Rome’s music scene – local artists you should get to know! Part I
Rome has a long and layered musical tradition: part of it is the offshoot of barcarole, boat songs that can be considered the local equivalent to the… Delta blues, with their roots in ancient Rome’s music; another key element to the scene is the influence of early rock musicians Romans were exposed to after the end of WWII.
This post is split in two parts and is intended as a small guide to some of the most important figures in the city when it comes to local music. Oversimplifying for the sake of brevity, we picked artists who made it big in the last 40 years or so, and ignored those who came before (it’s cruel, but decisions had to be made!).
Some of the following have gained international popularity, some remain cultish characters. What follows is not at all exhaustive: it merely means to give you an overview of what you should know about Roman musicians when you visit.
The High Priestess of Rome: Gabriella Ferri
A tragic figure (she committed suicide in 2004) that can be easily compared to Anna Magnani, a Roman born and bred in the Testaccio district, Gabriella Ferri’s prolific discography is what you need to tackle if you’re interested in absorbing the Roman musical tradition and how it blended with different, even foreign songbooks. She sang effortlessy old barcarole, showtunes, pop songs and everything in between. A monumental voice much loved by all locals.
The “scena romana”
This expression (“Roman scene”) was used for the first time in the early 70s to group together very different singer-songwriters. Almost all of them originated from Rome but had little else in common – except hanging out at a legendary club called Folkstudio. They played different genres and have been clustered together mostly on the basis of their being “in the right place at the right time”.
Antonello Venditti / Fabrizio De Gregori
Two politically engaged folk artists with long-lasting careers, they have been performing for more than 40 years now. Mr. Venditti has moved on to be the Elton John of his generation, while Mr. De Gregori has embraced his devotion for Bob Dylan and performs similar themed tunes.
Initially mixing provocative lyrics with disco and glam-influenced music, he’s now a somewhat romantic performer. A darling of the Italian musical scene, his fans are knows as “sorcini” (“little mice”) and are a devoted bunch, going out of their way to participate in conventions, lookalike contests and record fairs.
With his roots in folk, he’s grown to become a sophisticated, stylish figure in the Italian pop scene at large, with forays in the tv world (he recently ended a 2 year tenure as the presenter for the ever popular Sanremo festival).
Originally from the Calabria region, he died in 1981 in a car accident leaving many fans and colleagues distraught. The Montesacro district, where he lived, hails him as a lost hero and dedicates a festival to his memory & songbook (almost) every year. Compared to the other “scena romana” artists, his persona was more of a jester’s, with influences ranging from reggae to rock.
Famously starting out as a stand-in for famous actress Monica Vitti, this red-haired beauty eventually found her voice and stepped onto the stage… only to become Italy’s most famous solo female artist after – probably – Laura Pausini. Tunes about empowerment and ballads with political tones are her forte.
The second “scena romana”
Starting in the Nineties, a new wave of Roman singer-songwriters appeared on the scene, all pretty much gravitating around, once again, a club – the small, cozy (and long gone) Il Locale.
Recognizable by his signature curly haired, there is a definite shift in this guitarist’s output – ironic and mellow before the death of his beloved daughter Lulu, pensive and introverted following this tragedy.
A virtuoso bass-player who gained an affectionate, if cultish, following and eventually made it big after a few spot on collaboration and Sanremo appearances (participating in Sanremo is a surefire way to gain a mainstream audience and ending in the charts!).
Somewhat of an outsider in this second wave of Roman performers (her career started earlier), she is a guitar-toting songstress with engaged and powerful lyrics about women in the current climate.
An out-of-this-world blues guitarist who eventually stroke it big by incorporating this genre with more poppy vibes. Often found jamming in smaller clubs these days!
A quirky wordsmith with a penchant for politically engaged lyrics and a multi-instrumentalist with a talent for catchy tunes – many of his choruses have become so popular that they have become catchphrases.
What started as an electronic-rock band led by brothers Francesco and Federico Zampaglione became a one-man operation after a rift between the two. Now Federico performs using the band name, with a more AOR type output.
Italy’s very own songbird has collected collaborations with the late Donna Summer & Ray Charles, as well as Mina, Alicia Keys, Lionel Richie or Herbie Hancock – a soul singer who flirts with dance, rock and blues.