The Italians are coming – but these particular Italians are bringing music, not, as in that TV car commercial, the latest model FIAT.
The Hit Week artists represent a range of today’s Italian music, from traditional Southern Italian folk (Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino) to pop (Marco Mengoni) to DJ culture (Nicola Conte) to the difficult-to-classify (Franco Battiato, Musica Nuda). Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino and Nicola Conte will perform at Miami’s Hollywood ArtsPark October 5 and at New York’s Highline Ballroom October 8; Franco Battiato appears at the Highline October 9 for the first in a pair of shows with Musica Nuda, before heading to Toronto for an October 10 appearance at the Phoenix Concert Theatre. Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino then offers a California concert double header on October 11 at UCLA and October 12 at Taste of Italy Los Angeles. Marco Mengoni will play two shows on October 29-30 at Hit Week Live, part of the Billboard Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music Conference in Hollywood.
Hit Week was created to shatter stereotypes often associated with contemporary Italian music and its place in the international music scene – that of Italian music as lightweight and/or operatic pop. Hit Week since its inception has exposed audiences to the rich diversity of Italy’s music, and this year’s version is no exception. After debuting in Los Angeles in 2010, the festival has since touched down in New York, Washington DC, Miami, Toronto and Montreal, as well as Beijing and Shanghai and Rio de Janeiro.
The headliners of this year’s Hit Week are Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – CGS for short – a septet from Salento, in Italy’s southern Puglia region. The band, which specializes in pizzica tarantata, a powerfully rhythmic traditional music with ancient roots, has been building a growing and devoted following since they began touring in North America several years ago. Led by Mauro Durante, a virtuoso violinist, percussionist and singer, CGS is a captivating and unique ensemble whose concerts win raves from critics and fans. (Reviewing their June 2013 show at New York’s Joe’s Pub, the New York Times said, “Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino lets the pizzica sing.”) They’re not only today’s premier exponents of pizzica – they’ve become a must-see attraction on the world music scene, including the WOMAD festival founded by Peter Gabriel and New York City’s globalFEST.
CGS has been touring in support of their latest album, Pizzica Indiavolata (the title roughly translates as “Demonic Pizzica”), a first-rate collection of traditional and updated pizzica, soulful ballads and work songs. The album, which features guest appearances by Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and the Anglo-Italian singer-songwriter Piers Faccini, entered the World Music Charts in Europe at #2 in December 2012 and was released internationally earlier this year.
Franco Battiato, from Sicily, is a 68-year-old singer, songwriter and composer who, since the 1970s, has been one of the most original figures in Italian music, straddling pop, progressive rock and classical. At Hit Week Battiato will perform music from his four-decade career, backed by a rock quartet. His recordings include Fetus, an influential prog-rock album released in 1971 and re-released in 2006; 1978's L'Egitto prima delle sabbie (Egypt Before the Sands), winner of a Stockhausen Prize for piano composition; La Voce del Padrone (The Boss’ Voice), from 1981; Fleurs, from 1999, the first of three albums of cover versions of pop classics, including the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday”; 2007’s Il Vuoto (The Void) and 2012’s Apriti sesamo (Open Sesame).
Joining Battiato as special guests are Petra Magoni and Ferruccio Spinetti, the beguiling vocalist and resourceful bassist who make up Musica Nuda. True to their name, the duo strips down musical compositions to their essence, regardless of style or genre. But the minimalist format never sounds thin or insubstantial; this naked music comes very well dressed. Magoni and Spinetti have five critically-praised albums to their credit, including their self-titled 2003 debut, followed by Musica Nuda 2, a 2006 double album featuring such guest artists as the great jazz pianist Stefano Bollani and the guitarist Fausto Mesolella, best-known for his work with the band Avion Travel.
Nicola Conte, a DJ and producer, is internationally known for his “lounge jazz” style that draws from bossa nova and Italian movie soundtracks of the 1960s and 1970s. A classically-trained musician, Conte founded the Fez Collective in the southern Italian city of Bari and Schema Records, a label specializing in “acid jazz” and other jazz styles.
At 24, Marco Mengoni represents a new generation of Italian singer-songwriters. He first achieved fame in Italy in 2009 when he won the third series of the Italian talent show, “X Factor.” He released two extended play recordings, Dove si vola and Re matto, followed by his first full-length studio album, Solo 2.0, in 2010. In 2010, he also became the first Italian artist to win the MTV Europe Music Award for Best European Act. In 2013, he was selected to represent Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest, where he performed “L'essenziale.” The song, a hit single in Italy, is included in Mengoni’s album, #prontoacorrere, his fourth release to reach the number one spot on the Italian Albums Chart.