July 20, 2010

Is America ready for Jovanotti?


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.

jovanotti_safariHere 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.

Per La Vita Che Verra (“For The Life That Will Be”)
Lorenzo recorded portions of his 1997 album in South Africa, and this song is such a glorious melding of continents, I never get tired of it.

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.

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

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  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cho Pei Chin, Eversilences. Eversilences said: Is America ready for Jovanotti?: When I was studying abroad in Italy in 1999, Italian superstar Jova… http://bit.ly/bCMSR0 (fuelfriends) [...]

    Tweets that mention Is America ready for Jovanotti? | Fuel/Friends Music Blog -- Topsy.com — July 20, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

  • Honestly we are a little jealous about Lorenzo in the US! we would have liked to keep him all for us, in Italy only. BUT myself and all his Italian fans DID know that it had to happen, that his message, his lyrics, his music was too strong to be kept within any boundary. His nick is UMANO and humanity is all over, isn’t it?

    valeria — July 23, 2010 @ 7:47 am

  • Io e italiano SONO SONO UN grande ammiratore di Jovanotti, se i testi delle Sue canzoni vengono ascoltati attentamente CI SI Rende Conto della poesia Che NE ESCE Fuori , Davvero e artista delle Nazioni Unite, ONU poeta dei Giorni d ‘ Oggi ! Spero Tanto Che Un giorno riesca ad incontrarlo mi ispira Molta Simpatia :)

    JovaFan — July 23, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

  • I was also living in Florence when I first began hearing Seranata Rap on the radio. I love his music and recently saw ‘Jova’ at Webster Hall in NYC. Would you believe I even found a ring tone of his! Thanks for the great coverage of his!

    Alessandra — July 23, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

  • piazza savonarola… syracuse firenze. I think it was 2000 for me….(memories rushing back. need a moment to come back to reality)…. i find it very hard to describe jovanotti’s music. you are spot on. thanks for a great post.

    alina — July 23, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

  • Your story is soooo great!
    I bought my first Jova cassette tape at Discoteca Fiorentina, you know, that little music store that is owned by the two lovely sisters. I went back there last summer to visit them and they are still so beautiful and kind!!!!
    Also, the panino shop in the ally…. the porchetta was out of this world!
    How funny, our stories are similar!!!!
    Only, I studied there in 1996 just after the Raccolta album came out with, of course, the one and only L’ombelico del mondooooooo!!!!


    lidia — July 23, 2010 @ 12:46 pm

  • Being half Italian myself (born and raised in Belgium though), I’ve know Jovanotti pretty much since he started… You’re soooo right. He’s matured a lot, hasn’t he? Even though I think he managed to put some good observations in his early work too, beit with a different undertone.
    NOW he is just about the only musician I’d REALLY REALLY like to see again. The way he observes everyday thingies about everyday life is ….. well…. undescribable…
    Unfortunately for us here in Belgium (and even for millions of Italians in their home country) JOvanotti is focussing on the USA… and why shouldn’t he?
    He’s big enough for the whole world, or at least for those who’ll take the time to listen and understand him.
    I’m envious of you guys.
    If and when you speak to him, please ask him when he’ll be back for a concert or two in Belgium :)

    Very nice article by the way :)
    And …. DO listen to “a te”….

    Olive — July 23, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

  • Go Jovanotti Go! :-)

    stadtkindFFM — July 23, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  • I “met” Jova when I was studying abroad in Perugia, also in 1999! He was introduced to me with Bella, Per Te and some others of his early years, I have loved him ever since. I do feel he has matured and he ha evolved in his lyric constructions and music Mezzogiorno is amazing, as well as the saga of l’ultimo baccio: Baciami Ancora (this song has won an award I believe, just recently).
    I saw him live in Washington DC back in April and he looks terrific, everyone was singing and I was soooo proud of myself because I knew all his songs!

    Elena — July 23, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  • I saw two of the NYC shows last summer…one at Nublu and one at Joe’s. The Nublu show was magic, absolute magic. I hope that the answer to the question posed in the title is ‘Yes!’ But, now that I live in Italy, I must say I can’t wait to see a show there.

    CarrieLyn — July 23, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

  • I think my first “serious LP” was given to me by Lorenzo/Jova at my 19th birthday. It was a Sade Lp on it he had Written the first two lines of Rapper’s delight.
    We live in the same place, worked in the same Radio, many years ago, our kids went to school togheter and it is so easy, when he doesn’t travel, to see him around here, with other big names of music and sport.
    What can I say, I knew that this would have happened. Just matter of time Jova is too big not to get to big America!
    Enjoy it guys,
    Grande Lore!

    Alessandra — July 24, 2010 @ 12:48 am

  • Did you hear this?


    Fango in inglese

    EliMcQ — July 24, 2010 @ 7:28 am

  • Your article was so pleasant to read: Jovanotti, Italy, food!!! Lorenzo is a gifted poet, musician and soul. I saw his show a few months ago here in Montreal and he did not disappoint. It was his 1st time here and we hope to see him again and again.
    Grande Lorenzo

    Claudia — July 24, 2010 @ 8:25 am

  • I loved Lorenzo from his beginning. I saw a lots of his concerts in Italy and he is so exciting and amazing all the times!!! his energy and semplicity make him so special and unique!! my best desire is to meet him at least one time in my life!!!
    i love you

    Marta — July 25, 2010 @ 9:29 am

  • Yesterday at the Grove, Lorenzo showed to the Bay Area and California what Italian contemporary music, musician/singers,song writers, are capable of!
    He brought the house down with a MAGNIFICENT performance and opened wider his entrance doors into American music scene and audience.
    The concert was fabulous, electric, inspiring, engaging and festively-happy Italian style! Standing there in front row, as never imagined possible given his extreme popularity in Italy and Europe, was truly a memorable experience, something to both be proud of and very grateful for.
    AND, thank yo for the great article above, well done!
    America is indeed ready for Jovanotti, it was inevitable and it is so great to finally have him here as well.
    As an Italian living here for more than 20 years it is a true joy to see our music, the music of the world, reach all shores and proudly so. Grazie Lorenzo!!!

    Andrea — July 26, 2010 @ 10:15 am

  • Sei fantastico!!!

    Fabio — July 27, 2010 @ 3:48 am

  • [...] Quando vanno all’estero, i cantanti italiani solitamente suonano in locali piccoli, cantano in italiano di fronte ad un pubblico di italiani; poi tramite il loro ufficio stampa ti fanno sapere che è stato un trionfo di proporzioni gigantesche. Non tutti fanno così, ma parecchi sì.

    Così fa piacere vedere qualcuno all’estero che parla di un nostro artista perché ha voglia di parlarne e perche gli piace, non perché deve farlo.

    Il titolo di questo post è virgolettato perché in realtà è il titolo di un bel pezzo di FuelFriends su Jovanotti. FuelFriends è uno dei più importanti blog musicali americani – per dire, recentemente i R.E.M. gli hanno dato un brano inedito in esclusiva… [...]

    Rockol.it >> Is America Ready for Jovanotti? — July 28, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

  • I was at that SM Pier concert—try to go every week. Too bad i didn’t see you there Heather! Well, i liked his music, very fun, but it sure sounded a lot like Carlinhos Brown to me.

    John Warren — July 29, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

  • [...] per vedere la sua musica da una prospettiva diversa da quella a cui siamo abituati noi. Questo il link [...]

    Is America ready for Jovanotti? | Jovazaky — August 8, 2010 @ 1:52 am

  • Check this italian artist out, he was given the award for the best new Italian singer songwriter last year: http://ghostrecords.bandcamp.com/album/dente-lamore-non-e-bello

    Giuseppe — August 11, 2010 @ 5:53 am

  • I guess I have to be the one to say it… this is pretty lame. Monochromatic begins to describe this …

    oh no — August 29, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
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