(By Giusy Di Filippo, College of the Holy Cross)
In 2003 Italy said farewell to Giorgio Gaber—singer-songwriter, comedy writer, actor, stand-up comedian, guitarist, and theatre director, among the most influential personalities of post-war Italian entertainment and music—and collectively could not stop singing the popular hit “Siamo fuori dal tunnel” (“We Are Out of the Tunnel”). Used as the official theme song of the popular television program Zelig and as an unofficial soundtrack in some Mediaset network broadcasts such as Big Brother and Amici di Maria De Filippi, the song was an immediate success and a television phenomenon.The singer-songwriter was Caparezza, and paradoxically, the lyrics of the song were an invective against contrived Saturday night entertainment programs and certain types of junk TV, often devoid of content and meaning (“io, immune al pattume della tv di costume” [“I, immune to the garbage of costume TV”]).
The immediate radio and TV success of this single from the 2003 album Verità supposte (“Supposed Truths”, punning on the double entendre of supposte, also meaning “suppository”) led the singer-songwriter to voice his hurt feelings on the Internet about the inappropriate use of his songs. However, despite his wishes, the whole situation turned Caparezza into a mass phenomenon and allowed him to establish himself on the music scene. The beginnings of his career were not easy; Caparezza started his career in Milan in 1995 performing melodic rap and hip-hop songs under the stage name Mikimix. In 1995 and 1997, he participated in the Sanremo Festivals under the “New Artists” section, but was unable to make a name for himself as a singer-songwriter. After five years and little success, he returned to his hometown of Molfetta in the province of Bari where he began a new artistic journey. He underwent a total change of appearance and musical style, rejecting his past and openly making fun of it.
Since 2003, undoubtedly an eventful year for the artist, Caparezza (“curly head” in Apulian dialect) has come to public attention with a music that blends very different styles. The lyrics criticize society with a pungent irony alongside rather fantastic and surreal metaphors. Heavily influenced by Frank Zappa—in 1999 he released a demo called “Zappa,” and he referred to Zappa in his 2008 song “La Rivoluzione del Sessintutto” (“The Revolution of Sex in Everything,” exploiting the assonance with Sessantotto, the year 1968, which brought a cultural revolution to most of the Western world)—he is also known for concept albums that blend together musical genres.
In 2000 Caparezza released his first album, ?!, with fourteen tracks that are mostly remakes of songs originally released on previous demos (“Con Caparezza…nella Monnezza” (“With Caparezza…in the Trash”), “Ricomincio da Capa” (“I’m Starting Again from the Top”), and “Zappa”). However, Caparezza did not achieve widespread success until his second album: Verità Supposte (2003). In his second album, as he begins incorporating rock and roll, the singer-songwriter also confronts various problems that had been distressing Italian social reality through the end of the old millennium and into the beginning of the new. The topics covered are, among others, war (“Follie preferenziali” [“Preferential Follies”], which puns on the assonance with “corsie preferenziali,”, “fast lanes”), artistic discrimination (“Nessuna razza” [“No Race”]), the decline of television (“L’età dei figuranti” [“The Age of Participants”]), and the social influence of the entertainment industry (“Fuori dal tunnel” [“Out of the Tunnel”]). In particular, in “Vengo dalla Luna” (“I Come from the Moon”), the songwriter discusses the fear of difference through the story of an alien (Caparezza) who comes to Earth and is astonished by humanity’s racism:
Io vengo dalla luna che il cielo vi attraversa
e trovo inopportuna la paura per una cultura diversa
chi su di me riversa la sua follia perversa
arriva al punto che quando mi vede sterza
vuole mettermi sotto ‘sto signorotto
che si fa vanto del santo attaccato sul cruscotto
non ha capito che sono disposto
a stare sotto, solamente quando fotto.
[I come from the moon that moves across your sky
and I find fear of different cultures inappropriate
whoever pours out his perverse madness on me
gets to the point that when he sees me steering
he wants to put me beneath this gentleman
who prides himself on the saint attached to his dashboard
he didn’t realize I’m only willing
to stay beneath when I fuck.]
The songs from his third album, 2006’s Habemus Capa, don’t claim to be catchy at all. Caparezza uses even more scathing irony with particular attention to Italian politics. “Inno verdano” (“Verdant Hymn”) and “Insetti del podere” (“Insects on the Farm”) criticize the right-wing Northern League of Umberto Bossi, while “Ninna nanna di Mazzarò” (“Mazzarò’s Lullaby”) and again “Insetti del podere” refer rather openly to Silvio Berlusconi. Released simultaneously with his book Saghe mentali Viaggio allucinante in una testa di capa (“Mental Sagas: The Mind-Boggling Journey Inside the Head of a ‘Capa’”; Rizzoli, 2008), Caparezza’s fourth album, Le dimensioni del mio caos (“The Size of My Chaos”), is a concept album with lighter tracks, in both tone and instrumentation. Caparezza defines this album as a “photo novel.” While blending more traditional hip hop with rap and an obvious rock component, Caparezza continues his sociopolitical criticism at various levels. The singer-songwriter explores hidden and illicit infiltrations in Italy in “La grande opera” (“The Great Work”) and “Non mettere le mani in tasca” (“Don’t Put Your Hands in Your Pockets”), and the precarious conditions of workers in “Eroe” (“Hero”). In “Vieni a ballare in Puglia” (“Come and Dance in Puglia”)—wrongly considered by many to be simply a joyful dance anthem—the singer-songwriter combines various musical genres (from folk to rap) with lyrics that ironically describe work-related fatalities, pollution, and illegal hiring, all of which remain serious issues in Apulia. The title of the song is itself a strong provocation: the term “ballare” (“to dance”) in fact means “to die.” (“Vieni a ballare in Puglia, Puglia, Puglia / tremulo come una foglia, foglia, foglia / tieni la testa alta quando passi vicino alla gru/perché può capitare che si stacchi e venga giù” [“Come and dance in Puglia, Puglia, Puglia / shaky like a leaf, leaf, leaf / keep your head up when you pass by the crane / because it could become unattached and fall down”]). Looking at the past (’68) with one eye upon the present, the singer-songwriter emphasizes the change in the values of young people in “La rivoluzione del sessintutto” (“The Revolution of Sex in Everything”), “Ilaria condizionata” (“Hilary Conditioned”), and “Io diventerò qualcuno” (“I Will Become Someone”).
With a rock-pop style and desecratingly ironic lyrics, Caparezza challenges the established cultural and religious value system in the album Il sogno eretico (“The Heretical Dream”; 2011). He sings about a famous scientist and philosopher who, after death, sends everything and everyone to hell (“Il dito medio di Galileo” [“Galileo’s Middle Finger”]) and of a God who loathes the Mass (“Messa in moto” [“Set/Mass in Motion”; in Italian the words “mass” and “set” are homonyms]). There are also references to contemporary politics (“Legalize the premier,” “Non siete Stato voi” [“It Wasn’t You/You Are Not the State”], “Goodbye Malinconia” [“Goodbye Melancholy”]). In “Non siete Stato voi,” Caparezza strongly condemns the Italian ruling class for its hypocrisy and its inability to manage or govern Italy. Caparezza calls out, among others, the politicians who create propaganda by exploiting migrants and passing laws for their own benefit. The final part of the song expresses this concept quite clearly:
Non siete Stato voi, servi, che avete noleggiato
costumi da sovrani con soldi immeritati
siete voi confratelli di una loggia che poggia
sul valore dei privilegiati come voi
che i mafiosi li chiamate eroi
e che il corrotto lo chiamate pio
e ciascuno di voi, implicato in ogni sorta di reato
fissa il magistrato e poi giura su Dio.
[It wasn’t you, servants, who rented
costumes from sovereigns with undeserved money
you are the brethren of a lodge that rests
on the values of privileged people like you
you call the mobsters heroes
and you call the corrupt pious
and each of you, implicated in all sorts of offenses
stares at the magistrate and then swears an oath to God.]
Caparezza’s sixth album Museica, released in 2014, includes rock melodies that discuss the influence of art (“Teste di Modì” [“Heads of Modì”], “Mica Van Gogh” [“More Than Van Gogh”], “Comunque Dada” [“Anyway Dada”], “China Town,” “Cover”), evoke art in terms of human emotions (“Sfogati” [“Let It Out”], “Non me lo posso permettere” [“I can’t allow myself”], “Fai da tela” [“Make Your Own Canvas”], “Kitaro”), and highlights the violence plaguing the world (“Argenti vive” [“Argenti Lives”]). The concept album Prisoner 709 (2017) differs greatly from the previous ones in terms of themes and musical styles. While being much more introspective than the previous albums, the album includes a larger electronic component that helps create the suffocating atmosphere of an imaginary prison: “cantavo per fuggire dal mondo in un solo slancio, / ora che cantare è il mio mondo ne sono ostaggio” (“I sang to escape the world in a single bound, / now singing is my world and I am hostage to it”) (“Prosopagno sia!”). This new direction is the result of a major change in the artist’s life: in 2015 he acknowledged for the first time that he was suffering from tinnitus. Heavily affected in the way he perceives himself as an artist, in these songs Caparezza expresses the suffering and sense of imprisonment that grips him. After this most recent album, he announced: “I will return when I have something new to say.” His admirers wait with bated breath.