Alessandro Mahmoud is 100% Italian – al cento per cento. He was born in Italy, speaks Italian, works in the Italian music industry and just won one the biggest Italian language cultural competition there is.
But that can never be enough for the people who think that blood and genes describe and define the whole of your identity and destiny, because those people think that there are certain heritages that are somehow better than others.
When Politics Enters The Song Contest
Italy, like a dozen or so other European countries, is currently undergoing a populist spasm. Populism is where politicians rule by invoking an image of a glorious lost past or exciting future that they could bring into existence if you give them the power to do something about ‘Those People’. Populism is about providing easy solutions to the difficult problems of society by blaming the others. The current instance of Italian populism is based on promoting a vision of Italianness that limits identity to white Christian heterosexuals who conform to traditional gender roles and don’t ask too many questions. It is not a particularly attractive vision.
Italian populist politics intersected with the Eurovision Song Contest when Mahmood’s victory at Sanremo 2019 was commented on by Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far right Deputy Prime Minister. His tweet on hearing that Soldi had come out of Sanremo’s fiendishly complicated scoring algorithm with the highest number of points was to say:
“Mahmood…mah…. The most beautiful Italian song? I would have voted Ultimo”
La canzone italiana più bella?!?
Io avrei scelto #Ultimo, voi che dite?? #Sanremo2019pic.twitter.com/jpflaSLF7c
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) February 10, 2019
Innocuous enough, right? No, because the key word in that tweet is Italian. Salvini was casting veiled doubt that Mahmood is Italian enough to represent his country in Tel Aviv. He followed this tweet up with accusations that because he didn’t come first in the final televote, Mahmood had won as part of a diversity exercise by ‘journalists and the radical chic’. There’s the populism coming through again – let the will of the people be supreme, but don’t think too hard about who is telling the people what to think.
For the generalist Eurofans outside Italy, Mahmood voicing doubts about participating in Eurovision after initially confirming seemed baffling. Why would he suddenly change his mind? Does he think it would hurt his career? Did he not realise how much time it would take? What’s going on?
Or perhaps, the fact that that Mahmood had to come out and tell the newspapers that he considered himself to be 100 percent Italian made him think twice about his safety and wellbeing during the Song Contest and the promotional period. Having to counter the insinuations of the Deputy Prime Minister that he was too brown, too Muslim, too African to represent Italy must surely have made him feel extremely vulnerable. We’ve had stage invasions two years running now. Why would you want to make yourself a target? Why put yourself through it?
Thankfully, Mahmood decided that he’ll be taking Soldi, handclaps, Arabic lyrics and Jackie Chan references and all, to Tel Aviv. If it makes the far-right sad, that’s a bonus.
While the Song Contest community’s first reaction might be to mourn that ‘it’s sad that people have to bring politics into Eurovision’, this is pretty much the wrong thing to do whilst populism is on the rise. Populism, and the scary forces of fascism and authoritarianism that follow after it, requires not just the enthusiastic support of vocal racists, but the silent assent of people who would rather have a quiet life and enjoy their entertainment. By writing this, I’ve probably already annoyed you. Why does she have to bring politics into it? Isn’t it all about the music?
Well, if you’re a regular ESC Insight reader you’ll know that Eurovision is probably roughly fifty percent the music. The rest of it is about storytelling – and the stories that you can tell about nationality, identity and the way a country sees itself are hugely attractive to governments who want to tell the world about the way they see themselves. By learning how to read these messages, we can increase our general media literacy so that when the populist spasm hits our country, we can start to see through and break down the stories that they want to tell us.
When you’re watching the Eurovision Song Contest this year, or indeed any year, try and work out what people really mean when they say ‘diversity’ and ‘identity’. Look at what nations are trying to tell you about themselves in their performances and presentations. Listen to what people say about themselves.
All the results from Super Saturday as we find out more songs and performers heading to Tel Aviv 2019, a confirmation for Junior Eurovision, our latest Eurovision Thought from Eurovision Ireland’s John Stanton, and the little matter of Ilse returning to Frozen 2 the Dutch delegation.
Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Let The Storm Rage On
Team Ilse is back in the building, the return of a friend from Croatia, and John Stanton has a Eurovision Thought about the power of a National Final. Ewan Spence and the Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.
Remember you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
A packed show as we add to the songs and singers heading to Tel Aviv, round up the results across Europe, and our latest ‘Eurovision Thought‘ as Isobel and Roland from The Europhoria Podcast (also available in iTunes) discuss diversity throughout the history of the Song Contest.
Eurovision Insight News Podcast: On Again… Off Again…
Canada joins the party, Russia stops teasing, and we welcome Europhoria’s ‘Eurovision Thought’ on diversity throughout the Song Contest’s history. Ewan Spence and the Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.
Remember you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Also in this week’s newsletter, Melodifestivalen continues with a surprising week in Sweden and Russia break the suspense with an announcement from their artist for 2019. You can read the newsletter in full here, or subscribe for a regular dose of Eurovision insight and analysis delivered direct to your email inbox.
ESC Insight National Selection Playlist
‘2000 And Whatever‘, by Electric Fields (Australia)
Kate Miller-Heideke may have been a well-deserved winner in Australia this weekend, but she was given some serious competition by this charismatic electronic duo. The performance captured the irrepressible energy and seriously impressive vocals that have helped them to become one of the country’s must-see live acts. This would have been a great addition to the lineup in Tel Aviv, and we certainly hope we haven’t seen the last of them in this context…
‘Release Me‘, by Darude (Finland)
Finnish DJ Darude presented the first of his three potential Eurovision entries this week, as the build-up to his appearance at UMK 2019 intensified. With vocals by frequent collaborator Sebastian Rejman, ‘Release Me’ is a slick and contemporary mid-tempo dance track. Hopefully there’s slightly more distinctive fare to follow, but this is a promising teaser to whet our appetites for now.
‘Eitt andartak‘ by Hera Björk (Iceland)
Iceland held the first semi final of Söngvakeppnin 2019 last night, with hot favourites Hatari – who we featured in last week’s national selection playlist – deservedly sailing to the Grand Final. The second qualifier was Hera Björk, returning as a competitor for the first time since her victory in 2010 with the beloved fan favourite ‘Je ne sais quoi‘. This somewhat stagey ballad doesn’t quite scale those heights, but the performance showcases what a truly excellent vocalist she is. If Iceland decide not to go all in on screamcore electro-punk this year, they always have a safe pair of hands in Hera…
‘Light On‘, by Monika Marija (Lithuania)
With Lithuania’s lengthy national selection approaching its endgame, all eyes are on frontrunner Monika Marija, who scored the highest televote of the season so far in last week’s semi final. A thoroughly modern midtempo ballad with a rousing chorus, ‘Light On’ could well give the Baltic nation one of their best ever results if selected…
‘Siren Song‘, by MARUV (Ukraine)
Victory in Saturday night’s first semi final of Vidbir 2019 has placed MARUV in the current pole position to represent Ukraine in Tel Aviv in May. If selected, this stylish and infectious number seems certain to make a big impression with viewers all across the Continent. Don’t rule out another trip to Kyiv in the near future…
You can stay up to date with all of the latest Eurovision news and analysis right here on ESC Insight. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
One of the easiest games for Eurovision fans to play is the “What If?” game. What if the televote had been around for Gina G? What if Abba had sung in Swedish? What if Valentina Monetta entered Sanremo? There’s no such thing as a wrong answer, but you can have some great discussions and some wonderful dreams.
Ahead of the UK public choosing the winning song and performance from ‘Eurovision: You Decide’, let’s take a look back at what could have been for the United Kingdom and play a Great Big What If Game for the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Dusty Springfield’s Sanremo Substitution
Now this is a tough one. Kathy Kirby was at the height of her star power in the United Kingdom, she had her own TV show, and had scored four consecutive Top 20 hits before ‘I Belong’ finished in second place in 1965’s Eurovision Song Contest (while singing from second in the running order). Even the EP of her six National Final songs reached the Top Ten!
The easiest ‘what if’ in 1965 is to change the running order (switch ‘I Belong’ with the eventual winner ‘Poupée de cire, poupée de son’, which sung in 15th out of the 18 strong running order) but there’s someone far more interesting in the wings. Having just left the folk-pop trio The Springfields, Dusty Springfield’s solo career was building in intensity. 1965 saw her enter Sanremo with ‘Tu che ne sai?’ and ‘Di fronte all’amore’. Also in Sanremo and catching her ear was ‘Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te)’, performed by Pino Donaggio.
She promptly snagged an acetate 45 rpm of the track, but waited a year before calling on some session musicians to sort out a reworked instrumental version ready for new lyrics. In 1996 ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ was released, and became an instant classic.
I’d still love to know what a Dusty Springfield version of ‘I Believe’ would have sounded like, but if you want a huge what if for the sixties, it’s this. Dusty does Sanremo, picks up the acetate, and doesn’t wait a year. She gets back to London, sorts out the English version, and BBC Executive Tom Sloan takes the difficult decision to switch out Kirby for Springfield to chase for the UK’s first Eurovision victory.
(Seriously though, you know the song, but this live rendition is spine chilling…)
Slade Slays Cliff
This one takes a few hops, but the hardest hop to make is accepting the first premise. Listen to Cliff Richard’s second Eurovision song, ‘Power To All Our Friends’. You’ll recognise the pop sensibilities and light entertainment value of the song, but if you listen closer you’ll hear the driving beat and power that lies at the heart of the early seventies Glam ethos.
This song, which finished third at the Song Contest, can sit comfortably alongside 1973’s big chart hits, such as ‘See My Baby Jive’, ‘Can The Can’, and (ahem) ‘I Love You Love Me Love’. A year before Stig Anderson polished the glam formula for Melodifestivalen and Brighton, Cliff tried to smuggle his interpretation of glam rock into the Eurovision Song Contest.
What if instead of a subtle bit of glam, the BBC went all out. In the month where ‘Power’ was confirmed, a huge marketing campaign was taking place on radio and on TV ahead of the release of Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ was a new entry at number one in the charts – an instant classic. That’s it, there you go, skip Cliff send Jim Lea, Don Powell, Noddy Holder, and Dave Hill to the Grand Theatre in Luxembourg City.
As Abba went on to prove with their not-so-subtle homage to The Sweet, glam works really well at Eurovision in the seventies.
The Strictly Song Contest
Sure, we sent Prima Donna (‘Love Enough For Two’) and that gave Sally-Ann Triplett a taste of the Contest before the bopping Bardo in 1982, but come on, you had Bruno Tonioli choreographing and appearing on stage as part of Duke and The Aces… and it was a Paul Curtis penned number as well. Everything there is for the perfect early eighties what If.
Part of working on ‘what if’ alternatives is that they can reflect current trends and thoughts with a different context. With that in mind, you have to ask why Bros never got around to representing the United Kingdom, or if there was even an opportunity. With a tip of the head to Mr Hacksaw, there was.
Let’s be fair to Scott Fitzgerald, there’s no way Bros would have considered the Song Contest in 1988, so ‘Go’ remains in the Eurovision discography (thankfully). The year after that? Maybe if the management team had been feeling reckless but ’89 saw the Matt, Luke, and Ken show continue to ride high in the charts and in popular culture – who wouldn’t be proud of Smash Hits’ ‘Best British Newcomer’ and ‘Best Song’ awards?
So let’s turn to the 1990 season. Specifically, let’s turn to Bros’ ‘Chocolate Box’, the single that charted at #9 and allowed the tabloids to get stuck in with negative headlines in October 1989. What if management decided the focus needed to be more outside the UK and to tap into the huge European market of fans? And the best stage to do that would be the televised stage of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Hold back the next single – the emotionally powerful ‘Sister’ – and enter that into A Song For Europe. At that point the BBC had introduced a 100 percent televote into the selection process, and you just know the Brosettes would have been organised enough to pile on the phone lines and push Emma back into second place as the Goss brothers gave a little bit of Bros back to the world.
Wogan’s Final Correct Call
So much about the UK’s current attitude to the Eurovision Song Contest comes back to the attitude of Terry Wogan to the Song Contest, and that attitude changed throughout decades of his involvement. Sometimes it was superb, sometimes it was scurrilous, but in his final regeneration, Wogan managed to get a few things right, even if was decided that it was an accident brought about by the pressure of live TV.
This is probably the easiest of these what if moments to picture. Following a superfinal between Scooch and Cyndi at the UK’s National Selection (then going under the SEO-friendly ‘Making Your Mind Up’ moniker) the two co-hosts (Wogan and Fearne Cotton) proclaimed the winning act was “Scooch!” (Cotton) and “Cyndi!” (Wogan).
The results confirmed Cotton was right and Wogan mis-heard, but what if it had played the other way around? Let’s replace the innuendo-laden pale imitation of ‘The High Life’ with ‘I’ll Leave My Heart’ (and try not to sing ‘Loch Lomond’)
Cool Me Down It’s Hotter Than Hell
One of the big fan ‘What If’ moments in the Contest is Poland not sending Margaret with ‘Cool Me Down’ (although I’m perfectly happy with the cheesy slice of soft rock from Mike Starling) but there’s a bigger ‘What If’ in 2016 for the United Kingdom… Dua Lipa’s ‘Hotter Than Hell’
It was the summer of post-dancehall pop, and as ESC Insight’s Ellie Chalkely noted, ‘Cool Me Down’ had all the required elements. The same could be said of ‘Hotter Than Hell’:
Electropop with a dancehall influence has become a major presence in the pop charts all over the world, thanks to huge singles like Rihanna’s Calvin Harris collaborations, the prevalence of Sean Paul as a featured artist on records like The Saturday’s ‘What About Us‘ and a handful of huge one-off singles like ‘Lean On‘ by Major Lazer, MØ and DJ Snake. Another factor that can’t be ignored in the rise of post-dancehall pop is that the international songwriting market is likely to be flooded with songs that were written with a lucrative collaboration with Rihanna in mind, but which get picked up by other artists. In short, the post-dancehall sound is basically inescapable and it was only a matter of time before it appeared at the Eurovision Song Contest.
…speaking of Calvin Harris, what song was at the top of the UK charts during the Eurovision Song Contest 2018? The Calvin Harris/Dua Lipa duet of ‘One Kiss’.
Arguably ‘Hotter Than Hell’ was the song that helped Lipa break out into super-stardom during 2016 and 2017, but it never had the same impact in the charts that it had with music critics around the world. Again, it would have needed a bit of insider knowledge and confidence to bring this to the UK’s first National Final in many years, but this was the sound of the approaching summer, and it was just within reach of the BBC.
Always The Bridesmaid…
To date the UK has finished in second place at the Eurovision Song Contest fifteen times, many of them by the finest of margins. Could a few tiny changes have improved the country’s chances? Would bigger decision such as those above have had an impact on the podium places gained by the BBC? And what would you change in the UK’s Song Contest history?
This week sees the 69th Sanremo Festival, with the winning act given first refusal to represent Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest. But Sanremo is far more than just a way for RAI to pick a name for Tel Aviv. It has a rich musical tapestry with arguably more cultural impact than any other National Final on its country.
So, ahead of the names for 2019, We’ve asked a number of Sanremo followers to talk about the songs from the history of the Contest that have had a memorable impact.
Roy Delaney (Eurovision Apocalypse)
‘Bastardo‘, by Anna Tatangelo (2011)
The 2011 running of Sanremo was the first that I got to watch right through, and to that end it harbours many favourites. Indeed, Roberto Vecchioni’s winning song ‘ Chiamami Ancora Amore‘, is textbook Sanremo – an old stager grumbling emotionally about faith and hope and a better way forward, in that uniquely Italian manner. If I could have chosen three songs then it would definitely have been on this list.
But the song that year that got me hooked on this contest was ‘Bastardo’. Crashingly unpopular amongst the voting great and good that year, Tatangelo’s dark, almost angry delivery looked like it spoke from deep personal experience and got its hooks right into me, showing too that a contemporary hate/love song can benefit from an orchestra to give it pure gut-wrenching power. This song still gives me the shivers to this day each time I hear it.
‘Mi Va Di Cantare‘, by Lara Saint Paul (1968)
Sanremo in the sixties was home to a whole load of cracking beat pop songs that skirted the line between cool and cabaret, and the pure mistress of the field was Lara Saint Paul. Born in what was then still Eritrean Ethiopia, she’d been around the contest since her 1962 debut under the name of Tanya. But for me she hit her peak here in 1968.
‘Mi Va Di Cantare’ starts with an absolute killer a cappella intro, but the second the beat kicks in a nation of hips were swinging involuntarily, her charm and awkward grace winning you over in seconds. If you’ve been unlucky enough never to have witnessed Ms Saint Paul before, be warned – just thirty seconds in and you’ll be head over heels in love.
Alessandro Banti (OGAE Italy)
‘Almeno Tu Nell’universo‘, by Mia Martini (1989)
1989 saw the return of one of Italy’s greatest singers return to Sanremo. Mia Martini had already sung on the great stage in 1982 (and represented Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1977), but decided to retire in 1983.
The return in 1989 led to a resurgence in her creative output, starting out with ‘Almeno Tu Nell’universo‘, an instant classic which is now regarded as one of the key tracks in Italian music from the eighties and was voted ‘The Greatest Sanremo Track Of All Time‘ at the turn of the century. She would return to Sanremo in 1992, claiming victory and the right to fly the Italian flag at Eurovision once more, but in musical terms it’s all about ’89.
‘Come Foglie‘, by Malika Ayane (2009)
With three appearances at Sanremo Campioni (the ‘Big Artists’ section), Malika Ayane has picked up two Critics Choice awards, her class and musical style are highly recognisable and distinctive.
She debuted in the Nuove Proposte (Newcomers) section in 2009 with ‘Come Foglie‘, drawing instant vocal comparisons to Ornella Vanoni. This song was originally written by Giuliano Sangiorgi (from the Italian band Negramaro) and has performed it numerous times with the legendary seven-times Sanremo entrant Gino Paoli.
‘Lontano Dagli Occhi’, by Mary Hopkin (1969)
I was sweet sixteen (aww…) when I bought ‘Temma Harbour’ by Mary Hopkin one cold January morning in 1970. To my surprise the B-side ( ‘What’s a B-side?’ , the youngsters are asking.) was an Italian song . ‘Hang on’, I thought, ‘I’ve heard that somewhere’. Finally, I remembered I’d heard ‘Lontano dagli occhi’ sung by Sergio Endrigo in Italy the previous summer.
It was in the days when a ‘song contest’ was a ‘song’ contest. He’d performed it at the Sanremo 1969 edition, and unknown to me , Mary Hopkin had also performed it there. In those days each entry was performed twice , by two different artists, one of whom was often an international guest. It finished second to Iva Zanicchi’s ‘Zingara’ with Bobby Solo.
The prolific lyricist Sergio Bardotti went on to collaborate with Lucio Dalla (of which more in a minute), who composed ‘Occhi di Ragazza’. It was intended to be performed by Ron and Sandie Shaw at the 1970 Sanremo edition, but it was eliminated by the selection committee at the preliminary stages . A couple of months later Gianni Morandi was offered the opportunity to represent Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with it.
Cristina Giuntini (OGAE Italy)
‘Un Discorso In Generale‘, by Noa, Carlo Fava & Solis String Quartet (2006)
Three years before representing Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest together with Mira Awad in 2009 (‘There Must Be Another Way‘), Noa took part in the Sanremo Festival together with jazz artist Carlo Fava and the ensemble of the Solis String Quartet. Sadly, the song did not qualify for the Grand Final on the Saturday night, but it remains a hidden gem. A sweet and sad ballad perfect for Noa’s silver voice opposed to Carlo’s soft one, and is represent something you do not often hear in Sanremo!
‘Per Sempre E Poi Basta‘, by Renzo Rubino (2014)
In the 2014 Sanremo Festival, on the first night, each artist presented two songs, of which just one was chosen by the juries to proceed in the competition.
Everybody was shocked when Renzo Rubino’s ‘Ora‘, a sweet uptempo song but nothing more than that, was preferred to this masterpiece strongly influenced by Umberto Bindi’s music. The song was greeted by a standing ovation: no other performance received such a warm welcome. Eventually ‘Ora‘ came third, but this song could easily have won the whole thing.
‘24.000 Baci’ by Adriano Celentano (1961)
I’m a relative newcomer to the wonders of Sanremo, and have yet to catch up on most of the pre-2011 contests. However, looking through some of the highlights, I found an evergreen by an absolute icon. During the 1961 Festival, versions of each song were performed by two different artists, with ‘24.000 Baci‘ (24,000 kisses) sung by both Adriano Celentano and Sammarinese singer Little Tony. While the bones of the song were the same for both artists, Celentano, then a relatively new artist on the Italian scene, sold his version with incredible flair and panache in his Sanremo debut. ‘24.000 Baci‘ was arguably one of Sanremo’s first forays into rock and roll, and it helped launch a legendary career that would influence singers the world over, even spilling over into obscure Moldovan National Final submissions in the twenty-first century.
The song came in second place that year, which begs the question: what would have happened if this had gone to Eurovision in place of Betty Curtis’s ‘Al di là‘? In the days before France Gall, would Adriano Celentano have been seen as too wild, too off-the-wall, and ultimately too ahead of its time? Or would it have modernised a Eurovision that, at the time, was still rather full of chansons and balladry?
Luana Caraffa (Belladonna)
‘Vita Spericolata‘, by Vasco Rossi (1983)
It was impossible to ignore the appearance of Vasco Rossi at the Sanremo 1983 with the song ‘Vita Spericolata‘ …at least for me it is was impossible.
In the midst of so many ordinary singers with perfect, virtuoso voices and of songs of sheer ordinary melodramatic monotony, he suddenly appeared as if he had been just dragged on stage from the hazy smoke of a drunken night spent in a bar – maybe the bar mentioned in his song, the Roxy Bar.
The Roxy Bar immediately became a place where one would want to go and take refuge and witness the fleetingness of life in the eyes of every customer, a place of passage and of nostalgia for what had never been, a place where things could still actually happen for those who felt imprisoned in an ordinary life and dreamed about living a reckless one. Yes, I think it was as if Vasco that night was a link between the past and the future, between nostalgia and hope: he totally enthralled me.
And the way he sung his song, as if was truly talking to you and saying something real. I mean, you could feel that every word was really heartfelt and not just sung in order to show you how a great singer he was… and in fact he came second-to-last at the Festival because authenticity is always too much for those who have been exposed only to appearances.
I dreamed of becoming like him one day, of having a real voice and not a fake, glossy one… he has been a great inspiration to me!!
Dani Macchi (Belladonna)
‘Luce (Tramonti a Nord-Est)‘, by Elisa (2001)
I have never really had much of an emotional connection with the Sanremo Festival, I’ve always mostly ignored it, but of course I am aware that a few true pearls have emerged.
One of those is ‘Luce’, the song with which singer-songwriter Elisa won the Festival in 2001. The song managed to have a great, strong Italian melody – the fabulously uplifting chorus never fails to send shivers down my spine every time I hear it – and profound, poetic lyrics (penned by Italian singer-songwriter Zucchero) without sounding as cheesy and trite as inevitably almost all Sanremo songs do. Its minimal yet powerful arrangement gave the song a contemporary edge, another true rarity for Sanremo and in general for Italian music.
Every time someone remarks to me that Sanremo songs are always cringeworthy I play them this song, and even though it is a rare and very wonderful exception, it is also yet another proof that daring to be yourself without obliging to whatever is expected of you is always the key to creating great, memorable work.
Belladonna have just released their sixth album, ‘No Star Is Ever To Far’. You can follow the Rock-Noir band on Facebook, or listen to their essential tracks on Spotify.
‘Arrivera’ by Modà ft. Emma Marrone (2011)
With Italy’s return to the Eurovision Song Contest there was more international focus on the 2011 Festival from the Song Contest community, which included myself. And while the Contest followers were watching the Giovanni Contest to see who was heading to Dusseldorf (the jazz pianist Raphael Guallazi, who nearly sneaked the Eurovision win), I was drawn into the whole experience.
And driving that was what has become one of my acknowledged weaknesses – the Italian Power Duet – specifically Moda and Emma Marrone’s ‘Arrivera‘. Frankly it’s one of the best examples of the genre; you’ve got an over-arching story thread in the presentation, you have singers who tell the story through action and intonation, you have multiple layers, contrasts, rising tension, it’s every single box that I love.
Moda’s lead singer Kekko Silvestre fights for the stage as much as Emma Marrone reflecting the balance of emotions during the song, and the band has everything turned up to eleven. Emma would go on to win Sanremo in 2012 with ‘Non è l’inferno‘ (much like Roy above, if I was nominating three, this would be the third pic), and turn up at Eurovision with the weaker ‘La Mia Citta‘, but this is the one that sealed Sanremo in my heart.
‘4 Marzo 1943‘, by Lucio Dalla (1971)
Let’s just be clear for a moment. Lucio Dalla is an absolute bona-fide legend. He’s worked within multiple genres, his career spanned over fifty years, the number of collaborators is immense, there are 54 album releases with his name, he was jamming jazz clarinet with Chet Baker as a teenager…
His first Sanremo appearance was in 1966 with ‘Pafff… Bum!‘ where he was joined by Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. He’d return the following year, and make numerous more appearances at the Festival.
But it’s the 1971 entry ‘4/3/43‘ (the title is never quite consistent throughout the decades) that lifted Dalla to a higher plane of arts. A song that pushed the red lines of censorship, requiring a change in the title (…to Dalla’s birthday, even though it is not autobiographical) and alterations to the lyrics before the Sanremo committee would let it into the Festival. It tells the story of a young mother, who had a son with an unknown allied soldier during the Second World War and deals with issues of the loss of a child and of a parent. It may only have finished third, but it achieved critical and commercial success around the world.
A few years after his death in 2012 his former backing band, Stadio, decided to enter Sanremo with ‘Un Giorno Mi Dira‘ which went on to win Sanremo 2016. Stadio also picked up another prize in the Ariston Theatre that year. To a standing ovation they won ‘Covers Night’ with ‘La Sera Dei Miracoli‘ …from Lucio Dalla’s 1980 album ‘Dalla‘.
If Sanremo represents the best of Italy, I would argue Lucio Dalla represents the best of Sanremo. And if you take a look outside of the Ariston Theatre this week, you’ll find a small bench with a life-sized bronze sculpture of the man himself, with round glasses, a comfy knitted cap, and the love of everyone who walks by him.