In Italy, he plays stadiums and graces the cover of GQ, so it’s no wonder Torontonians in the know snapped up tickets to Jovanotti’s May 4 Toronto debut, forcing the addition of a second show at Lee’s Palace the day before.
The Rome-born singer-rapper has been riding a wave of North American buzz since last summer’s popular residency at Manhattan clubs with Soleluna NY Lab, a New York-based collective of musicians from Italy, Brazil and the U.S. Some of those gigs were captured on Oyeah, an improvisatory, funk-based double disc released in 2009.
The 43-year-old performer divides his time between homes in Tuscany, Milan and a small studio apartment purchased in New York two years ago. By phone from New York, standing on the sidewalk after excusing himself from a bar “because I have to talk loud, I am Italian,” the entertainer said his time in the Big Apple has brought him closer to his roots.
“It’s quite a paradox, but the more I spend time playing or living in this country makes me feel closer to my musical heritage as an Italian, because distance makes you see clearly with more focus about the place where you come from,” Jovanotti said.
“I’m talking about the music of my native language, the music I was listening to before I was even realizing that I was listening to music, because when I was listening to music as an act of will, I started to listen to American music,” he said.
“I fell in love with music listening to hip-hop in the early ’80s, because I was a teenager and this was the music that changed my life. This music will always be the music of my most important reference, but there is something before that is in my blood, maybe, something that is even in my language, so being here it comes out strongly,” Jovanotti continued. “I’m talking about our ability to deal with melody; that makes the difference between Italy and other countries, this ability to create melodies that are easy to remember and strongly touching for the heart.”
Jovanotti, who started off as a deejay in the late ’80s, then worked for MTV Europe, has evolved into a respected singer-songwriter who uses songs to address philosophical, religious and political issues. His last studio album, Safari, was Italy’s top-selling disc in 2008.
Coming of age to the recordings of hip-hop pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, even though he “couldn’t understand 90 per cent of what they were saying,” Jovanotti relies on a similar musical affinity with non-Italian speaking listeners, but sprinkled a few English covers on Oyeah, his 13th album.
He selected “Stayin’ Alive,” he said, “because I was in New York; it was like a homage. Also Saturday Night Fever is one of my favourite movies, because it’s dealing with Italian-American culture in New York.
The track “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” was included “because when I was here playing, Michael Jackson died and it was a way of remembering him with my favourite song of him. I’m crazy for that song, because it’s the perfect song: it’s simple, powerful and hypnotic, and it’s what I like in music.”
Though the Lee’s Palace dates and a Montreal show mark Jovanotti’s first time in Canada, he’s always felt connected.
“Canada has been in my life since I was a child, because my favourite aunt was in Canada and, when we were children, Canada was always in my mind. My first sport shoes (were) a present of my aunt that came to me from Canada at Christmas in the early ’70s. And I had the T-shirt of the Montreal Olympic Games. Now the world has changed. You find everything everywhere. But, in the ’70s, to have a T-shirt of the Montreal Olympic Games was to be like Superman in my school. I’m really happy to meet the Italian community of Toronto. The show will be fun and emotional.”