Before I ever visited Italy, the only Italian music I had really ever heard was by Andrea Bocelli or Pavarotti…or was from a commercial for Barilla pasta! And yes, there was an occasional rendition of Santa Lucia, Volare or O Sole Mio. But the first time I rented a car and turned on the radio and found the station Radio Italia, a whole new and exciting world opened up to me musically.
I discovered artists with simply stunning vocal talent, such as Giorgia and Laura Pausini. I discovered talented and quirky singer/songwriters like Tiziano Ferro. And I found myself a new, all-time favorite male artist in Eros Ramazzotti, who has written countless catchy melodies and beautiful, reflective ballads over the last 32 years. He delivers them with his distinctive voice, which some of us love, while others have called him “La Voce Brutta” or “The Ugly Voice” – a title which I steadfastly declare is not true! (“Non e` vero!”)
I have amassed about 65 Italian pop music CDs now, have been to several concerts, and I even hosted a radio program at Dominican University of California called Strada Facendo to introduce people to Italian music and language.
Not only has this music entertained and comforted me, but it sometimes gives me a little more insight into Italian culture. And perhaps most importantly, it has helped me immensely with my Italian, keeping the sounds and the phrasing fresh in my mind, and teaching me new vocabulary almost every time I listen to it. My Italian friends say that much of their knowledge of English comes from TV and pop music, for better or worse, and so I highly recommend making music a central part of your study if you are trying to learn the language.
So here are some of my strongest recommendations for your introduction to Italian music:
1. Eros Ramazzotti
My “numero uno” of Italian singers, Eros seems to be a controversial figure in Italian music. Many of my Italian friends make fun of his voice or his overly-sentimental songs, yet almost every one of them also seems to have at least a song or two that they love by him. Nevertheless, Eros has sold some 60 million albums and is popular in much of Europe and throughout the Spanish-speaking world (he records his albums in both an Italian and a Spanish version). He has sung duets with many international artists including Tina Turner, Cher, Ricky Martin, Andrea Bocelli, Anastacia, and Nicole Scherzinger.
His 1990 album, In Ogni Senso (In Every Sense) is among my favorites, with a wide mix of musical styles. And for fun, in each song somewhere, somehow, he works in the phrase, in ogni senso. Listen to the whole CD and see if you can you find them all?
Another noteworthy selection is the two CD set called, e² from 2007. Here you will find dramatically re-mixed versions of some of his hits, as well as several original songs. And his last two albums, Noi and Perfetto continue to demonstrate his versatility and talent.If you listen to Eros’ music keep in mind that he has written or co-written virtually every song he’s ever recorded, and his career spans over 30 years! Pretty impressive!
Check out some of Eros’ videos:
Le Cose della Vita (The Things of Life) (duet with Tina Turner)
Un’ Emozione Per Sempre (An Emotion for Always) This song from 2003 was the #1 hit in Italy for 14 consecutive weeks, and is probably my favorite song by Eros. It’s also the only Italian song I have ever performed in karaoke!
Non Siamo Soli (We’re Not Alone) (duet with Ricky Martin)
2. Laura Pausini
If Eros is the king of Italian pop music, then Laura Pausini is the reigning queen. In 1993 Laura won the famous San Remo Music Festival with the song, La Solitudine which became a huge hit both in Italy and internationally and launched her music career. Like Eros, Laura records her CDs in both Italian and Spanish and she was the first non-Spanish artist to ever sell over a million copies of an album in Spain. She also sings some of her songs in French and Portuguese. I sometimes jokingly refer to her as the Celine Dion of Italy, but with 1/3 less drama! She has an amazing voice, and definitely has a stage presence, but in my opinion, she doesn’t come across as a “diva”. There is a sweetness and simplicity about her that I like a lot. She is very involved in charity events, and has been an avid supporter of gay rights. Laura also writes a significant amount of her own material.
To start your collection of Laura Pausini’s work, begin with her 2001 CD The Best of Laura Pausini: E Ritorno da Te, then explore some of her more recent releases, particularly last year’s Simili.
Listen to Laura on some of the following videos:
Tra Te e il Mare (Between You and the Sea) This was one of the first songs I fell in love with on Italian radio. The original is a haunting and beautiful song, but there is a live version in which she sings it as a faster tempo duet with Italian superstar Biagio Antonacci, who wrote the song especially for her.
Non Me Lo So Spiegare (I Don’t Know How to Explain) A beautiful live version of her duet with Tiziano Ferro (see below) in which she shows real class as she sings in a pouring rainstorm and doesn’t miss a beat. Strange that Tiziano seems to be dry from the perch where he’s singing…
Simili (Alike) The title track from Laura’s 2015 album, this video was filmed with the cast of an Italian version of an American TV show called The Red Band Society, which revolved around the relationships among children in a hospital.
Ho Creduto a Me (I Believed in Me) Another release from the Simili album that is chock full of many excellent songs. This one features an evocative video as well.
Giorgia. I almost have no words, but I will come up with something. Perhaps because of the glaring light of Laura Pausini’s star, Giorgia is a much less well-known artist, and I am single-handedly doing everything I can to change that. According to Wikipedia, Giorgia has been dubbed the “4th best voice in the world” and has been compared to singers like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys (in fact she has recorded a duet with Keys). To me, her voice is simply stunning, with a range that blows me away. She can do anything from a quiet ballad to an over-the-top dance number seemingly effortlessly. On top of that, she has a wonderful stage presence that I had the good fortune to experiene at a concert in Firenze in 2014. It has to be one of the most amazing shows I have ever been to.
Two of her absolutely stand-out albums (I rarely like every song on any album I buy, but both of these are an exception to that rule!) are her Greatest Hits collection from 2002, which remained on the Italian charts for over a year, and Senza Paura which spawned 5 hit singles and covers the spectrum in terms of its musical content. Listen to Giorgia. Tell your friends about her. Let’s give her the attention she deserves!
Start with some of these songs:
Il Sole e d’Azzurro (The Sun and The Blue) This song was one of Giorgia’s earliest hits and this video is a live performance of the song at Italy’s San Remo Music Festival in 2001. I love how this skinny, young and innocent woman just takes that stages and blows everyone away!
Quando Una Stella Muore (When a Star Dies) This gorgeous song is from Giorgia’s Senza Paura album and the video was filmed in a fantastic location in a national park located in north-central Italy.
Tu Mi Porti Su (You Lift Me Up) This is an infectiously upbeat song, being performed live in this video with another Italian music star, Lorenzo Jovanotti, who wrote the song. It’s a very fun video! Note that the line immediately following Tu mi porti su… is “E poi mi lasci cadere”, which means: “and then you let me fall down!”
Oronero The title track from her latest release is a beautiful ballad that again shows off Giorgia’s amazing vocal abilities. Looks like another huge hit!
Credo I am in Italy this summer and was happy to see that Giorgia has released this amazingly upbeat song as her latest single from the Oronero CD. Definitely one of THE summer of 2017 hits on Italian radio. Brava, Giorgia!!
4. Tiziano Ferro
Tiziano Ferro has to be one of the most interesting and beloved singers in Italy. A somewhat more recent entry into the Italian music scene, he scored his first hit song in 2001 with Perdono and has gained widespread fame in Italy since. Like other Italian artists, Tiziano also records in Spanish and had begun to have a following in Central and South America, but remarks he made about conditions during a tour of the area rubbed people the wrong way, and his public announcement in 2010 that he was gay greatly reduced his popularity in those markets. Tiziano actually wrote a book about his struggle to come out, and shared the fact that he nearly committed suicide during that period of his life. Luckily for his fans, he weathered the storms. His voice carries such emotion that whether you understand the language or not, the sentiment comes through, and he has a warm and disarming stage presence.
The definitive collection of his work is the recently released, TZN – The Best of Tiziano Ferro, which is a 4 CD set and showcases his career thus far very nicely.
Some of the best songs to listen for are as follows:
La Differenza Tra Me e Te (The Difference Between You and Me). (Warning.. you will never get this song out of your head again… but you may not want to!) This has to be among my very favorite Italian songs. You simply cannot be in a bad mood when you listen to it, and the video reflects Tiziano’s desire for people to accept one another despite their differences. There is also a great live version of the song that was performed at a benefit for earthquake relief. See if you recognize Giorgia in a brief cameo near the beginning!
Ti Scattero` Una Foto (I’ll Take a Picture of You) This live performance of one of his most popular ballads shows off his voice and his connection with his audience.
Per Dirti Ciao (To Tell You Goodbye). Long before I really understood any of the lyrics, I would listen to what sounded like a rather uptempo song, but I could just tell that it was about deep sadness, again just conveyed by Tiziano’s voice. The song almost spontaneously makes me want to cry when I hear it, but nonetheless, it has become one of my all time favorite songs by anyone! This video is an intimate live version recorded in front of a small TV audience.
5. And there are more great singers to explore…
Here are a few more of my favorite songs by other artists worth having a look and listen to:
Nek: Se Telefonando (If I Was Calling) This video will make you smile and it reminds me of why Italy is so special to me.
Elisa: L’Anima Volta (The Soul Flies) For years Elisa recorded only in English and then in 2001 recorded her first song, Luce in Italian and scored big. One of her most beautiful Italian songs has to be L’Anima Volta and I recently discovered this stunning acoustic live version.
Biagio Antonacci: Iris This classic song has such a haunting and beautiful melody, and like Tra Te e Il Mare is an example of Antonacci’s gift for songwriting. Another great song by Biagio is Sognami (Dream of Me), which is about a man who has died but still watches over his love.
Francesco Gabbani: This artist has recently gotten my attention with a couple of recent hits that are featured heavily on Radio Italia. First there was his song Amen for which he won the best new artist award at Italy’s San Remo Music Contest, and the follow up, Eternamente Ora which is also the name of the album. His videos are rather quirky, interesting!
Malika Ayane: Ricomincio da Qui (I Start Again from Here) One of her first hit songs from 2010, this has been followed by a string of hits including thoughtful, introspective ballads and some catchy pop/jazz tunes, including the recent release, Tempesta (Storm), which I can’t seem to play often enough lately! Malika has also recorded a sultry version of the classic Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare) for an advertising campaign by Alitalia Airlines.
Luca Carboni: Happy. A catchy, upbeat song that can only leave you feeling, well… HAPPY!
Paola Turci: Io Sono (I Am) This husky-voiced singer had a lot of hits in the 90’s and early 2000’s and then went off the radar, but she returned in summer of 2015 with this new song. She has done great Italian language versions of Suzanne Vega’s, Luka, Faith Hill’s This Kiss, and John Waite’s Missing You, as well as a beautiful original song about the plight of children around the world, called Bambini.
Gianna Nannini: Meravigliosa Creatura (Marvelous Creature) If you are someone who thinks Eros Ramazzotti is “La Voce Brutta”, then you will find Gianna hard to take. But she is a fixture in Italian pop music, is openly lesbian, and there is something about that gravelly voice that touches your soul. A favorite memory I have of Italy involves this song. I was dining at a restaurant in Montepulciano late one night and the staff from the kitchen and the waiters had all gathered at a table to have their dinner as I finished my dessert. This song came on the radio, and spontaneously these men all linked arms and sang along with the chorus. It was a beautiful moment.
I really hope that if you’ve read this far you’ll give some of these great songs and performers a listen, and I would love to receive your feedback or your recommendations for more great Italian music! Ciao!