By Marianna Orsi (University of Hawaii at Manoa)
Born in Rome in 1964, Paola Turci is one of the most original voices among singer-songwriters of the so-called Scuola Romana. At the age of eleven she started to play guitar. Gino Paoli’s Il cielo in una stanza was the first song she learned. Pino Daniele, Franco Battiato, Antonello Venditti, Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, Joni Mitchell were part of her music training. She described herself as a shy teenager, short on self-confidence, who found her way in music. Following the #metoo movement, Turci has also revealed that as a thirteen years old girl, she was victim of sexual harassment; the song Fiore di giardino (Tra i fuochi in mezzo al cielo, 2005) about that experience. Before her twenties she started to perform in nightclubs in Rome. She took part in the Festival di Sanremo in 1986 but was not selected for the final. Turci, however, competed again in 1987, 1988 and 1989, and all three times she received the prominent Premio della critica, awarded by a board of journalists (and created a few years before for singer-songwriter Mia Martini). In 1989 directors of Fonit Cetra proposed Turci to perform Mia Martini’s hit Almeno tu nell’universo, written in 1972 by composer Maurizio Fabrizio and singer-songwriter Bruno Lauzi. Turci refused, and never regretted her choice, as confirmed in several interviews. The song was performed at the Festival of Sanremo by Mia Martini and was a big success. Turci chose instead Bambini, written by Roberto Righini and Alfredo Rizzo, describing children victims of violence around the world. Turci won Sanremo music contest in the category emerging artists, and Bambini became one of her most famous and significant songs.
In 1993 Turci wrote her first song: “Stato di calma apparente”, an introspective piece focusing on her restless personality and her creative process. Between 1992 and 1993 she took acting classes with actress Beatrice Bracco. Turci stated that she was “unhappy and restless” at that time, and her friend, actor Gianmarco Tognazzi, suggested acting as a form of therapy. Later Turci was auditioned by film director Ettore Scola even though not selected for the movie. In that phase, as the artist claimed later, she “wasn’t a happy person” but, at the same time, she was feeling an “amazing sense of omnipotence”. On August 1993 Turci underwent a life-changing experience that deeply influenced her life, career and artistic production. While driving to a concert, distracted by her mobile phone, she had a terrible accident. Seriously injured, got more than one hundred surgical stitches on her face, and in the following months underwent thirteen surgeries. Turci abandoned her acting projects, but, despite a partially disfigured face, performed in several concerts, covering scars with her hair. The song Volo così (Volo così, 1996), presented in Sanremo 1996, described her rebirth after this traumatic experience. The artist, however, explicitly talked about the accident only many years later. In 2000 Turci started her collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter Carmen Consoli; together they wrote “Saluto l’inverno” and “Sabbia bagnata” (Mi basta il Paradiso, 2000), with the first she competed in Sanremo in 2000. For the album Giorni di rose, 2001, Turci interpreted songs written by several female singer-songwriters: Carmen Consoli, Nada Malanima, Marina Rei, Chiara Civello, Naif Hérin, Grazia Verasani and Ginevra Di Marco, and “Lunaspina,” written by Ivano Fossati for Fiorella Mannoia. In the years 2000s Turci tried several times to participate again in Sanremo music contest, but she was repeatedly rejected. In 2014 she published the autobiography Mi amerò lo stesso (‘I will love myself all the same), whose title echoes her own song “Ti amerò lo stesso” (‘I will love you all the same’, Paola Turci, 1989). In 2016, in Milan, she performed for the first time as an actress in a theater, with a monologue from her autobiography. This was also the first time she addressed publicly and explicitly the car accident occurred in 1993. In 2015 she released Io sono, a collection of her most famous songs. The album cover shows a close up of the artist and her scars: is the first time since 1993. In 2017, after 16 years from the last participation, Turci competed in Sanremo festival, and, for the first time since 1993, she did not cover her scars during the performance. The autobiographic song presented, “Fatti bella per te” (“Be beautiful for yourself”), in fact, talks about a new idea of beauty, no longer focused on stereotypes or influenced by other people’s opinions. Turci ranked fifth in the contest; her presence was a success. Like “Io sono,” the cover image of the album Il secondo cuore, 2017, shows her face in its entirety, it portrays indeed her left and right profiles facing one another. Several interviews followed the 2017 performance in Sanremo, and Turci revealed details about her accident, the trauma, the consequences on her life and career. She explained, for instance, that she had always considered herself unattractive, but, while hospitalized and recovering from her injuries, finding a picture of herself on a newspaper, like in an epiphany, she discovered her beauty and promised to pronounce never again the word ‘ugly’ (https://www.iodonna.it/personaggi/interviste-gallery/2016/09/22/paola-turci-si-racconta-a-teatro-dopo-lincidente-ho-voluto-solo-essere-normale/). She was again in Sanremo in 2019 with “L’ultimo ostacolo” (“The Last Obstacle”) a song elaborating on the loss of her father.
Turci has always been very committed politically, as showed by songs such as “Bambini” (1989), “Armata fino ai denti” (2002), “Un bel sorriso in facia” (2002), “Rwanda” (2005), and to charity, actively collaborating with humanitarian projects by Emergency, Amnesty International and the Francesca Rava Foundation, especially in Haiti.
Before 1993 Paola Turci interpreted only covers (such as “Mi chiamo Luka,” Italian version of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”) or songs written by male authors (including prominent singer-songwriters such as Riccardo Cocciante, Francesco De Gregori, Luca Barbarossa, Luca Carboni, Gaetano Curreri).
Her first album, “Sarò bellissima” (“I will be so beautiful”), 1988, includes mainly love songs describing a conventional female figure looking for a soulmate (“Ragazza sola, ragazza blu”), or completely focused on her lover, whose presence makes her and the world more beautiful (Sarò bellissima), for whom she cries and sings longing for his hugs and kisses (“Trasmissione radiofonica d’amore,” “Quanto ho tenuto ai miei pensieri,” “Lettera d’amore d’inverno”). Similarly the second album, Paola Turci, 1989, portrays a woman devoted to an eternal love, always forgiving her man (“Ti amerò lo stesso,” “Due donne”). Although the third, Ritorno al presente (‘Return to the present’), 1990, focused on contemporary issues and social themes, in this album the conventionally patriarchal vision of women culminates in the female figure begging her lover to give her a child (“Dammi un figlio”), while, on the other hand, only the male figure seems entitled to travel and adventure (“Frontiera”). Candido (1991) also include similar references (“Dove colpire,” “Con una chitarra,” “Jane”). Ragazze (Girls, 1993), is a turning point. It includes, in fact, the first songs written by Turci: Il suono delle nuvole, Sola, La ragazza di Roma (lyrics), Io nella notte, La casa sul mare (music). Sola still depicts the prototype of the abandoned woman, the other songs authored by Turci, instead, describe women in a more active role. In Il suono delle nuvole (‘The sound of clouds’) a woman breaks up with her man pointing out how he is the one unable to understand. The female protagonist is the subject of any action, verbs are in the active form, while in previous songs were often in the passive (Io non ti amo più e non parlo più di te… non hai capito il senso della vita intorno a te… chi nel tempo incontrerò io lo capirò… prenderò la verità… e ascolto, ‘I don’t love you anymore and I don’t talk about you… you didn’t understand the sense of life around you… the one I will meet in time, I will understand them… I will take the truth… I listen). Moreover introspection plays a role in the narration: risento dentro me il rumore della mia felicità ‘I feel again inside me the sound of my happiness’, e ascolto il suono delle nuvole che mi guardano, che mi parlano, ‘and I listen to the sound of clouds, that talks to me’. Similarly in La ragazza di Roma, the woman has better awareness and is the one stealing the lover’s heart (e rubandoti il cuore ti dirà: tu mai lo capirai quanto amore non saprai ‘stealing your heart she will tell you: you will never understand how much love, you will never know’). Although written with Adriano Pennino, and although a reference to a distant lover (in questo mare degli occhio tuoi, nella tempesta degli occhi tuoi, ‘in this ocean in your eyes, in the storm of your eyes’) Stato di calma apparente is an introspective song, focused on the female protagonist, on her physical and symbolical journey, on her elaborating memories by writing, planning a change in her life. A restless woman, able to adapt to the challenges of life, looking for new adventures. A woman reappropriating the act of travelling (sono sul mio treno, ‘I am on my train’), the act of observing and reflecting on the world, and the creative process (scrivo piano riflettendo ‘I write slowly meditating’). A woman observing from the distance other women living a more conventional role as mothers and housewives (mamme coi bambini, affacciate dalle case ‘mothers with children appearing at the windows), a woman living independently, despite her distant lover, not in function of him, and looking for a change (sul bisogno di cambiare dentro me fuori e dentro me ‘the need of change in me, outside and inside me’).
In 1993 Paola Turci was victim of a serious car accident (see bio). Volo così has often been defined as a song of rebirth after that life changing experience. I would rather define it a song of reappropriation. Like Stato di calma apparente, despite the presence of a love, supposedly tormented (questo amore in tutte le versioni, ‘this love in all of its versions’), the woman is the only protagonist, the man is a silent interlocutor (adesso no ti prego non parlare ‘now, no, please don’t talk’). The woman is the one leaving (e scusa se ti faccio male, se me ne vado via così ‘and sorry if I hurt you, if I leave like this’), probably not breaking up with him, but taking some time for a symbolic journey, during which she reappropriates dreams, hopes, love, and ultimately her life, for a new beginning, with no fear of mistakes (volo nel cuore di chi ha voglia di sbagliare ‘I fly in the heart of who wants to make mistakes’) or dangers (volo nel sole perché ho voglia di bruciare ‘I fly in the sun because I want to burn’). Turci describes a woman reclaiming her life, as in Stato di calma apparente, a life of travel, adventures and freedom, powerfully symbolized by the act of flying.