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3 Singers Who Help Us Find Our Roots
Torni Subito Rundinella: Listening to Massimo Ranieri sing makes me more Italian. As an Italian American, I was born longing for something, that piece of me that is buried in Italy with all the other remnants of my family's existence there. But when Ranieri sings and acts out every detail - down to the cigarette hanging out of his mouth - of "Luna Rossa," a 1950 Napoletano song about a man who begs the "red moon" to listen to him, he unearths that part of us that was lost in Italy.
Ranieri's arrival in the United States - for concerts in New York, Atlantic City and Connecticut - appropriately is in synch with the 2003 Columbus Day weekend, a time when Italian Americans are honoring their connection to Italia. A passionate entertainer, he brings us back to a world we might not have even ever known firsthand. Perhaps, it was the home of your grandparents or your parents. Either way, the nostalgia that is tightly wrapped in Ranieri's voice as he sings in the old language, Napoletano, will grow inside any Italian - any immigrant or child of immigrant - who missed the chance to live out their lives in the homeland.
But Ranieri, a native Napoletano, didn't always sing the classics. He began his career singing contemporary songs and gained much success with hits like "Rose Rosse," about a man trying to make up with his woman by bringing her red roses, and "Erba Di Casa Mia," about the innocence of youth. When he was doing a film with the incomparable Anna Magnani, she asked him to sing in Napoletano and he could not do it. She told him he couldn't call himself a singer if he didn't know the songs of his own people. The embarrassment drove Ranieri to learn the classics of his Napoli, and in 1972 he recorded the LP, O Surdato 'Nnammurato, which featured "Reginella" and "Guapparia" in addition to the title song. The album quickly went gold, and Ranieri, also an actor, had found his truest calling. Not bad for a self-proclaimed "scugnizzi Napoletano"! More than 30 years later, his latest albums Oggi o Dimane and Nun e' Acqua are also compilations of Napoli's signature songs - from "Maruzzella" to "Malafemmena."
On Oggi o Dimane, he sings my favorite song, "Rundinella," which dates back to 1918 and tells the story of a heartbroken man longing for his lover to return in the spring like the rundinella bird. Those of us who are missing the chance to see Ranieri live (thanks to mono in my case, which is the only thing that would keep me from seeing him live) are hoping he makes like a rundinella and returns to touring soon. Our door will be open.
Un Italiano Vero: I thought my ears had deceived me when I heard a dance version of Toto Cotugno's 1983 hit "L'Italiano" on the radio in New York in 2003. The song, which is an anthem for Italians everywhere, could not possibly be getting airtime on fickle, trend-setting New York City radio. Or could it? Thanks to the genius and commitment of DJ Serg and The Sicilians featuring Angelo Venuto, "L'Italiano" indeed was what I was hearing on New York's 103.5 KTU radio station recently. DJ Serg started playing Venuto's version of "L'Italiano" at clubs around the city, and the kids would go wild, which is why a KTU disc jockey decided to put the song on the air. In no time, the station was flooded with calls from people who wanted to hear it again, says the Sicilian-born Venuto. "L'Italiano" was number one on the club charts for about three months. "The language barrier was not a problem with this song because the kids just loved the beat," Venuto says.
Not only did Venuto and Serg bring a piece of Italy back to us Italian Americans, but they also managed to share the sentiment with non-Italians. Appropriately, this particular song is an education on what it means to be a true Italian - "Lasciatemi cantare con la chitarra in mano…Sono un Italiano!" ("Leave me to sing with my guitar in hand…I am a real Italian!") But even if the club kids didn't get the translation, they sure could dance to it. That alone affirmed the influence Italians have (and have had) on American pop culture. As my Zio Tonino always says, "Everybody-a they wanna piece-a of-a Italeeee!" Indeed, they do! And thanks to The Sicilians and Serg, the Boot is even more accessible to Americans these days.
Uno Come Te: Gigi D'Alessio always was a brilliant musician, a star that shined more brightly as his fingers graced the piano forte. But ahead of his 2003 world tour, which took him all over Europe, Australia and the United States, he was named the official ambassador of Italian music. His mission: to spread his art and bring his country's music to the rest of the world.
D'Alessio, who has the face and demeanor of an angel, took the responsibility seriously and mission was accomplished. Recently, RAI International aired highlights of him and his crew on and off stage throughout the tour. His fame is incredible but his music - and how it touches Italians all over the world - is indescribable. D'Alessio himself seems shocked by it all. He has said that he never expected this many foreign fans to embrace his work. Few people in this world have the ambition of a Gigi D'Alessio and that is why so many people are drawn to him; they think to be close to him is to get a piece of that determination, to score yet another piece of Italy. For Italians outside of Italy, listening to a D'Alessio album is another way to go home again!
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