When I was studying abroad in Italy in 1999, Italian superstar Jovanotti (aka Lorenzo Cherubini) had just released his eclectic, electronic, pale-blue album Capo Horn, which I bought at Discoteca Fiorentina in a little cobblestone back alley next to the very best panino shop in all of the land. I’d first heard his music when my language teacher at Syracuse Florence had used his song “Per Te” as one of her “songs of the week” on cassette tapes to help us learn italiano. That song was a sweet lullaby to his newborn daughter, but the rest of the album, I came to learn, skated from bleep-bloop odes to extraterrestials, to sunny pop jingles, to rambling spoken word constructions.
I remember Jovanotti’s level of fame that autumn as being somewhere in the league of Bono, a man he actually counts as a friend due to social justice initiatives and songs that they’ve worked on together. Jovanotti first hit fame as a somewhat goofy 20 year-old DJ with ebullient, light-hearted songs, and has grown to be one of the most massive pop music stars Italy has produced in many years.
He’s long incorporated global sounds into his music (one of the most fun songs ever live is his “L’Ombelico del Mondo,” with its massive African drums), and I opened last year’s summer mix with his Spanish/Italian collaboration “Storia di un Corazon.” Lorenzo sold out a string of shows at NYC’s Joe’s Pub last year –packed with ex-pat Italians and Williamsburg cognoscenti alike– and The Philadelphia Inquirer called him “a musician whose time in the U.S. has come.” He also did a marvelous interview on NPR’s All Things Considered. I’ve never had a chance to test out for myself what a Jovanotti show will be like on U.S. soil — until now.
Buoyed by a cheap flight and a willing friend to greet me, I am headed to Los Angeles on Thursday to see Jovanotti play a free summer night concert at the Santa Monica Pier, presented by KCRW. I also get to interview him (in my mind, that is followed by about 30 exclamation points). I have no idea what to expect, I just know this makes me deeply, deeply happy.
I’ve loved watching his music develop from “Penso Positivo” rap songs (think positive! because we’re alive!) to a more rootsy, organic, socially-conscious body of work that collaborates with folks like Michael Franti (“Dal Basso,” among other songs) and Ben Harper, on this song from his 2008 release Safari:
Fango (with Ben Harper) – Jovanotti
(Io lo so che non sono solo, anche quando sono solo – I know that I’m not alone, even when I am alone)
Even if you don’t speak the language, anyone can find the mellifluous effect of “Fango” (“Mud”) soothing as it rushes over your ears — a phonetic maelstrom of earthy awesomeness.
There is something uniquely wonderful in the half-spoken, half-sung lyrics of Lorenzo, and the small observations he knits together. I can remember sitting at the small green kitchen table in my apartment near Santa Croce church with my host sister Elena, as she translated Jovanotti’s Italian lyrics from “Io Ti Cerchero” into English. I remember thinking how in my own language they might feel facile and rote, but in Italian they brought a hard lump into my throat and seemed, truly, like some of the most beautiful lyrics ever.
Call it the language of true poetry, the language of Dante, the actual sound of falling in love. Everything sounds like gospel in Italian. So you should read more about what this song means here. I appreciate the way that Jovanotti looks at mottled, cracked pieces of the world, and cements them together into something crazy and beautiful, flawed but absolutely worth admiring.
Last time I saw him in Bologna, he appeared on stage in orange pants, hoisted high above the crowd in a harness, flying back and forth while he sang the first song. His music has matured and deepened since then (he’s 43), and while he likely won’t have the flashy stage production on the pier, just him and his guitar will be enough to make me sing along.
Here are a few of his older songs as well. His newest album (2008) is called Safari, and is out on Mercury Records.
Give your ears something new:
L’ombelico del Mondo
Rome used to be called the “umbilicus mundi,” or bellybutton (center) of the world. This is Jovanotti’s pulsing African homage – when I saw him live in Bologna, a battalion of musicians wearing djembe drums around their waists ran out and Jovanotti played a huge tom with mallets.
Dal Basso (with Michael Franti)
Tutto nasce dal basso e poi va su – everything starts from the bottom and rises up. A social anthem with a coiled, dense bass line and shared verses between Jovanotti and Michael Franti (in English). The song talks about all the places that revolutionary ideas will not be found (the classroom, the pages of the newspaper, in our heroes) but instead in vibration, joy, and freedom.
This last one is on my playlist tonight because it is thundering and pouring big fat summer raindrops in Colorado today, and this is a song about rain. The rhythm of his words actually feels like rivulets and torrents.
JOVANOTTI U.S. TOUR – SUMMER 2010
July 21 – The Viper Room, Los Angeles, CA
July 22 – Twilight Dance Series, Santa Monica Pier, CA
July 25 – Stern Grove Festival, San Francisco, CA
July 31 – SummerStage, New York City, NY