San Remo 2013 - A Change of Direction
This year’s San Remo, held three weekends ago was arguably one of the best we have seen. It has been a mainstay of Italian music ever since its inception back in 1951. San Remo, a city on Italy’s Ligurian coast, has been heavily influenced by French music and festivals since the turn of the 20th century and its popularity may have also influenced the initiation of the Eurovision Song Contest five years later.
Time and again, San Remo lost its sparkle and was lost in a lot of kitsch. Last year was no exception and apparently the organisers, notably host Fabio Fazio, saw to a better, streamlined set-up and good quality talents – with a leaner budget. There wasn’t the endless talk that constantly characterised previous San Remo Festivals and besides, this year, the organisers decided to dedicate San Remo 2013 to the awareness and prevention of violence towards women and an appeal towards gay rights. Co-host Luciana Littizetto was also very intelligent with her quips and unlike last year, did not come up with anything controversial. The viewers response was tremendous with a record television audience of 53.8 percent of the total audience share, which means around three million viewers. Berlusconi certainly wasn’t happy with such news!
It was indeed, pleasant to watch a feature about Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as an interview with former football star Roberto Baggio about his missionary work with Peruvian mothers in the Andes. There was also a very commovating moment when Antony Hegarthy of Antony and The Johnsons fame recalled the times when he, as a little boy, used to poke fun at his sister, only to value her as the best person on earth, just before he performed his signature song You Are My Sister to an ecstatic audience. It was arguably one of the highest points of this event.
There were also some other notable moments registered by participant talents. This year, San Remo took a different format. The Big Artistes Section (I Big), featured 14 established Italian artistes, who competed with two songs each. During the semi-finals, each artiste saw one of his songs eliminated as a result of the votes received by the public and journalists. Thus, no one from I Big was eliminated.
The Newcomers (Giovani) Section featured eight songs from young upcoming talents, which like I Big were chosen by the organisers from a preliminary round. The winner of I Big would be representing Italy at the forthcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, next May.
Almamegretta who hail from Naples are well known for their ska/world/reggae and dub arrangements and have even worked with Massive Attack and Adrian Sherwood. Their two San Remo offerings, however, weren’t the best and sounded rather incomplete. This would also help explain their very poor showing, as they finished last. Simona Molinari and Peter Cincotti were very nostalgic and very laidback, sounding more like participants from the late 1950s with their songs. They were nonetheless, very pleasant and Cincotti’s jazz arrangements were nice, though not exactly extraordinary. La Felicita` eventually made it through to the finals and finished sixth. Elio e le Storie Tese with their Canzone Mononota were also a bit laidback but fresh, and assertive and finished eighth.
Malika Ayane comes from multi-cultural Milan. She is half-caste and her music can be at times subtle, albeit in a pop vein. E Se Poi was a cute song, accompanied by a sweet promo video, shot in New York. At times, the song sounded a little bit like REM’s Everybody Hurts though. Max Gazze never fails to entertain and this time, he delivered two quality songs which also saw him move with the times; Sotto Casa and I Tuoi Maledettissimi Impegni. The latter was actually bolder and more adventurous but sadly, this wily Roman singer-songwriter and rapper qualified with the less impressive Sotto Casa.
Moda presented quieter and more reflexive songs, and Maria Nazionale and Chiara also had good festival songs which passed muster. Daniele Silvestri came up with two completely different songs, A Bocca Chiusa was recitative and Il Bisogno di Te was arguably the rockiest and most subtle presentation of the lot. Again, the latter failed to qualify, and A Bocca Chiusa could only manage ninth place.
Annalisa’s Scintille, another laid-back song finished third and has arguably raised the profile of this pretty and young Savona singer-songwriter. Its mixture of pop, ska, and light jazz rhythms certainly helped her to get votes. Moda finished second and Viterban Marco Mengoni won this year’s edition with L’Essenziale. This 24 year old singer has certainly moved on ever since he won Italy’s X-Factor four years ago. This song certainly fitted Italy’s penchant for old-time melody, emancipated in this day and age. I also have reasons to believe Mengoni will do quite well at the Eurovision.
The Newcomers’ Section proved to be interesting though not exactly intriguing. Renzo Rubino won with Il Postino, a song which once more fuses traditional Italian sound with some nice piano and violin arrangements. Here was a song that sounded even more laidback than most of the songs that competed in I Big!
Karmenu D’Amato who hosts Italian music programmes on One Radio was all praises for this year’s edition. “It was very well hosted, with good songs, though I personally did not like the new system. Participants ought to have been allowed just one song“, he added. “There were also participants who started off from X-Factor like Mengoni and Chiara as well as from Amici di Maria (Chiara). There were also many participants from former editions of San Remo like Malika Ayane, Daniele Silvestri, Raphael Gualazzi, Max Gazze and Simona Molinari. Perhaps the talent shows did manage to influence this year’s San Remo as such, as can be seen by the popular votes for Mengoni, who won got the biggest amount of televotes, in contrast to the sixth place accorded by the expert jury. Elio e le Sue Tese finished sixth in public voting but topped the jury vote. Same with Moda; they finished second in televoting and seventh in the jury vote. All in all, this festival is now back in its prestigious pedestal and most importantly it’s focusing more on music than on glitz".
Michael Treeby, who is Radio 101’s Italian music host, also shares Karmenu’s viewpoints. “The hosts did their best to choose good quality songs. They also sought artistes from different musical genres and ranges, and tried their best to reflect not only mainstream but also nascent, underground styles. I felt the winning song was very good. Marco Mengoni has a fine vocal range and can extend his vocal quality in such a way that he adds value to the song. Moda came up with their typical style and Malika Ayane was sophisticated and pleasant. Max Gazze was very ear-friendly and witty, with two excellent arrangements. Frankly, I feel that the shows are still too long and feature too many things that have got nothing to do with music. I too, do not like the format of a participant artiste with two songs. It would have been better if there would have been one song, interpreted by two different talents, as it used to be back in the 1960s. That way, one would be able to get a better and perhaps a more realistic value of the song.”