We are reminded of the upcoming Sanremo Song Festival by the Italian Notes, a site that gifts us with a list of favorite popular Italian songs.
The Sanremo festival is held in February.
The festival is said to have spawned larger song competitions like the Eurovision Song Contest, but there’s something to be said for tradition. Sanremo or San Remo is a great town to visit in Liguria; La Pigna, the medieval core of Sanremo, is a world unto itself, a world of old houses leaning on each other on a steep hill, a shadowy and slightly shabby character to it all that keeps you alert as you wind uphill squeezed into the narrow crevices that pass for streets. Age and tradition, dusty and alive, makes the heart beat faster. Sanremo is no longer fashoinable as a destination to Americans, but heck, it’s a place I’d go back to for sure.
We leave important corners in our hearts for those old and traditional things that seem romantic to us (often for reasons we can’t explain), remembering fondly random castle ruins, rotting barns, the old songs our mothers hummed. I have a spot reserved for the Italian songs of the 50s and early 60s, the dolce vita era when Italy’s songwriters looked across the pond for jazzy inspiration and then ran with it. My favorite compilation from this period is Italian Cafe. Fred Buscaglione, who died after driving his pink Thunderbird into an oncoming truck, kicks the whole thing off with one of my favorites, Juke Box. Giorgio Conte, the younger brother of Paolo, sings the odd and unsentimental “Gnè gnè” with much the same gravely bass voice as his brother (the English translation of the title is evidently “Blah, blah”). Giorgio was a lawyer until he gave up his legal career in 2003 to concentrate on singing.
Here’s Giorgio singing a rather subdued version of Gnè gnè:
Music is a path to a long life if you don’t kill yourself in a car. Music can also be a great way to learn a language I’m told by folks younger and smarter than I.