Italian Music - Music and Politics Under Fascism

Paper on Italian Music

What was the relationship between music and politics under fascism?

The political culture of fascism was very contradictory: on one hand the regime seemed to tolerate the modern view and yet on the other hand they were extremely strict and kept a tight control on all artistic aspects. Historians of culture, have come to recognize that fascism encouraged both modern as well as anti -modern trends. In Italy, fascism forced that idealized expressions of national traditions be safely immunized from foreign or avant-garde influences. The self-policing of the musical community was more important than ideological pronouncements of party officials. In Italy it was more artists and critics who sought to mobilize the regime to enforce their own rivalries. The fascist regime was scared to be criticized and so music became filtered and censured. They utilized music to mobilized the population, a good example was the fascist song “ Facetta Nera”. Music was a form of social control, and because of that a lot of music was rejected especially American music as Jazz.

The Italian music had an evolution of lyrics and melody through time. After the second half of the 1900 century in Italy, a new type of musician appeared: the so called ‘cantautore’. The ‘cantauotore’ is a musician that writes and composes his own music and also performs to the public his songs. At first the melody of the ‘cantautori’ was not very melodic but it was simple due to the very powerful and poetical lyrics. Usually the lyrics of a cantautore deal with social, political and philosophical themes as well as the existential and sentimental aspects of life. A good example of an Italian ‘cantautore’ is: Fabrizio De André, “il bombarolo” . An example of cantautore in foreign countries are Bob Dylan, Charles Aznavour, Serge Gainsbourg .

The Italian rap or hip hop started in the early 1980s and stemmed from the American counterpart. In rap music the lyrics are crude, raw and very powerful because the language goes straight to the point. The songs are tools to express the artist’s feelings and they usually deal with social and political problems. In the early '80s, hip hop spread to Italy from Jamaican ragamuffin, especially in “centri sociali “, alternative centers where a number of left-wing young people regularly met. At the beginning rap music was listened only in particular places like the centri sociali ,or at raves or at exhibits as an independent media.

The first hip hop star, however, was Jovanotti, who used rap music in otherwise traditional Italian pop music. Some of his tracks however were pure hip hop. Hip hop is especially characteristic of southern Italy, a fact which some observers have contributed to the southern concept of respect, honor, a form of verbal jousting; both facts have helped identify southern Italian music with the African American hip hop style. "Articolo 31” one of the first hip hop crews to catch the attention of the Italian mainstream, started out as a mainly East Coast rap-inspired hip hop duo, but changed to a more commercial style during their career and eventually evolved into a punk/pop/crossover group. Other important crews and rappers include Bologna's “Camelz in Effect” with their unforgettable early hit "Slega la Lega", “Sangue Misto” with their 1994 album SMX, the political crew 99 Posse whose music have influences from world music to trip hop. Gangster rappers including “La Fossa” from Sardegna and “Flaminio Maphia” from Rome. Probably the most famous Italian rapper apart from “Articolo 31” are “Sottotono” from Varese, “Neffa” from Napoli and “Piotta” who represents Rome and became famous through an ironic interpretation of the coatto (The stereotypical Italian boy with an attitude). “Caparezza” is often referred to as the Italian Eminem because his records sold many copies from 2000 on. “Frankie Hi-NRG MC” is often referred to as the Italian NAS, since his rhymes are very complex and intellectual. “Turi” from Calabria and “Colle der Fomento” from Rome are considered hardcore rappers by many. Italian hip hop also has a tradition of political-minded lyrics, with “99 Posse” and “Assalti Frontali”. “Fabri Fibra” has also become a very popular rap artist and has collaborated with Italian super stars like Gianna Nannini and Pino Daniele as well as others.

There are also some crews rapping in the local dialects or languages, La Famiglia in napoletano; Sa Razza raps in Sardo . 99 posse also uses Italian as well as napoletano while La Puglia Tribe and Sud Sound System rap in both Italian and dialect from the Puglia region . Due to the very intense lyrics on social and political Italian problems , Italian rap is not very popular in other countries, because it is a theme that is not interesting to commercialize around the world.

Music has traditionally been one of the cultural markers of Italian national and ethnic identity and holds an important position in society and in politics. Italy's classical music, however, is an important symbol of the Italian identity, particularly opera; traditional operatic pieces remain a popular part of music and an integral component of national identity. The musical output of Italy remains characterized by great diversity and creative independence with a rich variety of different types of expressions. Abroad, Italian culture and society are often stereotyped, associating all Italian music with certain styles. For example, some years ago the Mayor of Venice banned gondoliers from singing Neapolitan songs for the tourists, most of whom requested "‘O sole mio" and other songs typical only of Naples but widely regarded abroad as characteristic of all Italian music.

Most folk music is localized and unique to a small region or city and is an important part of the country's musical heritage that spans a diverse array of regional styles, instruments and dances. In fact only few songs have the chance to become world-wide, like the famous tenor Luciano Pavarotti with his song “ O sole mio”.

The expression Italian Popular Music refers to the musical output which is not usually considered Academic or Classical Music but rather has its roots in the popular traditions, and it may be defined in two ways: it can either be defined in terms of the current geographical location of the Italian Republic and alternatively it can be defined as the music produced by all people who consider themselves as Italians and openly or implicitly refer to this belief.
The Italian music was not appreciated like it should have been in foreign countries, because what it is more important in the Italian music are the lyrics and not the melody. The fact that other countries did not understand the language, meant that they could not really appreciate the songs and for this reason came the scarce interest in learning and listening to Italian music.

What is well known in Italy apart from Classical music, is pop music. An example of exported artists to foreign countries are: Laura Pausini she is really famous in France for instance, Eros Ramazzotti and Tiziano Ferro. The songs of these three artists that I cited above, have sentimental and sweet-talk lyrics. The modern pop music tends towards sentimental ballads with a crooning vocal style, though it used to be unique in its blend of Mediterranean folk rhythms with pop forms. This is the typical kind of music that is sponsored in the other countries because it produces big profits. Modern Italian popular music reflects a globalization of styles , similar to European and Western countries.

The student protest of 1968 helped to form a new group of musicians in contrast to the stereotypes of “ Musica legera” (founded in the 1950-60).
The influence of US pop forms have been strong since the end of World War II. During the second half of the twentieth century, Italian music had a strong shift of influence due to technological advances: the radio, the television like “ MTV” and CD’s. Rock and roll, and hip hop continue to be popular, Latin music, especially Brazilian is also popular, and the Puerto Rican genre of reggaeton is rapidly becoming a mainstream form of dance music. It is now not uncommon for modern Italian pop artists to release new songs in English or Spanish in addition to, or instead of, Italian. The influence of American styles and music brought some of the Italian artists to duet with U.S artists creating a mixture between Italian pop music and American pop music. For example like Tiziano Ferro and Kelly Rowland with their song “ Breathe Gentle”.

Nationwide, there are three state-run and three private TV networks. All provide live music at least some of the time, thus giving work to musicians, singers, and dancers. Many large cities in Italy have local TV stations as well that provide live folk or dialect music which often is of interest only to the immediate area. Concerning the music industry in Italy a recent economics report said that the music industry in Italy made 2.3 billion euro in 2004. That sum refers to the sale of CDs, music electronics, musical instruments, and ticket sales for live performances. The actual sale of music albums has decreased slightly, but there has been a compensatory increase in paid-for digitally downloaded music from industry-approved sites. By way of comparison, the Italian recording industry ranks eighth in the world; Italians own 0.7 music albums per capita as opposed to the USA, in first-place with 2.7.

In conclusion we can say that there is a major business surrounding the world of music. Money and profits are the main concerns of the mass media industry and as a consequence unfortunately, the interest for Italian music is decreasing. It is sad to admit that Italian music in the world today no longer represents Italy because the authentic popular music remains in Italy and it is not exported.