Rodolfo De Angelis, "the first singer-songwriter"

Rodolfo De Angelis, “the first singer-songwriter”

His real name, Rodolfo Tonino, doesn't say much. But when you pronounce his stage name, Rodolfo De Angelis, then… the mystery remains, especially for the new generations. Who was this? Simply the protagonist of the Italian song of the 1930s, one of the most fruitful eras of our music especially thanks to the radio, inaugurated by Mussolini in 1924 as the Italian Radio Union and which in 1927 became Eiar, the Italian Radio Auditions Body. A powerful tool for the fascist party – like cinema, after all – to attract the great masses, entertain them, make them sing and dance to the rhythm of tango, jazz and foxtrot, the “negroid music” as the regime called it, but also to very Italian and not necessarily very fascist songs.

In that era, masterpieces of eternal melodies were born such as “Bring me many roses”, “Don't forget me”, “Don't forget my words”, “I would like you for just one hour”, “But not love”, ” Talk to me about love Mariù”, “I want to live like this”, and sublime voices such as Anna Fougez, Elvira Donnarumma, Carlo Buti, Beniamino Gigli, Natalino Otto, Alberto Rabagliati, the Trio Lescano alternate at the Eiar microphone. Obviously the schedules, between one bulletin and another, overflowed with propaganda songs, from “Giovinezza” to “Faccia nera”, from “Battaglioni M” to “La sagra di Giarabub”, to the point that the Duce's opponents ironically renamed the radio “Eiar Eiar Alalà”.

And this is precisely the title that, a century later, accompanies the book dedicated to “Songs on the radio from 1924 to 1944”, published by Baldini and Castoldi and created by Federico Pistone and Franco Zanetti with contributions from Francesco Guccini, Vincenzo Mollica and Riccardo Bertoncelli. There are 130 cards that tell the story of that era through as many songs. Among these, and so we return to the start, those of Rodolfo De Angelis stand out, a brilliant artist born and raised artistically in Naples where he met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and contributed to the drafting of the Futurist Manifesto.

Disliked by the fascist regime for his creative excesses (he is also a painter, writer, actor and playwright, as well as a singer-songwriter ante litteram), he understands that the only hope of surviving artistically speaking is coexistence, a different concept from connivance.

De Angelis, or Rodeangelis as he calls himself, produces splendid songs, writes them, plays them and often performs them, always remaining in balance with the songs of the branch, those banned because they say and don't say but in fact they mock Mussolini and of the hierarchs, such as “Bombolo”, “Crapa pelada”, “Pippo doesn't know it” or “Maramao why are you dead”. De Angelis is more refined and therefore even more elusive. Like when, in 1933, he recorded “But. What is this crisis?” an unresolved question in a period of sacrifice for Italians. Is he making fun of the Duce or is he praising him? That nasal voice and the initial raspberries would lean towards the first hypothesis, but the regime lets it go because the song becomes a success on the radio and on home gramophones. .

In the same year, De Angelis produces another two-faced song, even more brazen and courageous, “Once… there was no Mussolini”, which makes the fascists and the Duce himself tremble: alignment or sarcasm? Does he deserve a “manly” handshake or a truncheon? The author really wants to achieve the result of uncertainty, confusion, suspicion, between irony and deference. In fact, when “there was still no Mussolini”, the Italian Parliament was a sort of battlefield with bickering and unstable governments and with the fascist party at the gates. How to interpret a text like this?

Once upon a time, Parliament often discussed things but achieved nothing
Only it was the combative comrade's duty to bring down the Ministry
Once upon a time there was no Mussolini…
Today instead we have Mussolini…
The law decree is approved unanimously: long live the Duce!

Also in 1933, the forty-year-old De Angelis composed “The Millions of the Lottery” – a foxtrot brought to success by the singer Crivel – with reference to the Tripoli Grand Prix of 7 May on the Mellaha circuit, built by the regime on a salt lake in Tripolitania, between desert and sea. The fascist party, with the Automobile Club of Tripoli, invented a prize competition which met with resounding success: in a few days 7 and a half million coupons were sold at 12 lire each (equivalent to a kilo of meat) for an income of 15 million, a shocking figure at the time which was used by the party to finance cultural projects (such as the Viareggio Carnival, the Historical Regatta of Venice and the creation of the Universal Exhibition of Rome) and by Italians to dream. Beyond the match involving legends such as Varzi, Nuvolari and Borzacchini, the lottery becomes a popular and highly anticipated event, accompanied by De Angelis' song, always halfway between ironic and celebratory.

With a lottery ticket and a little bit of imagination
For a few months you can dream that wealth is about to arrive
If hope in this world is everything, you can buy it with a few lire

In Rodeangelis' colossal repertoire, “Sanzionami questo” stands out, which he himself sings a year after the heavy sanctions decided by the League of Nations in 1935 to punish Italian colonial initiatives. The song, like it or not, becomes a true anthem of national pride against the arrogant excessive power of France and above all of England, the hated Albion, ancient name of Great Britain, the “former friend of mine”, in reference to alliance in the Great War, envious of Italian beauties, of the “divine music”, of the “sense of poetry”, of the “artists who gave the inter world the light of life and thought”. In short, behind the European sanctions would hide the wicked jealousy of a betrayed lover who deserves only mockery and derision, with even scurrilous references to further increase the tension:

Everything you do is done out of jealousy, my former friend
Because you too would like to experience this hour of heroism and virtue
But you can't and I know it so, my dear, I will sing
Sanction me for this, if you are capable, I know you're sorry but what do I care?

In 1975, another underrated theater artist, Paolo Poli, revived “Sanzionami questo” with his sister Lucia with all the panache of vaudeville.

In 1937 De Angelis, in the song “Schiocca la frustra”, also attacks the theater (“which sometimes makes you sleep and never makes you dream”), the press (“the great informant who everywhere has her paw” and even with the same radio (“which is frying in that cupboard”) courageously defined as “an instrument that broadcasts the advertising of cheese and salami, and you pay to listen to it: so that those who never wanted to hear it have to suffer today, and pay him more.”

The genius, courage and irony of Rodolfo De Angelis died only on 2 April 1965 in Milan.