August 30, 2012

KEXP gets hip to Jovanotti

I wondered on this blog in 2010 if America was ready for the Italian world-music superstar Jovanotti, whose songs I love and believe in, as he readied a musical invasion on these shores across the Atlantic (after two decades of collaborating in Europe with everyone from his pal Bono to Ben Harper, Sergio Mendes, Michael Franti, and The Beastie Boys).

Later that summer, I shared my massively radiant delight at getting to interview him on a pier in Santa Monica about music, creativity, social justice, and the importance of rhythm. I’ve argued vociferously that his music can enrich and expand your aural life, even if you don’t parlo a lick of italiano. The way his voice flows over the consonants and vowels is hypnotic — at times blissful like a sedative, at times ennervating like a tumble in a rock polisher where everything gets smooth and brilliant.

Now Jovanotti has gone and visited Seattle’s KEXP (!) to record his first ever U.S. radio performance – a completely delightful session that I hope will convert legions of you guys to his music. After a jaunt down the West Coast this month (including a stop at Amoeba Music), he is on tour across the U.S. for the first time in October, playing all sorts of wonderful venues that you know and love. I guarantee you (as in, I will reimburse you the cost of your concert ticket) that if you take a chance with him, it will be one of the most mind-bendingly exuberant concerts you have ever seen. The KEXP session feels more like the sedative we talked about (a happy sedative), while his full show is a spettacolo of rhythm and color.

Jovanotti just released his first album of music specifically for an American audience, the Italia 1988-2012 collection, on the venerable ATO Records imprint (My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, Hey Rosetta!, Allen Stone, and Two Gallants, among others). The tracks are hand-picked for us and our American tastes –whatever that means– from Jovanotti’s long and varied career, and forego some of his massive European hits (that are as fun as hell to sing along to, or to watch Italians sing along to) in favor of a whole different feel.

As KEXP host Darek Mazzone says to Jovanotti at the end of the session: “you’re gonna blow up, your lives are gonna be different — you’re gonna make it in America.” The KEXP write-up speculates that Jovanotti is on the brink of success in the U.S., after playing Bonnaroo (and Outside Lands, and Austin City Limits Festival come October). KEXP’s Ian Robinson writes:

“[This was] one of the most interesting interviews ever conducted in our studio not only because of his thick accent (the way he says “giraffe” is worth it alone) but also because the truly beautiful and inspiring things he has to say about what music truly means to an individual and what that means for the world.

Also I’m pretty sure he’s wearing Air Yeezy 2s.”

October 1 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
October 2 – Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero
October 5 – Boston, MA – Royale
October 6 – New York, NY – Terminal 5
October 8 – Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
October 9 – Orlando, FL – House of Blues
October 10 – Miami, FL – The Fillmore Miami Beach
October 12 – Austin, TX – ACL Music Festival
October 14 – Denver, CO – Bluebird Theater
October 15 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
October 17 – Chicago, IL – The Vic Theatre
October 18 – Detroit, MI – Saint Andrew’s Hall

October 13, 2010

Talkin’ italiano with Jovanotti


I’m intrigued by music that crosses borders, geographically and within perceived divisions of genres. As I’ve grown into a happily well-traveled, curious adult, I’ve (obviously) enjoyed expanding my ears beyond the pop hits, the oldies, and the cheesy synth hip-hop of my youth. One of the first global, non-American artists that started pushing some of those borders of my musical geography was the Italian artist Lorenzo Cherubini, known throughout Europe as Jovanotti.

I wrote about him late this past summer when I was preparing to go see his show on the Santa Monica Pier. I flew out to LA and back, spending less than 24 hours basking in this marvelously foreign glow, in order to take advantage of his handful of small-venue United States dates — a rarity for an artist who regularly sells out stadiums in Italy.

Pressed tight and sweaty with hundreds of dancing, singing Italians, lurching forward and back as one organism of enthusiasm, I remembered in their vibrancy what it is about Jovanotti that makes him so infectious. “Every Italian knows at least five Jovanotti songs by heart,” asserted one Italian-American reporter, and the crowd of stylish ex-pats that night certainly proved that point and beyond. I was thrilled by the enthusiasm, and –don’t forget– the dancing.

But you, dear reader, may wonder if it was only the faithful and the foreign who loved his show. No — there were plenty of uninitiated folks in the crowd on that Southern California pier that didn’t know anything more about Lorenzo, other than that respected indie-rock station KCRW was presenting the show, or maybe that, heck, it was an absolutely gorgeous summer evening by the waves. But by the end it seems safe to say that everyone was converted. I saw shining joy on people’s faces as they folded their blankets and put their shoes back on in the deepening summer twilight.

In San Francisco’s Stern Grove a few days later (a show attended by 10,000), the PBS reviewer wrote, “No one has more fun at a Jovanotti concert than Jovanotti himself.”

Jovanotti played a crucial part in my musical horizons opening, and evokes all those intangible boundary-pushing, dazzling moments of a semester spent abroad in a foreign country. He was one of the first artists I loved whose perspectives on the entire world was coming from a completely different place than all of mine.

Therefore, meeting and interviewing him before the Santa Monica show was, to me, akin to meeting Bono (a man Jovanotti calls friend, due to their joint efforts on the Cancel the Debt initiatives in developing countries). Beside the ferris wheel and crashing waves of the Santa Monica pier, he greeted me warmly, we sat down, and we chatted a bit about music, creativity, social justice, and the importance of rhythm.

It was a terrific night.

Jovanotti 060

Fuel/Friends: The press has been writing about this tour and last summer’s tour as your attempt to “cross over” into American music. What do you think of that term, “crossing over”? Is it different when you play here versus Italy? What are your goals here?

Jovanotti: I don’t have any future goals. My only goal here is to have a good show, to make the people fun, to make the people feel good – this is the goal. I am not planning a career here, or trying to win the Grammy award, it’s not that. I’m having fun, I do so many big shows in Italy, you know? The chance for me to do some little shows here was stimulating. My job is to do music. It’s very exciting for me to do music in different places. The best thing is not always to do a stadium, but sometimes just one show in front of one hundred people.

F/F: How are you creatively inspired by the different places you perform?

J: I don’t know… I am more inspired by the different places that I travel. When I perform, it’s always an experience of giving, not of receiving. And so, I divide my life always into two phases – the phases of this out(ward) direction and in. When I do shows and I do tours, it’s the phase of ex-direction, so at the end of the tour I feel more vuoto, more empty than filled.

Then I have to stop and maybe, usually, I can go somewhere, wherever, alone. I go in South America, or Asia, it’s always something that attracts me a lot, to travel and lose myself in a town where no one knows me, and I don’t know nobody. It creates a condition in my mind that permits me to start approaching a new music form.

F/F: So, do you write better at home in Cortona or on the road when you are traveling?

J: Travel is like a way of training your observation. When you are in a place that you know well, you don’t see anything more. Ehm… when you go around the world, it is a way of practicing. My musical colleagues may all do this practicing in different ways, but we all must train our ability to observe, and our ability of creative synthesis. The synthesis is the final goal, to take a concept and synthesize it in one image. It is something that photographers do, it is something that you as a journalist do, with a phrase or an image or a word. Musicians may do it with a melody or a musical atmosphere, or with words.

For me, always the most difficult but stimulating part for me is the lyrical part of my songs. I always start from the lyrics. A song for me doesn’t exist until I have a word that gives me the key to enter the door. Then when I’m inside, I start, and sometimes it comes out in three minutes, sometimes it takes three years, sometimes it takes ten years. But at the end I am looking for the synthesis, when you can distill it down to the essence. I use different techniques. My favorite technique is that of the list. For me it is creatively very inspiring, I have books full of lists of everything. And then from that, it is a way to get an order. You know, creativity is a job. I don’t believe in pure inspiration. I believe in hard work.

F/F: Hmm, I can see your listmaking in your music — a lot of your songs will detail many seemingly simple things that add up to a complete and powerful image or effect.

J: Yes, that’s the way I like to write. I don’t have the talent to create a plot. I admire a lot my colleagues that write a song that is an intricate story. My talent is more impressionistic, less linear. I would like a lot to develop the narrative part to tell a story about somebody, in America, you know you have someone like Paul Simon or other folk songwriters. I love complex stories. It is something I am still not comfortable with what I am doing.

F/F: When you had that conversation with Bono for GQ magazine, you asked him about the moment of opportunity that lay ahead to bring the issue of Cancel the Debt to the forefront again, with the World Cup in Africa, and with Giovanna Melandri. Were your goals achieved with that?

J: No. No. But with Italian politics can be totally distant from our global vision of the world. We have a lot of problems with the politics. Italian politicians don’t have big horizons. The fact is that the African problem and poverty are not sexy from a media point. It is very hard to get the interest of the people. The politicians are only interested in the things that interest the people. The only great thing in Italy is that we have the church, so with the church you can attract the attention in these kinds of topics. So you have to pass through the church to get the attention of the politicians. So working in that way, we’ve made good gains towards Cancel the Debt, but after 9/11, everything started to be much harder in getting that message heard. With the soccer games, our political class didn’t catch the opportunity.

F/F: Are you still working towards African debt cancellation?

J: I am still working with it. But it is very difficult. When you are talking about poorness, people don’t want to know anything about that. It’s very hard when you are talking to push the button of compassion and charity inside people. Because with compassion and charity, we didn’t get many results.

But the next step –the “upgrade”— would be to go at it from a justice standpoint, it is a political justice issue. Poverty is not about a failure, or a lacking. It is a political issue, and Bono is also doing a good job at drawing attention to that. In Italy it is harder, because the church monopolizes the conversation, but uses it in a way that won’t talk about AIDS or other things that are totally central.

F/F: Last question, and then I’ll let you go because it sounds like they are getting ready for you out there. If the 20 year-old Jovanotti DJ could see what the 40 year-old you was doing right now, what do you think he would think?

J: (smiles) I think he would be happy. Maybe criticizing. When I was a DJ, I didn’t like musicians, I liked machines. I was doing hip hop, so for me the drum machine and the computer were all I needed. In the future I would be drawn back in to more machines. Rhythm for me is still the most attractive thing in music, especially when I was growing up. Rhythm has only expanded for me as I have learned more about different kinds of music. It has gotten to be the biggest thing — there’s nothing that I don’t like. But Rhythm and words have always been central. When I did my first commercial enterprise, I called it Soleluna, ritmo e parole – rhythm and words. That is what I will keep looking for, ehi?


Indeed. This video is exactly what my jaunt to Los Angeles was like, in seven pro-shot minutes:

Jovanotti is working on a new album (that’s what he is talking about in that video up there) which will continue to fuse Latin, African, European sounds and beyond. I do hope that he returns to the US, because he is a terrifically versatile, infectiously enthusiastic performer, and if you ever get a chance to see him, you must.

Jovanotti 044

Jovanotti 2010 144

Jovanotti 100

[top photo credit Mary Leipziger, who happened to be walking by. All my photos are on the Fuel/Friends Facebook page]

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

February 26, 2007

Monday Music Roundup

I’ve been sort of jamming with some gal friends in an acoustic mini-band for fun (and no, we didn’t name ourselves something dainty and/or involving unicorns or sparkly things). I wail on the djembe and we have a grand time — sounds very hippie but it’s not.

In any case, yesterday afternoon we were talking about how one gal just had her guitar swiped out of her car. The best I could come up with was a consolation which suggested that perhaps said thief thought that Takamine actually read, “Take-mine.”

Aaand . . . I crack myself up. I do apologize for that groaner.

On to the tunes for this week (better than the humor?):

F Train Girl
The Attachments
We’ll start things off today with an unassuming sonnet to a girl on a train (ah, the elusive ones are the best kinds) that sounds like something that could take me along the tracks, looking out the window at the passing countryside. The Attachments are four young guys from Berkeley (CA) who really just want to pay a bit of homage to the Beach Boys, spoon in bed, and write you haikus (see their MySpace). What could be wrong with that?

City Skies
Dylan In The Movies
I adore getting 7-inches in the mail (sounds dirty. it’s not.). Every once in a while amidst the pile of promo CDs, I get an actual vinyl 7″ to digest slowly and viscerally, and it truly makes my day to crouch near the record player and watch it spin, hear it crackle. American Laundromat Records is a little label with a 7″ series (they also released that fab High School Reunion CD of ’80s movie song covers by folks like Matthew Sweet and Frank Black). I’ve enjoyed the A & B sides of both their releases in this series thus far. Pressed in limited, hand-numbered quantities, this truly wonderful song from Boston’s Dylan In The Movies is the b-side from the newest one. The a-side is from John P. Strohm (Blake Babies, Antenna, Lemonheads) and the vinyl is available directly from ALR. It’s also on iTunes, which takes some of the fun out of it, but for those who don’t have a record player (yet). . .

Young Folks
Peter Bjorn and John
I vigilantly resisted this kitschy song from Swedish sensations Peter Bjorn and John until I heard it out in its natural habitat recently in a loud bar and I found myself irresistibly drawn to it, from the whistles that start things off to the harmonies and the skittery beat that made me shake my hips. I heartily enjoy whistling along to things, and songs like this are in short supply (other than, maybe, Zipadee-doodah and the theme to Andy Griffith). Don’t try to resist, just acquiesce to the blogosphere on this one. From their 2006 album Writer’s Block (Wichita/V2).

HFXNSHC (“Halifax, Nova Scotia Hardcore”)
This song is apropos of nothing else off Sloan‘s recent album Never Hear The End Of It (on Yep Roc), which is a fine double disc that I think you may be hearing more about in the weeks to come from this blog. Its unrelenting thrumming-bass punk rock (squeezed into just over a minute) has been rocking my world these last few days. I’ll leave it at that for now, but hot dang. Who saw that one coming from Canadian power poppers?

Storia Di Un Corazon
I feel like ending with some world music today, an irresistable Latin-tinged duet with Italian Jovanotti and Spaniard Pau Dones (of Jarabe de Palo) with a flirty samba/salsa beat and engaging call-and-response verse swapping. It’s from Jovanotti’s excellent 2002 album Il Quinto Mondo, and my absolute favorite snippet of it starts around 3:20. I think this may be the next piece I practice to on djembe, but it’s also suitable for dancing ’round the house, pretending like you know how to do Latin dances (and no, the Macarena doesn’t count).

January 11, 2006

Wednesdays are for World Music

So, let’s try something new here. One of my secret passions is international music because of the way it opens up our ears, and (if you want to be poetic about it) binds us all together in the universal language of really good music.

Kind of makes you feel like the “Happy Hands” performance to The Rose from Napoleon Dynamite, with all the uplifting hand gestures. But, today, all our uplifting will come from the great country of Italy.

Musica italiana is my first world music love, on account of the fact that I studied in Firenze (Florence) for a semester in college. I loved being immersed in the beautiful language and culture. I lived with a wonderful host family and made some fabulous Italian friends. Through our relentless pursuit of higher culture through clubbing, I was introduced to a variety of Italian musical artists. My Italian teacher Vittoria also used popular Italian music to teach us verbs and expressions and such.

So, without further ado (senza aspettando di più):
(And look! All files are now direct links to mp3s via EZArchive. So right click and save target as. No more Savefile!)

Per La Vita Che Verra,” Jovanotti
Jovanotti is a little bit of a mixed bag in Italian hipster circles because he has a sordid history as an Italian rapper, but he has lately expanded his reach into all different kinds of musical styles, and he holds a special place in my heart. I attended a Jovanotti concert in Bologna and met him after the show in 1999 when I was studying there. His pop songs “Per Te,” “Raggio di Sole,” and “Stella Cometa” were used in my Italian class to teach me the language. This song, from the 1997 album L’Albero, shows Jovanotti’s fusion with African sounds, with swelling vocals and chants all throughout this song. It is about “For the life that will come,” talking about his future with his woman. Musically, very rich & soaring, with lyrics that are (as my friend Massi once said) molto bello.

(Storia di un) Corazon,” Jovanotti and Jarabe de Palo
This one is a two-for-one, you get your Spanish and you get your Italian in one smooth dose. “History of a heart,” this has lines in Spanish by Jarabe de Palo, singer/songwriter from Barcelona, alternating with the same lines in Italian by Jovanotti. This sounds like something you would dance around to in a Cuban plaza on a Friday night, drums pounding. From the 2000 album Il Quinto Mondo.

Sempre di Domenica,” Daniele Silvestri
From the Putumayo Euro LoungeCD, this fast-paced track by Rome native Daniele Silvestri should be the soundtrack to walking down a busy street in a bustling Italian city, dark sunglasses on, looking molto italiano. You will be più ganzo (cooler) *just* for listening to it.

Sotto Le Stelle Del Jazz” and “Elisir,” Paolo Conte
Aahh, Paolo Conte. The gruff, smoky, imitable Italian legend who sings with a smile on his face. You can hear it in almost every song. Paolo Conte always makes me think of my Italian host sister Elena putting on the record in the apartment where we lived (near Santa Croce church and Michelangelo’s house) and dancing around while she dusted and cleaned. She’d sing too. It was a beautiful thing. You’ll want to do a little two-step too when you listen to Paolo Conte, with his jazzy piano, playful raspy vocals, and Italian scatting. Buy The Best of Paolo Contehere.

La Noyée” and “Quelqu’Un M’a Dit,” Carla Bruni
Here’s another two-for-one: Carla Bruni is Italian but sings mostly in French. She’s on my Italian list by a generous extension of today’s theme. The first song (“Drowned woman“) makes me feel like I am floating away on a soft river, eyes half closed (but sleepy, not drowned). Originally written by Serge Gainsbourg, this is a beautiful simple melody that will stick in your head. Quelqu’Un M’a Dit (“Someone told me“) is the lovely title track from the album of the same name, which I very highly recommend. It has been getting a lot of attention in the music world, and rightly so – I think it is a great album. Who knew a supermodel could sing so well? She also writes many of her songs. Not too shabby.

Join me next Wednesday for music from another part of the world, and if I have enticed you into my world of Italian music and you would like further translations of any of these lyrics, please let me know. I am a word-o-phile, so for me, knowing the what the lyrics mean help me to enjoy the song more. It is just too long to post here.

Tante buone cose to you all.

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

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..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →