language of the revolution – it is literally impossible to list all the Italian songs dedicated to him that contain Spanish words,147 or the covers of Spanish songs dedicated to Guevara performed by Italian NPP bands.148 The Cuban Revolution was the occasion for Italian politically committed culture to stand officially against the capitalism of the United States, and shoulder to shoulder with the Third World.149 The historian Loreto Di Nucci highlights how on this occasion the Spanish language played a crucial role in attracting the attention of the Italian left-wing community to events in Cuba.150←56 | 57→

[Cuba è] un paese di lingua spagnola, di un idioma cioè fortemente familiare agli intellettuali di area mediterranea, i quali, in quel modo di parlare trovavano un più facile strumento di comunicazione – e, quindi, quasi per definizione, un maggiore ‘calore’ nelle persone – nonché il senso di una stessa discendenza, cioè la comune appartenenza al mondo latino.

[Cuba is] a Spanish-speaking country, [Spanish is] a language strongly familiar to Mediterranean intellectuals. Thanks to it, they found an easier means to communicate – they also found a ‘warmth’ in [the Cuban] peopleand they also found in [the Cuban people] the sense of their own lineage and the same common membership of the Latin world.

This image of a Latin community engaged in social struggles is expressed almost identically by Banda Bassotti in their song B. B. Boy.151 In one verse, the band, referring to themselves, seem to use the words of Loreto Di Nucci, saying: ‘Pirata mediterraneo con el corazon latino’ [Mediterranean pirate with a Latin heart]. This is not a coincidence as this band is closely linked to the tradition of hispanophone countries. In addition to other song lyrics, they released two albums comprised of Spanish songs.152 They have an important position in both Spain and Latin America, where they also promoted a project to aid native populations in their struggle against paramilitary aggression.153 Banda Bassotti songs recall all the moments when hispanophone culture came into contact with Italian left-wing movements. The band has sung, for instance, Inti-Illimani’s protest song El pueblo unido jamás será vencido [The People United Will Never Be Defeated], promoting the diffusion of hispanophone music and culture to Italy’s left-wing community. The band and its music brought to Italy the tragedy of the Chilean coup of 11 September 1973 when President Salvador Allende was deposed by Augusto Pinochet’s military forces, aided by the United States. Inti-Illimani’s music inspired Italian NPP bands and they felt the need to support Chile and its artists. Víctor ←57 | 58→Lidio Jara Martínez, murdered in Santiago five days after the coup for supporting President Allende, became the symbol of this relationship between Italian and Chilean artists. Italian bands used Spanish as the primary way to honour those who had suffered under Pinochet, just as Italian artists and intellectuals did after the Spanish Civil War to empathise with the Republican partisans.

Latin America continued to inspire the politically committed community in Italy. On 1 January 1994, the EZLN started its rebellion and inspired bands like Modena City Ramblers that were beginning their career almost at the same time. Initially, they chose their name to pay homage to the Irish band, the Dublin City Ramblers, but despite this in 1997 they changed their musical style, preferring a South American sound for the album Terra e libertà [Land and Freedom].154 The album opens with a voice that says: ‘Chi è Paddy Garcia? Es la parte mejor de todos nosotros’ [Who is Paddy Garcia? He is the best part of all of us]. Paddy Garcia is a fictional character who symbolises the encounter between two geographically distant countries that are nevertheless culturally combined in the thought of the Modena City Ramblers: Ireland and Latin America. The Italian band certainly drew their name from a song by The Pogues: A Pistol for Paddy Garcia.155 The title emphasises this relationship through the name Paddy,156 which is very common in Ireland, and the last name Garcia, which is one of the most popular surnames in Latin America. It is also part of the name of the aforementioned writer Gabriel García Márquez – one of the most notable intellectual figures in Latin American history. The title of the album is taken from the Ken Loach film Land and Freedom, which tells the story of the Spanish Civil War ←58 | 59→and contains four songs directly inspired by Márquez’s novel Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude]: Macondo express, Il ballo di Aureliano [The Dance of Aureliano], Remedios la bella [Remedios the Beauty] and, Cent’anni di solitudine [One Hundred Years of Solitude]. The Modena City Ramblers used Márquez in a way that, in some respects, has similarities with Fabrizio De André’s reworking of Masters. The South American writer’s popular epic tale of the Buendia family became the starting point of a comparison between the imaginary literary city of Macondo and the Chiapas insurrection in the lyrics of the Modena City Ramblers. One example is seen in the song, Cent’anni di solitudine, where McR say:

Remedios lavora

Remedios works

al mercato a San Cristobal

At the San Cristobal market

al banco della frutta di sua madre.

At the fruit stand of her mother.

A cinque anni ha già imparato

At five years old, she has already learned

a fregare sul resto

To steal the change

con i gringos e i turisti giapponesi.

of gringos and Japanese tourists.

Discende dai Maya, signori della Terra,

She descends from the Maya, lords of the earth,

per un dollaro la puoi fotografare,

For one dollar you can take a picture of her,

e nelle foto non sorride,

And on the photos she is not smiling,

ma sembra che ascolti

But she seems to be listening to

il suono di una musica lontana

The sound of a distant music.

Tienes que esperar

You have to wait

tienes tienes que esperar

You have to wait

Cent’anni, cien años de soledad

One hundred years of solitude

These lyrics, like those of Manu Chao, mix Italian and Spanish, so that the listener has the impression of being in South America, personally bearing witness to the lives of the characters. The story of Remedios, which Márquez sets in the imaginary city of Macondo in Colombia, is transferred to Mexico with a clear reference to the situation regarding the EZLN. This can be understood based on the toponym of San Cristobal where McR’s Remedios worked at a fruit stall. This city, also mentioned on their next album Fuori campo [Outside ←59 | 60→the Field],157 has been one of the nodal points of the new Zapatismo thanks to important figures of Liberation Theology such the Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Don Samuel Ruiz, who openly sided with the revolutionary movement.158 On 22 December 1997, a paramilitary squadron raided the village of Acteal, next to this city, killing forty-five Indians.159 The Acteal massacre, which occurred with the knowledge of the army and the Mexican authorities, was one of the most tragic moments of the troubled history of Chiapas. The Modena City Ramblers wrote a song to pay homage to the victims entitled Natale a San Cristobal [Christmas in San Cristobal].160

The Remedios song, sung by McR, embodies some attributes that permit a comparison with the notion of  ‘magic realism’ invented by Gabriel García Márquez, in which reality is often mixed with shades of cruelness and fantasy.161 Indeed, in the song, Remedios doesn’t smile, which demonstrates her poor condition in opposition to the wealth of the American and Japanese tourists, and she seems to be listening to a faraway music, suggesting that she is the only one able to hear it, like an ancestral call to her origins. This contrast between several kinds of elements is mainly presented in the song Remedios la bella, which tells the story of the character from her birth to her eventual disappearance. The tone used to describe her life seems to ←60 | 61→highlight the fairy tale aspect, and it is shown in contrast to some images that describe the impoverished reality of Santa Maria – the town where her story is set. The lyrics are divided into three distinct sections. In the first, the advent of Remedios is described like that of a character from a fable: she is born in a ray of light and in a flight of golden butterflies (‘nata racchiusa in un raggio di sole e in un volo di farfalle dorate’). There is also a prophetic figure in this section, as is common in fairy tales, whose role is to announce the main attribute of Remedios: she was a gift sent from heaven after years of hunger who would bend over backwards for the people of Santa Maria (‘era un dono mandato dal cielo dopo anni di fame e schiene piegate per la gente di Santa Maria’). The second verse is composed of elements concerning the poor town of Santa Maria and its citizens, where Remedios is like an angel who has fallen by chance among the tourists and the crows of roosters (‘Come un angelo caduto per caso fra i turisti stranieri e le grida dei galli nel mercato di Santa Maria’). Finally, in the last part, both realistic and fictional elements co-exist in the final scene of the disappearance of Remedios:

Remedios la bella è volata.

Remedios the Beauty has flown away.

Col vestito di stracci gonfiato dal vento

With her rags inflated by the wind

e una pioggia di farfalle dorate.

And a rain of golden butterflies.

E la gente guardava il buco nel cielo

The people were looking at the hole in the sky,

Mentre donna Esperanza pregava

While Miss Esperanza prayed

‘Non è posto per gli angeli un banco di spezie

‘It is not the right place for the angels, the spices

nel mercato di Santa Maria’

stand of the Santa Maria market’

Remedios in Cien años de soledad is a different character with another story, yet she has something in common with the song by McR – they both disappear into the sky. The novel thus describes her disappearance:162←61 | 62→

un delicado viento de luz le arrancó las sábanas […] Remedios, la bella, empezaba a elevarse. Úrsula, ya casi ciega, fue la única que tuvo la serenidad para identificar la naturaleza de aquel viento irreparable, y dejó las sábanas a merced de la luz, viendo a Remedios, la bella, que le decía adiós con la mano, entre el deslumbrante aleteo de las sábanas que subían con ella, que abandonaban con ella el aire de los escarabajos y las dalias, y que pasaban con ella a través del aire donde terminaban las cuatro de la tarde, y se perdieron con ella para siempre en los altos aires donde no podían alcanzarla ni los más altos pájaros de la memoria.

a delicate light wind ripped the sheets […] Remedios the Beauty, she began to rise. Ursula, almost blind, was the only one who had the serenity to identify the nature of that irreparable wind, and leave the sheets at the mercy of light, seeing Remedios the Beauty, who said goodbye with her hand, between the dazzling flapping sheets that rose with her, they left her the air of beetles and dahlias and passed her through the air where they ended at four in the afternoon, and were lost to her forever in the high airs where they could not reach the highest birds or memory.

Márquez’s novel was essential to the Modena City Ramblers in the creation of an allegory that contrasted the South of the world with the wealthy North. Indeed, for the band, Macondo became an ancestral land invaded by foreign tourists, the West, unaware and unconcerned with its great traditions. It is possible to identify some symbolic characters. For instance, Colonel Aureliano lost all of his battles yet continued fighting alone. He continues to fight with all his might until the bitter end. In Cent’anni di solitudine, McR sings:

Colonnello consegna le tue armi

Colonel consign your weapons

non puoi vincere, la lotta è già finita.

You cannot win, the fight is over.

Hai la Chiesa contro,

You are against the Church,

gli alleati hanno tradito

Your allies betrayed you

e hai già perso troppi amici

And you have lost too many friends

in questa guerra.

In this war.

Hai preso parte a trentadue rivoluzioni

You took part in thirty-two revolutions

e trentadue rivoluzioni le hai perdute …

And you lost thirty-two revolutions …

Tienes que esperar!

You have to keep hope

quando meno te lo aspetti,

When you least expect it,

verrà un uomo

A man will come

con la tua bandiera in mano

With your flag in his hand

←62 |

Aureliano is a metaphor for all of the South American men who fought for the freedom of the entire continent, defiant in the face of their strong enemies. The song also mentions the important role played by the Catholic Church during the revolutions that shook Latin America. If Aureliano represents struggle, Remedios is the personification of the people who had to endure wars but she also clearly symbolises Mexican’s Mayan origins, which have been threatened by the Western world, notably the United States.

Over time, the style of the band evolved to more closely resemble Manu Chao’s work and its emphasis on South America. In 2002 and 2004, the albums Radio Rebelde [Riot Radio]163 and ¡Viva la vida, muera la muerte! [Long Live Life, Death to Death],164 a famous EZLN motto, saw the progressive use of Spanish in their lyrics and the introduction of electronic effects in their melodies – similar to the style of Manu Chao. This trend was abandoned after 2006, following some significant changes in the membership of the band and the release of Dopo il lungo inverno [After the Long Winter],165 which marked their return to a more folk-oriented sound.

The contribution of Spanish to Italian NPP music alongside Latin American influences was also linked to the political situation in contemporary Spain. At the beginning of the 2000s, the Italian left-wing community was engaged in strong opposition to the Berlusconi government. When José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a member of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español [Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party], became Spain’s prime minister in 2004, Italian movements started to look at Spain as an important country that had managed to liberate itself from the right-wing leadership of José María Aznar’s Partido Popular [The People’s Party], which had been linked to Berlusconi. Zapatero proposed some laws that were unimaginable in Italy at that time such as same-sex marriage, renewing the enthusiasm of the left-wing community for Spain.166 After the end of ←63 | 64→his period in office in 2011 and the election of Mariano Rajoy Brey of the Partido Popular, a new protest movement arose in Spain: the anti-austerity movement, also known as Indignados or the 15-M Movement. Meanwhile, Italian left-wing parties saw a decrease in their influence because many left-wing militants abandoned their political convictions following the birth of the Movimento Cinque Stelle [Five Star Movement] on 4 October 2009 that is characterised by an apolitical approach of ideologies. Hence, Indignados represented an example of a movement capable of taking over public spaces such as town squares as Cinque Stelle was doing in Italy. Its transformation into Podemos [We can] further inspired Italian NPP music. One of the most recent NPP bands, Rossopiceno, wrote a song called Sol [Sun] about the Spanish anti-austerity movement, which mixed both Italian and Spanish.167 The title mentions Plaza del Sol, the name of the square where the Indignados movement started its revolution on 15 May 2011 in Madrid. Rosspiceno presents the Spanish movement as hope for the future, referring to young people’s participation in the movement as being like a party thrown by university students.

Facoltà di architettura, studi fatti senza fretta

Architecture faculty, studies done slowly,

lo sconforto e la speranza nella pausa sigaretta.

Discouragement and hope during a smoke break.

I cartelli e gli striscioni son scintille nella paglia,

The banners are sparks in the straw,

siamo alba nella notte, siamo trame della maglia.

We are the dawn in the night, we are the texture of a sweater.

Que no sea un botellon,

It is not a party,

que sea una revolution.

It is a revolution.

Yo me quedo

I’ll stay

hasta que se queda el sol.

Until there is the sun.

←64 | 65→

The reference to a party and to higher education highlights similarities with the Erasmus generation. The botellon is a symbol of Erasmus parties in Spain,168 the most popular country for the international exchange programme.169 These student exchanges modify the political activism of participants, creating links between projects promoted by local assemblies in each university:170 foreign students continue their militancy in their host countries.171 Naturally, in the student environment, music is an essential part of political participation that is used to promote public events like concerts or campaign funds. In 2010 the new Chilean president of the Colectivo Estudiantes de Izquierda [Left-wing student collective], Camila Vallejo, decided to communicate their political activities using these university assemblies in Europe.172 In 2012, the Chilean student movement ←65 | 66→also arrived in Italy with its three coordinators, Camila Vallejo, Karol Cariola and Jorge Murua, and held a series of conferences and meetings. This exchange further reinforced the image of Spanish as a common language of left-wing movements in Italy.

Interconnections between South America, Spain and Italy continuously produced ideas and projects. One of the most recent was Abusif,173 a project that aims to create a legal brand to help the Senegalese community of immigrants in Pisa sell their products without running the risk of being reported to the police. The idea came from a similar project in Barcelona,174 called Top Manta [Top Sheet], which the Italian collective Rebeldia, the associations Senegal Mbollo and Africa Insieme offered the Senegalese community of the Tuscan city.

Music and politics have therefore shown the importance of Spanish-speaking culture and the Spanish language in Italy’s left-wing culture due to the left-wing associations and perception of Spanish in Italy.

1.2 Traditional Music

The foundation of Italian NPP music was also the combination of both Italian and foreign folk-ethnic music. From the turn of the nineteenth century, Italian folk music started to be recognised as a phenomenon that ←66 | 67→was worthy of attention. The Italian politician and journalist Giuseppe Mazzini wrote an essay in 1836 on the relationship between Italian culture and music named La filosofia della musica [The Philosophy of Music]. He highlighted how the essence of Italy is inextricably linked to music. In the book, he writes:175

Chi scrive non sa di musica, se non quanto gl’insegna il cuore, o poco più; ma nato in Italia, ove la musica ha patria, e la natura è un concento, e l’armonia s’insinua nell’anima colla prima canzone che le madri cantano alla culla de’ figli

The person who is writing, doesn’t know music apart from what he learnt from his passion; but he was born in the land of music where nature is a concept, and where harmony infiltrates the soul with the first song mothers sing to their children in their cradles

Amateur passion for music, as shown by Mazzini, is not the only example of Italian intellectuals being interested in music and linguistic issues. Indeed, the linguist Niccolò Tommaseo in 1841 realised the importance of music as a vehicle for living language in the complex Italian panorama of the nineteenth century in which dialects co-existed everywhere. Ethnic music started to be studied with a more serious methodological approach in this period, aided by the scientific rigour of positivism. This period witnessed the formalisation of a lot of disciplines, such as sociology and philology, ethnography and musicology.176 Tommaseo mixed the latter fields in his works and added linguistics also to highlight how ethnic music worked before the emergence of a mass market for recorded music. For instance, he explains the habits of the Tuscan wanderer musician in the following way:177←67 | 68→

Nel contado lucchese bande di ragazzi e giovanotti e di uomini fatti, accompagnate quasi sempre da un suonatore, percorrono sull’imbrunire, ognuna per conto suo, le vie del villaggio, fermandosi alle case dei più facoltosi. Arrivati al primo uscio – tutti uniti o divisi in due cori – intonano una canzone in strofette di quattro ottonari, per lo più a rime incrociate, inframmezzando le varie strofe col suono del violino, dell’organetto o di qualche altro strumento. […] La lieta comitiva, ottenuti i doni, ripiglia il canto ringraziando e passa alla casa vicina, e così di seguito finché non ha finito il giro del paese.

In Lucca’s countryside, gangs of boys and men, almost always accompanied by a musician, cover at nightfall, the roads of the towns, each one stopping on his own in front of the houses of the richest. At the first door – all together or divided into two choirs – they start singing a song in verses of four octosyllables, mostly with crossed rhyme, in the middle of verses played on the violin, the button accordion or some other instrument. […] The happy band, after receiving gifts, resume their grateful singing and pass on to the next house and so on until they visit all of the roads of the town.

At that time, as there was no way of listening to music at home, music was linked to occasions when people celebrated together as special times of the year like harvest.

1.2.1 National Roots

Straniero divided Italian popular repertory into four thematic categories: patriotic and war songs, marching songs suffering songs, and protest songs.178 On the other hand, in Italy, ethnic music, much like the local dialects, can be divided into four macro-areas according to local specificities.179 In the Mediterranean area covering most of Southern Italy and Sicily, songs reflect the influence of Arabic and Spanish culture and have melodic attributes.180 Modal scales and minor keys are used frequently.181 Rhythmic structures are free and the songs do not obey ←68 | 69→fixed patterns, while the lyrics express themes such as protest, pain, sadness or love. Songs are performed mainly by a musician and are sung in a strong voice that is sharp and almost dissonant. The instruments traditionally used are the bagpipes, the ocarina, the accordion, the mandolin, the tambourine, the raganella [cog rattle], the chitarra battente [beating guitar],182 the friction drums and the harp. The central area is influenced by both Northern and Mediterranean music. Songs are generally in minor keys and are occasionally performed by a single musician. The major keys are mainly used in songs for dancing. The instruments traditionally used are almost the same as those in the Mediterranean area.183 There is also a Northern area that seems to have been strongly influenced by countries beyond Italy.184 Songs in that region have very simple melodies and harmonies and show a preference for major keys. Rhythmic structures are fixed. The lyrics tell individual stories. Songs are most often performed in a choir. The most common instruments in this music are the harmonica, the accordion, the guitar, the violin, the fregamusone [a kind of zuffolo], the fife, the alpine horn, and the mandolin.185 Sardinia, which is characterised by its considerable autonomy, has a more diverse musical tradition than the rest of Italy. It features some very ancient musical elements.186 The two basic forms of song are the mutu and mutettu, which can be performed by a single voice accompanied by a guitar or a choir. In the latter case, the voices of support are the bass; the most important part is often sung in falsetto. ←69 | 70→The most commonly used instruments in this music style are the accordion, the guitar, the launeddas [Sardinian triple clarine], and the ciaramella [shawm]. There are many differences between the typologies of songs, which can be identified and then categorised into five major sections.187 Lullabies tend to have fluctuating rhythms and use long vowels or humming. Words, when they are present, mostly express tenderness or a maternal outburst against living conditions that are too harsh and tiring. They make occasional references to death or monstrous figures with the intent to exorcise evil and drive it away from the child. Children’s songs can be divided into two categories: songs performed by adults to entertain children as well as nursery rhymes and songs sung by children at play. Work songs were used to coordinate and facilitate repetitive and strenuous operations, which helped to make work less monotonous.188

Social and political songs highlight situations of injustice and suffering such as poverty, migration, war, and difficult relationships with one’s employers, local authorities and powerful people in general.189 Trench songs were sung by soldiers who wanted to escape from the routine of war while looking for an affirmation of their identity. Often in these songs there are frequent references to the soldiers’ love lives.190 Traditional music also includes instrumental songs which are linked mainly to dance and played at festive occasions. They have a lively function and possess upbeat qualities that encourage sociability.191 Some examples of famous folk dances are the ←70 | 71→Monferrina (Piedmont), the Tarantella (which has spread across the South) and the Ballo tondo (Sardinia).

1.2.2 International Roots

One of the characteristics of Italian NPP music is its openness to several types of traditional music such as Arab and Northern European music. One of the countries which has influenced Italian artists the most is Ireland with its ballads, jigs and reels.192 At the beginning of the 1990s, traditional Irish music had a significant impact in Italy thanks to the release of the Modena City Ramblers’ Celtic-inspired album, Riportando tutto a casa [Bringing it all back home].193 The album brought Irish, and also Scottish, sounds to an Italian audience, making Celtic music a great success. French traditional music was also increasingly present in Italian music, demonstrated by the mixing of Breton music with a punk rhythm in Memorie di Breizh [Memories of Breizh]194 – a song by the band Folkabbestia. The song is about their experience in Brittany, referring particularly to the sense of melancholy that they felt on leaving this land:

Oh scogliera che baciasti il temporale,

Oh Cliff that kissed the storm,

dentro gli occhi miei rimane il sale

In my eyes the salt remains

[…] Terra generosa e sconosciuta,

[…] Generous and unknown land,

Bretagna, questa banda ti saluta.

Brittany, this band greets you.

Even the traditional repertory of Spain has inspired Italian artists. One example is Daniele Silvestri, who used the Flamenco style as one of his musical influences. This is the case in songs like Il flamenco della doccia [The Flamenco of the Shower],195 where he compares the sexual frenzy of ←71 | 72→those who have been forced into sexual abstinence with the movements that are typical of Flamenco dancing. Another example can be found in the song Voglia di gridare [Desire to Shout] where,196 through interesting musical elaboration, the funk style of guitar playing used at the beginning of the song becomes Spanish. Another illustration of the type of elaboration made possible by amalgamating distinct music styles is Quattro notti [Four Nights],197 written by the band Zibba e Almalibre in which Spanish music is perfectly fused with Irish music through the mediation of rock.

One of the most influential music genres on Italian NPP music is from the Balkans. It became known in Italy also through the work of the director and musician Emir Kusturica and the composer Goran Bregović. Furthermore, Balkan music and culture benefitted from an international diffusion following the tragic events of the Yugoslavian War (1991–2001). In 1995, Kusturica’s film Underground was released,198 accompanied by a soundtrack to which Bregovic collaborated. The film told the story of Yugoslavia during the Second World War as a metaphor for the ethnic conflict that the Yugoslavians endured from 1991 to 2001. After the success of the film and the following tours by the two artists which took them to Italy, Balkan music started to have an ever-greater influence on Italian musicians. For instance, in 2005, the Modena City Ramblers collaborated with Bregović in the already mentioned album Appunti partigiani, in which they revisited the well-known Italian song Bella ciao. Balkan music was all the more popular in Italy as it found an echo in the philosophy of the Italian bands of the period, which did not consider this type of music as ‘[an] exotic genre’.199 Musically, it mixed brass and string instruments – a common approach in almost all popular music. Its presence during the performances permitted changes of folk style, which produced the sound that would become associated with these bands. This music is considered a meeting point and some Balkan-oriented bands, such as Municipale Balcanica, chose this style because the area where it originated had experienced a continuous mixing of people. The Balkan traditional repertory ←72 | 73→bears the marks of the accumulated histories of several peoples such as the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and their Klezmer music, or Romani traditional songs.200 Also, the latter were taken as an inspiration for Casa del vento, who tell the history of the Romani people in a song that is symbolic of their tradition: Zigani orkestar.201

African music has also been an important influence on Italian musicians, which is especially evident in the use of percussion typical of Central Africa. One example is the song Radio Tindouf by the Modena City Ramblers, which is built on an African rhythm. However, the African style also embodies some styles of Arabic music – a genre with which several Italian bands show their affinity. The most important case is represented by Radiodervish, who devised songs penned by Italian authors and set them to Arabic melodies, and whose lyrics were sung half in Italian and half in Arabic. One example is the song Rosa di Turi [The Rose of Turi]202 – a transliteration of the text by Antonio Gramsci. This poet and political activist was incarcerated in 1926 by the fascist regime in Puglia. While in prison, he wrote a letter to his sister-in-law,203 Tatiana, in which he showed the emotional and vulnerable side of a man ready to endure imprisonment for his strong political convictions, using the metaphor of the growth of a rose.

1.2.3 Traditional Elements in NPP Music

Traditional music, as Philip Tagg has analysed in depth, has strong connections with the territories it comes from.204 Tagg’s model of ←73 | 74→national, regional and local music can be adapted and applied to Italian traditional music:

National – when a song is recognisable as an expression of general ethnic elements of a large territory. For instance, the song Mamma mia dammi cento lire [Mum Give Me One-Hundred Lira] is a traditional song in Italy’s national repertory.

Regional – when a song can be classified as part of a smaller territory because it presents indigenous elements of a specific area. For instance, the song La malcontenta [The Dissatisfied Woman] is considered to be a Tuscan song for its musical style and the presence of linguistic traits typical of Tuscany.

Local – a type of song that refers to a precise area. These songs are often written in dialects or contain direct references to a small area, place names or local expressions, or to historical episodes specific to this area. For instance, Maremma amara [Painful Maremma] is a popular song from the Maremma, a plain in Southern Tuscany, or Donna ‘sabella principessa di Salerno [Lady Isabella princess of Salerno] is a traditional song from Salerno dedicated to Isabella Villamarino (1503–1559), the last princess of the city.

Micro-local songs also concern smaller territories as in the case of the song U’ scarrafone [The Cockroach], also known as U’ craparo re le Chiaine [The Goatherd King of the Chiaine]. This song is written using the typical dialect of Piaggine, a small village on the Lucanian Apennines. The lyrics also mention the toponym Chiaine that is the ancient name of the village Piaggine. This song has been performed by Angelo Loia, Piera Lombardi, Marco Bruno and NPP bands like Namará and Rotumbé – a sign that even the micro-local tradition is maintained by contemporary musicians.

Territories and ethnic identities are connected to the construction of a traditional musical repertory but they also become extra musical elements in NPP music due to the fact that these artists often use ethnic traits in their music and lyrics to refer to, for instance, their cultural identity.205 ←74 | 75→One of the elements that reveal the territorial belonging of an Italian artist is, of course, dialect. The interconnection of local linguistic traits with traditional music is one of the typical elements of NPP music, and is a marker of the musicians’ identities and origins. ‘Language, [and] the musical discourse of the song is a rule-governed structure of notes and syllables and their relations in time’.206 Hence NPP music must be categorised considering three factors: music, language and extra-musical elements, like ethnic or political identity.

Middleton states that it is possible to affirm that the combination of language and music ‘originates in broader processes of semiosis’.207 This definition seems to recall the sign model theorised by Danish linguist Luis Trolle who states that ‘the two entities that contract the sign function – expression and content – behave in the same way in relation to it’.208 Extra-musical elements, regarding the content, play a role in this process of the creation of the sign because NPP music cannot be totally understood without knowledge of these characteristics. When processing this kind of music, listeners need to be aware of all of the ethnic-local (see above), politico-ideological, social, and chronological references contained in a song to grasp its full meaning.

Grande famiglia [Big Family],209 a song by the Modena City Ramblers, is a good test case for the use of this semiotic analysis to interpret NPP songs. The song tells the story of Vanja, an Algerian girl who emigrates to Italy and later settles in Belfast. She then returns to Italy to work at the bar frequented by members of the band in Parma:210←75 | 76→

Vanja è nata a Algeri, è cresciuta nel deserto,

Vanja was born in Algiers, she grew up in the desert,

ha negli occhi ancora un po’ di luce d’Africa,

She still has in her eyes some African light,

ha vissuto a Parma, poi è partita verso il Nord

She lived in Parma, later she left for the North,

è finita tra i Bunkers di Falls Road.

She ended up in the Falls Road Bunkers.

The song can be represented by a diagram divided into three parts according to Hjelmslev’s theory concerning the nature of the sign. This representation considers a tripartite differentiation of form–substance–purport211 in terms of its content and expression.212 Adapting this semiotic theory to NPP music, it is possible to interpret Grande famiglia as in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1: Adaptation of Hjelmslev’s theory applied to the lyrics




Content plane




Italian language

Linguistic elements of Italian political language recognisable by left-wing militants

Left-wing lyrics written by a politically committed band that tell the story of Vanja and describe the band’s community.

Spanish language

Spanish used as a language shared by all left-wing bands


References to the ethnic identity of the bands and their previous album (written in dialect for half)


Names of people (militants, musicians and friends of the band) and relevant places (that the band consider important for their history or for ideological reasons)

Table 2: Adaptation of Hjelmslev’s theory applied to music




Expression plan




Punk music

Rhythmic accompaniment inspired by punk tradition, the band openly identifies with Joe Strummer and The Clash as one of its musical references.

Folk-rock music.

Ska music

The rhythmic accompaniment is mainly on the upbeat (as in ska-punk).

Irish traditional music

The song contains musical extracts from traditional Irish music (for instance The Leaving of Liverpool).

Western style music

It reveals a strong influence that Ennio Morricone and Spaghetti Western films had on the band


Some banjo music is incorporated using the three-finger picking style, and the fiddle is in thirds.

Cajun traditional music

The accordion melody is characterised by the use of staccato style notes.

←76 | 77→

The substance is what is meant by the band when they make certain choices as regards the form of the song – be it the lyrics (form-content), the music (form-expression), or the extra-musical elements. The purport is how the general public interprets the content and perceives the form of the song, while not being conscious of the various musical influences on its composition. As in Hjelmslev’s definitions, form, substance, and purport require the combination of expression and content to be fully understood as the song needs both music and lyrics to transmit its message.213 Form and content show how NPP bands build their conception of music ←77 | 78→on the elaboration of traditional repertories in terms of content and expression. This is a common trait to all musicians who, from the end of the 1960s onwards, started to play music with one eye on the present but the other on their roots in the past. This past is the traditional music which, throughout the years, has been played by revival musicians and reworked by NPP artists who often remodel their unpublished songs by inserting extracts from traditional music and lyrics.

1.2.4 Revival

Revival bands represent a widespread phenomenon that concerns people who played their own traditional music but also music from other countries’ repertories.214 Given the local differences in Italian culture, each city normally has at least one revival band. One example is I sonatori della boscaglia in Grosseto, who perform a typical repertory of Tuscan traditional songs as well as traditional protest songs from the area’s Communist-socialist heritage.215

These bands traditionally abide by two overarching principles. The first concerns the use of traditional instruments. In trying to remain perfectly faithful to the history of traditional music, these musicians reject electric and contemporary equipment like bass or drums and instead choose traditional instruments aided by luthiers due to the fact that historical local instruments are sometimes extremely rare. In many cases, revival musicians craft their instruments themselves or collaborate directly with luthiers to reproduce all of the typical characteristics of local instruments.216 Furthermore, instruments like the hurdy-gurdy or certain pipes or the chitarra battente are rarely taught in music courses and so these musicians ←78 | 79→meet in associations in order to organise special master-classes by sharing their musical skills.217 The second element that has characterised revival bands is their philological research regarding lyrics and music that allows them to be linguistically and musically close to the original version of the songs that they are performing.

In the past few years, revival bands have gained a new lease of life after the first explosion of the phenomenon in several regions during the 1970s.218 After the beginning of the 1980s, revival music saw a period of decline largely linked to a general tendency in Italian society to create a more national cultural and linguistic identity, which was detrimental to local dialects. Entire generations felt that to be accepted in a public context they had to erase every trace of dialect from their speech.219 This phenomenon saw a dramatic decrease in the knowledge of local dialects among people born during the 1980s and 1990s, many of whom are now trying to recover their regional peculiarities by re-discovering dialects and traditional music. It is no coincidence that large traditional festivals started to be popular again at the end of the 1990s. The most important such festival is the Tarantella festival in Apulia – La notte della Taranta [The night of Taranta] – which began in 1998. Trifone and Picchiorri have shown that after the early 2000s, dialect started to be accepted as a sign of identity and belonging and not a reason for shame.220 Berruto and Cortelazzo define this phenomenon of Nuova Dialettalità [New Dialect Situation] as a common tendency in Italian society.221 Indeed, this revival, ←79 | 80→since the early 2000s,222 has been the answer of some parts of society to the homogenisation induced by the globalisation process around the world. Marco Caselli describes this tendency as a typical feature of the ‘Southern world’ that feels that globalisation is destroying local singularities.223

All of these elements have motivated many musicians to turn their artistic activities towards a revivalist interpretation of traditional music but it does not stop here. Indeed, many musicians have started an interesting phenomenon of writing traditional songs. Singer-songwriters thus write songs according to all of the criteria of their local cultural tradition. In order to understand why new generations are interested in writing ‘new music’ in the ‘old way’, I interviewed Marco di Domenico and Alessia Autuori, two musicians from Salerno. This crafting of songs based on the canons of traditional music, as carried out by di Domenico and Autuori, is similar to the work of Eugenio Bennato and Carlo d’Angiò at the end of the 1970s when they wrote Briganti se more [Brigands We Died] – a song that describes the epic of brigands who organised themselves in a war of liberation against the Savoy army that was perceived by the majority of Southern people as invaders. The song, which was incredibly successful, is still performed by several NPP bands but it has all the criteria to be considered stylistically as a traditional song exactly like A ‘sta funtana, which was written by di Domenico and Autuori.

When asked directly why someone today would want to write a traditional song in a contemporary music landscape, Autuori answered:224

Sentiamo questa esigenza perché per andare avanti, a volte è necessario guardarsi indietro. Scoprendo e conoscendo la nostra storia, la nostra tradizione, scopriamo e conosciamo davvero noi stessi: chi siamo, a cosa apparteniamo e allo stesso tempo, quei suoni e quei temi così antichi, diventano nuovi e sono per noi motivo di orgoglio. Abbiamo voglia di esprimerci con questa musica perchè a quel punto diventa il nostro naturale linguaggio.

We feel this need because to go forward, sometimes it is necessary to look back. Discovering and knowing our history and tradition, we discover and know really who we are and at the same time, this old sound and these ancient themes become new and a source of pride for us. We want to express ourselves with this music that becomes our natural language.

←80 | 81→

It is interesting to note how Autuori uses the term language when describing what popular music represents for her. Hence A ‘sta funtana contains all the characteristics of traditional song language. Di Domenico wrote music which is classifiable as a pizzica and Autuori tells a typical story in the dialect of her local tradition, which di Domenico had read in a local newspaper. The lyrics recount the story of Bella Antonella – a servant of the Princess of Salerno, Margherita di Durazzo (1347–1412) – and her unrequited love for Raimondo. Antonella and Raimondo met at a fountain which, legend says, became a magic object. A girl in love at the beginning of August must go there and drink from it, leave the tap open and, while the water trickles, say a magic incantation, and finally collect six drops of water. Following this ritual, the ghost of Antonella will appear and make her beloved requite her love.

The artistic effort of Autuori and di Domenico shows the new vitality of traditional culture today, even if mass society offers a unification of habits and traditions. Such a revival is an example of opposition to cultural standardisation by reminding people of their origins in order to trace a common future. As Autuori says:

A noi piace la musica della tradizione, sentiamo che più di tutte parla al nostro cuore … è il linguaggio che capiamo più facilmente e lo sappiamo subito esprimere. Ritroviamo noi stessi e ci spinge a creare andando verso il nuovo con la forza del passato.

We love traditional music – we feel that more than other musics it speaks to our hearts … It is the language that is more understandable to us and we know immediately how to express it. We find ourselves anew in this music and it pushes us towards the new with the strength of the past.

1.2.5 Remodelling the Music

In contrast to revival artists, NPP bands use traditional music as a constitutive part of their songs revealing, for example, the relationship that those artists have with their regional origins. The first typology of traditional music remodelling concerns the reinterpretation of an entire popular song in a new version. For instance, the protest song Dimmi bel giovane [Tell me Handsome Young Man] – literally a manifesto of Italian anarchism – is well known among Italian NPP artists and is often reworked ←81 | 82→in different ways. For instance, the band Montelupo performs this song while trying to preserve the original rhythm and keep the original melody by using instrumentation close to the original.225 The singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela attempted the same in some concerts but both performers inevitably added some personal elements from their own style in revisiting folk music.226 Due to its ideological content, this song has been performed by several punk bands like Youngang, who transformed the music of the song by adapting it to the punk style but entirely preserved the lyrics.227 This band also perform other anarchist anthems such as Sante Caserio, a masterpiece of the anarchist repertory that represents an ode to the Italian Sante Geronimo Caserio (1873–1894) who murdered the President of the French Third Republic, Marie François Sadi Carnot, on 24 June 1894.228 After his execution, Sante Caserio became a martyr for international anarchism, and there are several songs about his story. Montelupo have performed this song, and the band have also produced an entire album of Italian anarchist songs.229 There is a certain bond between traditional protest music and the militant Italian punk bands which, during the 1970s and after the 1990s, contributed to incorporating this mixture of punk and traditional music into the category of NPP music. Also, the longstanding punk band CCCP Fedeli alla linea performed popular traditional songs like Il Testamento del Capitano [The Captain’s Testament],230 an alpine anthem, and In occasione della festa [On the Occasion of the Party], even if they tried to conserve many of the characteristics of the original version. The band Üstmamò, closely linked to CCCP, offer an interesting version in their post-punk and trip-hop style of the partisan song I ribelli della montagna [The rebels of the mountain],231 ←82 | 83→attributed to two partisans of the Terza Brigata d’Assalto [Third Assault Brigade] that fought in Alessandria. Emilio Casalini, whose nom de guerre was Cini wrote the lyrics, and Angelo Rossi, or Lanfranco, wrote the music. The Üstmamò version of the song is evocative and tries to place listeners in the dark mood of the war, using a voiceover that repeats the secret messages that Radio Londra transmitted to Italian partisans to coordinate their actions with the allied armies: ‘Aldo dice 26 x 1’ [Aldo says 26 by 1].232

Banda Bassotti is another ska-punk band that remodel traditional music; they created a new version of Piazza Fontana by Yu Kung – a band from the 1970s.233 This song tells of the Piazza Fontana bombing (12 December 1969) and, due to its popularity, has become a symbol of the left-wing musical tradition.234 Banda Bassotti successfully reworked the folk style of the original version and adapted it to punk with many listeners often unaware that it was not composed by the band themselves.

The strong relationship between traditional music and pop can be seen in the ethnic-pop band Fiamma fumana – a band mainly comprised of women, which focus on protest songs with female protagonists such as La mondina [The rice weeder].235 They have performed several examples of songs that recount the situation of the women who cleaned rice in the Po Valley.236 These women who worked in paddy fields constituted one of the first left-wing committed groups of female workers that also became a symbol ←83 | 84→of Italian feminism. It seems that 237 one of the first versions of Bella Ciao is attributed to them even if Bermani asserts that Bella Ciao delle Mondine was posterior to the Italian Civil War.238 Fiamma fumana began working with the choir of the mondine from Novi in Modena who appeared on their albums. In the case of La Mondina, this group of women recite the introduction of the song, presenting themselves as rice workers. Fiamma fumana and the mondine choir worked together on all of the band’s albums, especially on the songs in which they highlight the efforts of women to emancipate themselves from employer abuse and male chauvinism. Fiamma fumana and this choir performed together in concerts where the band revisited the traditional repertory.239 Their work on traditional music aims to create a direct link to their origins by evoking the struggle of women through a musical style that is radically different from other Italian NPP bands.

The second kind of traditional remodelling in NPP music concerns the use of extracts from unpublished traditional songs. The inclusion of excerpts from The Leaving of Liverpool by the Modena City Ramblers on one of their instrumental tracks in the song Grande famiglia has already been mentioned, but there are other examples of this tendency. The same band, in their version of Bella Ciao, open the song with the Irish instrumental The Lonesome Boatman written by Finbar Furey in 1969.240 In the same way, Folkabbestia remodelled Vulesse addeventare nu brigante by ←84 | 85→Eugenio Bennato by inserting a typical Neapolitan tarantella as the instrumental part of the song.241

This kind of traditional reworking often aims to create an ideological parallelism or contrast between music and lyrics. For instance, Contratto Sociale Gnu_Folk’s song Ulivi sui sassi [Olive Trees on the Stones] describes the Palestinian people’s resistance to the Israeli army. The song is based on Yiddish Klezmer music, which is the musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. The lyrics and music are connected in the song, in a similar way to the Palestinian and Jewish people both being involved in the Arab–Israeli conflict.

1.2.6 Remodelling the Lyrics

As a result of their affinities with the American folk music revival and the French chansonniers, Italian NPP musicians give considerable attention to the textual aspects of their lyrics. Many NPP artists blend the lyrics of traditional songs with their own texts but also imitate typical traits of popular writing in music such as nursery rhymes. These compositions are often characterised by the repetition of typical elements like numbers, ←85 | 86→single words or sentences to help listeners memorise them: for instance, Three Blind Mice,242 or Ten Little Indians.243

Three Blind Mice

Ten Little Indians

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

One little, two little, three little Indians

See how they run. See how they run.

Four little, five little, six little Indians

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Ten little Indian boys.

Did you ever see such a sight in your life,

As three blind mice?

Ten little, nine little, eight little Indians

Seven little, six little, five little Indians

Four little, three little, two little Indians

One little Indian boy.

Nursery rhymes are an important aspect of popular heritage in all cultures in terms of language244 and music.245 They also use repetition of textual elements to force the audience to listen to the texts exactly as children do. Italian NPP music draws fully from the style of nursery rhymes like Bandabardò in Sette sono i re [Seven Are the Kings]:246←86 | 87→

7 sono i re, 7 sono i re.

7 are the kings, 7 are the kings.

Il primo ha preso tutto,

The first took everything,

per portarselo con sé

To bring it away with him



6 sono i re, 6 sono i re.

6 are the kings, 6 are the kings.

Il sesto amava tutto

The sixth loved everything

quello che non fa per me

It is not good for me.



5 sono i re, 5 sono i re.

5 are the kings, 5 are the kings.

Il quinto se non spara non è fiero di sé.

The fifth if he doesn’t shoot, he is not proud of himself.



4 sono i re, 4 sono i re.

4 are the kings, 4 are the kings.

La quarta era regina del prét-à-porter

The fourth is the queen of the prét-à-porter



3 sono i re, 3 sono i re.

3 are the kings, 3 are the kings.

Questo era chiamato ‘nontiscordardimè’

This was called ‘dontforgetaboutme’



2 sono i re, 2 sono i re.

2 are the kings, 2 are the kings.

Litigano bene si odiano

They fight and they hate each other

The lyrics list unknown politicians described by their characteristics. The song is very popular with the fans of the band and many of them have tried to discover the identities of each king – some have even written to the band asking for confirmation.247 One hypothesis suggests that the first king is former Italian prime minister Bettino Craxi who fled to Hammamet, Tunisia to escape justice in Italy when he was found guilty of corruption during the Mani Pulite trial in the early 1990s. The second is most likely Silvio Berlusconi given that the song says that he has interests in many fields. The reference to the gallina [hen] that he married may hide an allusion to Berlusconi’s behaviour with showgirls and young models. The third could be George Bush father considering the reference ←87 | 88→to shooting, which may remind us of a stereotypical Texan as well as the numerous wars that he authorised. The fourth is probably Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, who is described as behaving like a man, presumably because of her strong character that made her famous (not to mention her ultraright-wing policies). The fifth is maybe a general description of a dictator – potentially Franco – due to the fact that the lyrics tell of his obsession with not being forgotten, which drives him to erect large images of himself everywhere. The last two are George W. Bush junior, whom the song defines as figlio d’arte (someone who has followed in his father’s footsteps – Bush senior), and Osama bin Laden as the song says that he smokes hookahs and they both fight with each other – most likely an allusion to the War on Terror which began after the attack on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001.

The nursery rhyme style is also used by The Gang in their song Il palazzo di Babele [The Tower of Babel] – a song full of allegorical images that describes the plurality of people in the world.248

Uno zingaro esquimese

One Eskimo gypsy

nel cassetto aveva un prato,

In the drawer had a lawn,

due toreri magrebini

Two toreadors from Maghreb

un po’ d’erba gli hanno fumato.

Smoked a little bit of his weed.

Tre fachiri campesini

Three campesino fakirs

saltano sul pavimento,

Jump on the floor,

con quattro frati indiani

With four Indian friars

son tutti fuori da far spavento.

Who are frightfully high.



Cinque rasta di Treviso,

Five Rastas from Treviso,

fanno insieme un’orchestra

Together are an orchestra,

Sei vatussi di Ragusa

Six Watussi from Ragusa

lanciano fiori dalla finestra

Throw flowers from the window.

Sette bonzi portoghesi

Seven Portuguese bonzes

han bevuto l’acquaragia,

Drank white spirit,

Otto indù giapponesi

Eight Japanese Hindus

cantano forte la cucaracha

Loudly sing the Cucaracha

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The song is a reference to Babel as a symbol of global society where people from everywhere meet each other and share their cultures and experiences. The only element that is recognisable is in the verse where The Gang mention the five rastas from Treviso in Veneto. As the reggae band Pittura Freska (composed of five members) come from this region, and all of these bands are part of a common network, it is possible to affirm that The Gang composed a verse above their Venetian colleagues, as they did for Banda Bassotti in the song Il paradiso non ha confini [Paradise Has No Borders].249 The chorus of Il palazzo di Babele is even more influenced by the world of nursery rhymes considering that they quoted directly from the Girotondo [Ring a Ring o’ Roses] one of the most famous children’s songs in Italy.

Il palazzo di Babele (Gang)

Girotondo (traditional)

Gira, gira e fai la ruota,

Spin and spin and do a cartwheel

gira e gira e fai la festa

spin and spin and party

che a forza di ruotare

spin and spin

ti girerà un po’ la testa.

until your head spins a little.

Gira, gira e fai la ruota

spin and spin and do a cartwheel


XVI, 396
ISBN (Book)
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