Italian funk: between past and present

Italian funk: between past and present

In the 1980s there was talk of the phenomenon of “italo disco”, a series of disco music productions from the Italian market exported to the world. We can also talk about “Italian funk”? Certainly not on a commercial and visibility level, however there is a beautiful and valid artistic tradition in this stylistic field that has crossed our country since the 70s to regain strength in this current decade of the new millennium.

Funk is a black, Afro-American genre born in the 1960s. Made of rhythm and groove, it feeds on jazz, soul and rhythm and blues marked by a marked rhythmic base in which the evident and pulsating bass is particularly characterized. The mix between funk and various other elements gave rise to disco music and is closely linked to the birth of rap but has also “hybridized” itself with rock (just think of Prince or ai Jamiroquai or even more i Red Hot Chili Peppers to name just a few).

This genre made its first appearances in Italy in the 70s, also passing through cinema, often used as a soundtrack in the “poliziotteschi” films of the middle of that decade, soundtracks which at the beginning of the millennium inspired the 35 caliber who pushed on the funk side.

In its contamination with rock, funk is also found in the early music of Pino Danielethe blackest, least Mediterranean and black one Central Naples mixed with jazz. Even the Milanese Alberto Radius is to be listed among the first “funk men” with his “In the ghetto” published in 1977, as, in the same year, Eugenio Finardi with “Diesel”.

In that period even the songwriting and light was fascinated by funk and we find this Patti Pravo who in 1976 published “Doctor Funky” And “Berta was spinning” Of Rino Gaetanor, both oozing funk.

During the days of the Sanremo Festival, a true champion of funk came back into the spotlight: Pine of Anjouwho in the 80s mixed this music with proto rap, producing among many other things the famous hit “But which idea“, that the BNKR 44 they proposed again with the presence of the same author in the cover evening at the Sanremo Festival 2024 (where funk was also “embraced” by the The Kolors).

Pino D’Angiò (of Campania origins) also arrives from the 70s; his first single, “Are you free, excuse me?”, was released in 1979. It was he who brought it to 1987 Mina to funk (mixing it with blues) writing “But who is that there”.

Borderlines between funk, jazz, R&B and soul arrive at the end of the 80s Paolo Belli with his Bicycle Thieveswhich with the song of the same name went to Sanremo 1989. Also the debut album from 1989 (titled “bike thieves”) contains a true funk manifesto: “Doctor Jazz and Mr. Funk”.

In 1990 came the great success with Francesco Baccini: “Under this sun” with which they won the Festivalbar. The single was the fourth best-selling 45 of the year. It was also the last production with Paolo Belli within the group.
In ’87 Enzo Jannacci he is enchanted by funk/R&B/disco with his “It takes an ear” written together with Gino and Michele and, again from the same album, “Silvano” (with text by Cochi and Renato).

Between the ’80s and ’90s, a beardless man also appeared on the music scene Jovanotti which by bringing rap to Italy undeniably has a relationship, if not direct, at least tangential with funk, as demonstrated “Jovanotti for President” his debut album from 1988 which especially in “Funk Lab” marries this style. Even in the rest of his career Lorenzo will have a closeness to funk in some episodes.

In the 90s the most successful funk/R&B group in our country appeared on the scene: the Florentines Diverts to Cubawith the voice of Simona Bencini. Born in ’89 (and still on the scene), they made their recording debut in 1994 with the overwhelming “Jealousy” which anticipates the album “Diverts to Cuba” of 1995 (platinum record) from which 4 other singles were extracted.

From the same 90s are the Say it againborn in 1991 between Reggio Emilia and Mantua who first combined funk with jazz as can be heard in their first single “Postcards” a rereading of a song by Mina (1967). Their biggest success came in 1997 with “Children of a lucky star” more markedly funk.

The Genoese were the ones to act as a link between the ’90s and the ’00s Busbar and the singer’s subsequent solo production Bobby Soul (Alberto De Benedetti) with his thousand projects.

To them we can add the engaging ones Funk Off, marchin’ band from Vicchio, a town in Mugello in Tuscany which was the birthplace of Giotto and Beato Angelico. The latter, formed in 1998, have a great deal of contact abroad and an infinite number of concerts which often, as in the best New Orleans tradition, take place on the street.

The first decade of the new millennium is perhaps the poorest in terms of significant funk productions (apart from the ones already mentioned 35 caliber), is a time when it seems that this style has lost strength. It was like this at least until the second half of the 1910s, when a handful of bands arrived that had funk at their origin and base but with a great hybridization that saw the presence of African and strongly Mediterranean influences.

Those who will be the Savana Funk were born in 2015 in Bologna as a trio and then took on their definitive name with the 2017 album of the same name, also becoming a quartet. The proposal of the Bolognese has a funk rhythmic base but a great contamination, especially of African origin, which makes it an interesting and “experimental” project.

Contemporary with Savana Funk are Nu Genea (formerly Nu Guinea), Neapolitan duo (based in Berlin), whose birth dates back to 2014 and their recording debut in 2016 with an EP which was followed by an album in collaboration with Tony Allen, former drummer of Fela Kuti. The first album arrives in 2018New Naples” in which funk is the basis for electronic, African and Mediterranean derivations. Their consensus grows, thanks also to an intense and interesting live activity, up to the last album “Mediterranean bar” dating back to 2022.

To conclude, we would like to point out two of the most recent proposals that move within the broader field of funk: The Ice Cream Wizard hey Petunia Sauce. The former come from Milan (Via Padova, Nolo area) and make a blend of funk, R&B and Mediterranean flavours. They have an EP (“Cursed that night”) published in October 2023. More “traditionally funk” are the newborns from Forlì Petunia Sauce who at the moment have only one single but are working on their first record release.

This is the past and present history of a music that invites dance and which has spread throughout the world, including our country. In addition to the more visible and more concrete experiences, there is a very active “Italian funk” scene, made up of many names and debuting artists, some interesting, who start from this very genre and more or less rigorously and respectfully follow its path and rhythmic teaching. Names to discover and perhaps to follow in their live releases, because it is precisely in the context of the concert that funk music is at its best.

In this process of discovery or rediscovery, streaming platforms lend a hand. In fact, there are several compilations available to listen to to understand what this genre is and what it was, the state of health and the creative level in our country. Remembering all the new experiences would become a pure and sterile list, it is better to let ourselves be guided, for once, by the algorithms.