Farewell to Giovanna Marini, queen of popular and social songs

Farewell to Giovanna Marini, queen of popular and social songs

Goodbye to Giovanna Marini. The queen of Italian popular and social song passed away today at the age of 87. Defined as the “Italian Joan Baez”, she also collaborated with Francesco De Gregori: together they also recorded an album in 2002, “Il whistle of the steam”, which included some popular songs from the history of Italian music.

Giovanna Marini, Roman, daughter of the composer Giovanni Salviucci and student of Andres Segovia, was one of the most important “storytellers”, as she liked to define herself, on the Italian musical scene. It was the early 1960s when the artist met and associated with famous intellectuals and writers such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino, Roberto Leydi, Gianni Bosio and Diego Carpitella who introduced her to popular songs and author songs. In the following years Marini participated in the history of the “Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano” by taking social songs around Italy with various political songwriters including Ivan Della Mea, Gualtiero Bertelli, Paolo Pietrangeli, Giovanna Daffini, the Gruppo di Piadena, and the Pastori of Orgosolo with the poet Peppino Marotto. “A country that is capable of killing a poet is a sick country,” she said, after Pasolini's death. In the 1970s you founded the first popular music school in Italy, that of Testaccio, in the Roman neighborhood of the same name. The album containing some reinterpretations of the social songs resulting from the collaboration with De Gregori, in 2002, was a project that once again reminded the whole of Italy of the depth and greatness of the musician.

In 2006 a collection entitled simply “Anthology” was released. We re-propose our review of the time in its entirety below: it has all the essence of Giovanna Marini.

Unrepentant xenophiles like the writer have learned by listening to Bob Dylan and Anglo-American singer-songwriters, that with a voice and an acoustic guitar you can make noise, renew the musical language, shake the rubber walls of indifference; and that in folk, in traditional music, a living, energetic, current soul often lurks. An anthology album like this serves to remind us, with a hint of pride, that even in our own backyard, music capable of speaking to the hearts, brains and consciences of people has been made and is still being made: even more radical, more partisan , more wedged in the contradictions of the social (its virtue but also its defect, perhaps, if we aim for a broadening of the “consensus”). Giovanna Marini, obviously, is among the most important interpreters and witnesses. And too much credit will never be given to “Il whistle of steam” and to Francesco De Gregori for having contributed to refreshing our memories, three and a half years ago.

“I trains for Reggio Calabria”, the first title in the lineup, marks the point of contact and at the same time the distance between now and then: it was one of the key pieces of that album together with De Gregori but here, in the original 1976 version , really runs at double speed, with a frenetic urgency and an electric tension produced by the proximity of time and place to the events it recounts.

Other times, sure. But up to a certain point, and historical and ideal continuity is one of the keys to understanding Marini's musical journey, as is well demonstrated by the last piece on the programme, “I want miracles”, dated 2002. In the twenty selections that precede it, the intense biography and truly “on the road” life of the protagonist (“Now the time has come”); Above all, the violent and disturbed Italy of the Years of Lead and the strategy of tension, of peasant struggles and hot autumns in the factories, of terrorism and state assassinations, is taking shape again. A dramatic scenario that lived, and lives again, in Marini's “chronicles” as much and better than in a period news bulletin. From a different perspective, moreover: that of the losers, of those who rarely end up on the radio, on television and in the newspapers, of those who suffer history and do not make it (“How much this immobility of mine is made up of fear/it will pass, it will pass but the Who makes history?”, says the text of one of the three unpublished works included in the collection). And here are the small and large, symbolic and ephemeral protagonists, scoundrels and victims of the time, Ciccio Franco of the “executioner who gives up” and the bombs in the South, the murder of Pasolini and Ulrike Meinhof “committed suicide” by her jailers in the ” Germany saving the dollar and saving the lira”; and then the collective dramas and tragedies, those linked to immigration and poverty (“”Muto Carmè”, a very dry and touching funeral lament inspired by the Marcinelle mining disaster, is another of the pieces never published before): stories lived and told with the dramatic and excited participation of a reporter present at the events, a living and bloody matter that Marini, willingly or not, tackles with the air of an intellectual, paying homage to her poet friend murdered at the Idroscalo of Ostia and taking inspiration from Hemingway to tell a well-known episode of the Spanish civil war (“It was Sunday”). And with a musically very, very adventurous spirit (for today's standards, let alone for those of the time), playing with the word and phonetics, rhythm and metric, diction and pronunciation (listen to the colloquially Roman accent with which he introduces “In Zurich someone tells me”).

There are clarinets and trumpets, to underline and enrich the songs, elegant cellos and double basses, free jazz fugues and clear guitar arpeggios, but the human voices (all female) are the true protagonists: capable of mixing in polyphonies with an ancestral or boldly avant-garde (in the classic albums of the Dischi del Sole period such as “Correvano coi carros” or “La grande madre impazzita”, “search for sound fusion between spoken and played”), to retrace the ancient ways of regional songs (“'Ntonuccio” ) and the dynamic dramaturgy of a Greek tragedy (his old passion), to reinvent the African-American blues (the incipit of “I tell you”) and to explore new, sardonic and surreal forms of song theater (“Utopia” plays as a kind of militant musical). The warning of use is a must: not everything will be digestible at the first try, for ears domesticated by the fast food of the pop industry; the voices of Marini and her virtuous collaborators (Lucilla Galeazzi, Annalisa and Tata Di Nola, the Quartetto Vocale Passioni) are far too pure, organic and natural for today's delicate palates, accustomed more to margarine than to mountain butter. But it is worth trying to get closer, because these songs, as Marini herself writes in the liner notes, serve to remember a little-told Italy, and because in the homogenized porridge of today's music the “songwriter has become a precious commodity” who “makes his music with his head, with his hands, like grandma's biscuits”. And you don't even need to have experienced those years firsthand, or to consider Ulrike Meinhof a spotless martyr to find yourself in complete agreement with her.