Got The Italian Rap?
Outside of Italy, where he is a superstar whom everyone knows, singer Jovanotti is hardly famous. He ought to be. And probably will soon be. Ever since the 46-year-old played at the Bonnaroo festival in 2011, he’s been steadily building up a fan base in the US, a sure sign that he’s on the road to fame outside his native Italy.
Jovanotti’s real name is Lorenzo Cherubini and he’s an Italian singer, songwriter and rapper. His music is full of exuberance (as his personality) and his songs, even though he sings mainly in Italian, are infectious. He may be classified as a rapper but he does funk, African and Eastern beat influenced music as well as plain old pop songs. After his foray into the US, some of his lyrics are in English and he’s played with the likes of reggae rapper Michael Franti with the both of them collaborating to compose songs as well.
Anyone even faintly familiar with the Italian knows that the letter ‘J’ is not really used commonly in that language. ‘j’ is called i lunga (that’s pronounced ee loonga in Italian) and is usually reserved for use in foreign words that do have a ‘j’ in them. Yet, quite early on (he’s been performing since his mid-teens), Lorenzo Cherubini decided, perhaps with an eye focused across the Atlantic from his native Italy, to rename himself Jovanotti. After all, it’s easier to pronounce in English speaking circles than Giovanotti would be. What you’d need a more than faint familiarity with Italian to figure out, however, is the wit and humour in the lyrics of some of his songs.
I was drawn to Jovanotti’s music quite predictably because I first heard a song of his called India. The first time I heard it, I could make out a couple of familiar words. The first was the word ‘India’, of course, but the second was the phrase bistecca alla Fiorentina”, which means a T-bone steak Florentine style. It’s the best style of steak that I’ve ever eaten in Tuscany and I hope I shall get to eat it again. I was intrigued by these words and the rapid-fire rap style of the song, so I looked up LyricsMania for the lyrics of the song and then used Google translate to find out what he was singing about. And here’s what I found. And I’m not making this up. On India, Jovanotti sings about a sacred cow from India who is visiting Palestine where, while passing in front of an Italian restaurant, he recognises a cousin who “worked as a T-bone steak” at the restaurant! And then the sacred cow has a somewhat existential conversation with his cousin, the T-bone steak.
Sacred cow from India finds cousin as a steak in an Italian restaurant in Palestine. There’s little possibility of a chap who writes and sings lyrics of that kind to not be interesting. Exploring Jovanotti further, I caught a very entertaining interview-cum-performance by him and his band on Seattle’s radio channel KEXP via the internet. There’s a video too of the session and Jovanotti comes across as a very funny guy with a great sense of humour, pride and, of course, not unusual for an Italian, a sharp sartorial sense.
His first album in the US on the discerning label ATO Records (which has on its rolls artists such as Alabama Shakes, My Morning Jacket, Gomez, Trey Anastasio and Widespread Panic) is called Italia 2008-2011. It’s a compilation actually and has a few songs in English. I bought via Flipkart’s new download store, Flyte, another earlier album by Jovanotti, Safari, which also showcases the singer’s different styles—he crosses over from rap and funk to classical and opera-infused songs, easily and manages to fit into these disparate genres so naturally.
The interview on KEXP with Jovanotti reveals a lot about the man. He’s bubbling with happiness and is someone who enjoys his music enormously. In America, he says, he feels like a little child with a new toy. The American audience too appears to feel the same way about him. All of the past couple of months, he’s played gigs to raving audiences who just can’t seem to get enough of him. This is one musician to watch.
The late Robert Moog changed the course of modern music with his invention of the synthesiser. In his honour, every year in Moog’s native Asheville, North Carolina, a festival is organised where some of the world’s top electronic ensembles, DJs and producers perform. This year’s two-day Moogfest was held in late October. If you’re an electronic music aficionado, you could get online to listen to some of those gigs. Watch and hear Morton Subotnick, Ana Sia, Andy Stott and many more, representing the genre and its many sub-genres.