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A Generational Change in Italian Music

“Volare oh oh…cantare oh oh oh…” 

Rings a bell? No matter where you grew up, you’ve probably mumbled along to one of Domenico Modugno or Mina’s songs, gotten goosebumps while listening to the vibrant opera tenors Pavarotti and Bocelli, danced along to a Neapolitan song and were moved by the music of Morricone, Nino Rota and Nicola Piovani while watching a great movie.

In the past few years, this summer in particular – a fantastic summer to be Italian, thanks to the athletic triumphs in football (soccer in the U.S.) and the Olympics – we can include to this list the rock band Måneskin. Although they don’t represent a typical Italian sound, they are undoubtedly original in their music.

I’ve always been passionate about music. For a while I worked in the cultural industry of the most underground festivals in Italy, always grieving over the irrelevance of Italian music. But today things are changing: Måneskin are only the point of arrival, or departure (depending on points of view), of a rebirth, of a generational change opening up Italian music – perhaps infrequently listened to abroad also due to the language. Music that is not only new, but also representative of a changing Italy: many leaders of this emerging music scene are Italians, children of immigrants, women, representatives of the queer community. Through their music, these artists are bringing attention to issues that have always been taboo or cause for political tensions in Italy. But not only that: thanks to their commitment and ability to raise awareness among younger generations, their music is contributing to overcoming certain stereotypes. Who could have imagined that a 26-year-old young man, the son of an interracial couple (Egyptian father and Italian mother), openly gay, would win the Sanremo Festival – an event that most embodies the Italian musical tradition – with a contemporary piece and that, in fact, also reached listeners abroad? That person is Mahmood, perhaps the best representative of the scene I want to introduce to you, but mostly to invite you to listen. In a way, his victory was truly the point of “no return” for Italian music. From that moment on, Italy showed it was ready for a new sound.

Today I want to let you listen to some of what is playing in the ears of young Italians, going beyond the smash hits of summer that we remember for three months and are soon after forgotten… To do this, I asked Lucrezia Savino, A&R Manager of Universal Publishing Italy (in other words, a talent scout) for a hand. She is also, by pure chance, a very dear friend of mine since high school. We often talk about this topic, exchanging names of artists to listen to before they become famous. Lucrezia has compiled a playlist with 10 songs illustrating Italian new wave. “This list is everything in Italy today that deserves at least one listen, from the most mainstream to the most experimental. To dance or to just take a break from life. A set of different sounds and colors in a fervent and constantly growing music scene.”

Let’s start with the first one, one of my favorites: Supreme has created an iconic and recognizable sound in the Italian trap scene. But not only that: by mixing Italian with the trapper lingo, he has created a sort of “new language”, straddling the two, which for me is a fantastic example of the spirit of the time. In uNa DiReZioNe giUsTa, Davide Mattei duets with one of the “fathers” of Italian hip hop, Neffa, creating a beautiful dialogue between present and past.

Then comes one of the artists closest to Lucrezia’s heart: BLANCO, who you can now hear even in the supermarket (Lucrezia had me listen to him when he was still an unknown). She defines his style as “a mix between slowthai and Gino Paoli, between punk and blatantly Italian melodies” which I find to be an incredibly creative definition. In “LA CANZONE NOSTRA”, Blanco alternates with Salmo, a popular Italian rapper, accompanied by notes created by MACE, a producer capable of climbing the charts with a sound that is definitely still relevant. 

And then we come to Madame, defined as the new star of contemporary Italian pop who came on the scene at age 16 with the hit “Sciccherie”. Now at only 19 years old she has graduated to performing at Sanremo, the most important music festival in Italy, with the beautiful “Voce”, an emotional song dedicated – in fact – to her voice. For Lucrezia, “Madame bodes well for the future of women in Italian music”.

We continue on to mainstream territory, quality mainstream which in Italy is quite rare, I assure you. Here Lucrezia brings us an artist who has already graced the pages of Italy Segreta, the aforementioned Mahmood, winner of the Sanremo Festival in 2019 with “Soldi”, runner-up at Eurovision, and certainly the brightest example of Italian urban pop. While listening to the song, I happen to remember singing with him, (before he was famous) for one of Lucrezia’s birthdays, in a karaoke bar at via Paolo Sarpi in Milan, noticing his very distinctive voice. Lucrezia tells me that “since day one, we have invested in his talent. He is one of the few Italian projects that can play abroad, we have a lot of faith in him”. You should listen to his album to truly understand why.

We can’t conclude the “pop” genre without mentioning Sangiovanni, product of the talent show “Amici” by Maria De Filippi, a show host who could be defined as an Italian Oprah. “Malibu” is practically ubiquitous on Italian radios. Perhaps it was this song that was the definitive summer hit, but at least it wasn’t reggaeton, thankfully.

Moving forward, we explore deeper waters, in lesser known but interesting realms. Here Lucrezia takes us on an instrumental detour, with “Canone Infinito” by Lorenzo Senni, a trance artist well known in international electronic circles, and Iosonouncane, who recently released his beautiful album IRA, consisting of background sounds which are at times unsettling. “Iosonouncane and Lorenzo Senni show how varied the Italian scene is today, in addition to the pop and urban charts. Both artists are very attentive to experimentation”.

After this deep dive in the underground, we return to pop with a trio of interesting artists. We start with Frah Quintale, “one of the best examples of Italian R&B”, then Venerus, with the splendid “Sei acqua” arranged with Calibro 35 (one of the most interesting bands in Italy; I highly recommend giving them a listen). Venerus is a multidimensional project from a musical and visual standpoint: the album “Magica Musica” is a journey between introspection and joy expressed through the beautiful voice of the Milanese singer.

And finally, the hit of “my” summer, “Marechià” by Nu Genea, a Neapolitan DJ duo who are reintroducing the sound of Neapolitan 70s funk in a contemporary style (for reference, listen to the records of Pino Daniele and Napoli Centrale from that era). “Marechià” is amazing and fun, sung a little in French and a little in the Neapolitan dialect. A perfect representation of the essence of the times.

To condense all this great music into 10 pieces is practically impossible, so here are just a few additional names from Lucrezia: bnkr44, ARIETE, Tropico, Franco126. 

Great, now you know what to listen to in the upcoming months – we hope you enjoy the new era of Italian music.