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Fabrizio De André
De André c. 1977
|Birth name||Fabrizio Cristiano De André|
|Born||18 February 1940|
|Died||11 January 1999 (aged 58)|
|Genres||Folk music, Italian folk music, Chanson, World music|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar, classical guitar|
|Labels||Karim, Sony BMG, Ricordi|
Known for his sympathies towards anarchism, left-libertarianism and pacifism, his songs often featured marginalized and rebellious people, Romani, prostitutes and knaves, and attacked the Catholic Church hierarchy. Artistically active for almost 40 years and the author of thirteen studio albums, he is renowned for the quality of his lyrics and often considered a poet. He contributed to the promotion of the languages of Italy, most notably Ligurian and, to a lesser extent, Sardinian, Gallurese and Neapolitan. Following his early death several streets, places, parks, schools and public libraries were named after him.
De André was born in Genoa in a family of Piedmontese origins (the father was born in Turin and the mother in Pocapaglia), and was welcomed into the world by Gino Marinuzzi's "Country Waltz" on the home gramophone. Twenty-five years later, he would set his "Waltz for a Love" to Marinuzzi's waltz tune.
When the Second World War broke out, the De André family had to seek refuge on a country farm near Revignano, a frazione of Asti, in Piedmont. Fabrizio's father, who was an antifascist pursued by the police, joined the partisans. In 1945, at the end of the war, the family moved back to Genoa, where the father became an important member of Genoa's ruling class, as CEO, and later chairman of Eridania, a sugar factory.
Fabrizio's first primary school was that of the Marcellian Sisters, and he later attended the Cesare Battisti public school and the Liceo Classico "Cristoforo Colombo"; after his school leaving examination, he enrolled in the Law School of the University of Genoa, although he did not graduate, dropping out when he had only a few exams left. (He later stated he was glad to have dropped out from his law studies and taken up music instead, as he would have become a very bad lawyer rather than a good songwriter.) De André first played the violin, then the guitar, and he joined a number of local jazz bands, as jazz was his "first love".
In 1960, De André recorded his first two songs, Nuvole barocche ("Baroque Clouds") and E fu la notte ("And There Was Night"); in 1962, he married Enrica "Puny" Rignon, a Genoese woman nearly ten years older than him. That same year the couple had their first and only son, Cristiano, who would follow in his father's footsteps and become a musician and songwriter as well.
In the following years De André wrote a number of songs which made him known to a larger public, soon becoming classic hits: La guerra di Piero ("Piero's War"), La ballata dell'eroe ("The Hero's Ballad"), Il testamento di Tito ("Titus's Will"), La Ballata del Michè ("Mickey's Ballad"), Via del Campo (literally "Field Street", a famous street in Genoa), La canzone dell'amore perduto ("The Song of the Lost Love"), La città vecchia ("The Old [side of] Town"), Carlo Martello ritorna dalla battaglia di Poitiers ("Charles Martel on His Way Back from Poitiers", written together with actor Paolo Villaggio, one of De André's closest friends), and La canzone di Marinella ("Marinella's Song").
De André's first LP, Volume 1, was issued shortly after (1967), followed by Tutti morimmo a stento ("We All Died Agonizingly") and Volume 3; both LPs soon reached the top of the Italian hit-parade. The former contained a personal version of Eroina ("Heroin") by the Genoese poet Riccardo Mannerini, entitled "Cantico dei drogati" ("Canticle of the Junkies").
In 1970, De André wrote La buona novella ("Glad Tidings" – a literal rendition of the etymology of gospel), a concept album based on Christ's life as told in the Apocrypha. The album was very controversial, especially the song Il testamento di Tito ("Titus's Will"), in which one of the thieves crucified with Jesus violently refutes the Ten Commandments. He had written a number of songs (like Preghiera in Gennaio, "Prayer in January", and Si chiamava Gesù, "His Name Was Jesus") in which he showed a Christian-like open-minded spirit and in the meantime invited the audience in his own delicate way to think about the manipulation of the church.
In 1971, he wrote another celebrated concept album, Non al denaro non all'amore né al cielo ("Neither to money, nor to love, nor to Heaven"), based on Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology; in an interview, the LP was introduced by Fernanda Pivano, the first Italian translator of the "Anthology" and one of Cesare Pavese's most intimate friends. Fabrizio De André's name began to be associated with literature and poetry, and some of his songs found their way into school books.
In 1973, he wrote his most "political" album, Storia di un impiegato ("Story of an Employee").
The following year, De André issued Canzoni ("Songs"), a collection of his translations from Georges Brassens, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The album also included a number of his old songs from the 1960s.
In 1975, De André (who in the meantime had divorced his wife Puny and begun a relationship with the folksinger Dori Ghezzi) wrote Volume 8 with another famous Italian singer-songwriter, Francesco De Gregori. With this album, he broke with "tradition" in order to find a new approach to poetry and music. The lyrics show how deep the influence of modern poetry is on De André's work. 1975 marked a real change in De André's life: he began to perform in a series of memorable concerts (after his first performances of the early 1960s, he had always refused to appear in public, except for a couple of TV broadcasts) and planned to move to Sardinia with his new love. For this purpose, he purchased the Agnata homestead near Tempio Pausania in the northern part of the island, where he could devote himself to farming and cattle breeding.
In 1977, the couple had a daughter, Luisa Vittoria (nicknamed "Luvi"). The following year De André issued a new LP, Rimini. Most songs included on this album were written together with Massimo Bubola, a young singer-songwriter from Verona.
1979 was another milestone in De André's life. The year began with a series of distinguished live concerts from which a double LP was compiled; De André was accompanied by one of the most renowned Italian progressive rock bands, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM); the albums were released as In Concerto - Arrangiamenti PFM (1979), and In Concerto - Volume 2 (1980). At the end of August, however, De André and Ghezzi were kidnapped for ransom by a gang of bandits in Sardinia (Anonima sarda) and held prisoner in the Alà dei Sardi mountains. The couple were released four months later with a ransom reportedly being paid. As De André stated in some interviews, he was helped by his father to find the money and had to start a tour shortly after the release of the Indiano album in order to repay him. When the bandits were apprehended by the police, De André was called as a witness before the Court. He showed compassion for some of his kidnappers, since he had been well treated by his "guardians" and declared his solidarity with them. "They were the real prisoners, not me", he said. He said he understood they were driven by need, but he did not show any compassion for the higher echelon of the group that organized his kidnapping, since they were already rich.
This incident, and the hard life of the Sardinian people, gave him inspiration for his following album, released in 1981. The album is untitled but, due to the image of a Native American warrior on the cover, the media called it L'Indiano ("The Indian"). In De André's poetical vision, Native Americans merge with poor Sardinian shepherds as an allegory for the marginalization and subjugation of people who are "different". The song Hotel Supramonte, is dedicated to the kidnapping and to Dori Ghezzi, who was with him during those days. The album also contains one of his most famous songs, Fiume Sand Creek ("Sand Creek River"): in De André's unique, allusive way it tells the story of the massacre of defenseless Native Americans by US Army troops on 29 November 1864.
In 1984, he turned to his native Genoese dialect; in collaboration with former PFM member Mauro Pagani he wrote one of his most celebrated albums, Crêuza de mä ("Path to the sea", the term "Crêuza" actually means a narrow road bordered by low walls, typical of Genoa and Liguria in general). The songs are a tribute to the traditional music from the Mediterranean basin. The album was awarded several prizes and was hailed as "the best Italian album of the 1980s". David Byrne named it as one of his favourite albums, and Wim Wenders said that it was this album that introduced him to the music of De André, whom the director names as one of his favourite artists. As Pagani has repeatedly stated, De André wrote all the lyrics for the album, while the music was almost entirely Pagani's.
In 1989, De André married Ghezzi; the following year a new album was issued, Le nuvole ("The Clouds"), which included two more songs in the Genoese dialect, one in the Gallurese dialect of Northern Sardinia ("Monti di Mola") and one in the Neapolitan dialect, the highly ironic "Don Raffaè", a mockery of Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo (also incorporating a number of spoofed stereotypes about Camorra and Naples). A new series of well received live concerts followed, from which a double LP, 1991 concerti ("Concerts 1991"), was issued.
In 1992, he started a new series of live concerts, performing in a number of theatres for the first time.
De André's last original album, Anime salve ("Saved Souls"), was issued in 1996. Written in collaboration with Ivano Fossati, it represents a sort of "spiritual will", and includes songs such as "Khorakhané" (dedicated to the Muslim Roma people), "Disamistade" (a return to his beloved Sardinian themes, which has been translated into English and sung by The Walkabouts) and "Smisurata preghiera" ("Limitless Prayer "), based on poems within short stories featured in the collection The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Colombian writer and storyteller Álvaro Mutis. De André also sang a version of this song with its original Colombian Spanish lyrics, "Desmedida plegaria", which he never officially released (although he gave a copy of the recording to Mutis as a gift).
In 1997, he undertook a new tour of theatre concerts and a new collection, called M'innamoravo di tutto, was issued (I Used to Fall in Love with Everything, a quote from one of his older songs, "Coda di Lupo" – "Wolf's Tail"), focusing on his earlier works. The Anime salve concert tour went on up to the late summer of 1998, when De André was forced to stop it after the first symptoms of a serious illness, which was later diagnosed as lung cancer.
De André died in Milan on 11 January 1999, at 2:30 am. Two days later, he was buried in his native town, Genoa; the ceremony was attended by a crowd of about 20,000. He is buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, in the De André family chapel.
In the concept album La buona novella (The Good News) (1970), De André gives us the ultimate expression of his religious vision, making a clear humanization of the divine. In a 1998 concert at the Teatro Brancaccio in Rome, De André made the following statements about the album:
When I wrote La buona novella it was 1969. At the time we were in the very middle of the students' protests, and less attentive people, which are always the majority among us – comrades, friends, people of the same age as me – regarded that record as anachronistic. They told me: "What's this? We go fighting inside universities and outside universities against abuses, and you instead tell us the story, which moreover we already know, of Jesus Christ's preachings?" And they did not realize that the Good News was meant to be an allegory, it was an allegory that consisted in a comparison between the better and more sensible instances of the revolt of '68, and some instances, certainly higher from a spiritual point of view, but similar from an ethical-social point of view, raised by a gentleman, 1969 years before, against the abuses of power, against the abuses of authority, in the name of egalitarianism and universal brotherhood. That man was called Jesus of Nazareth. And I think he was, and remains, the greatest revolutionary of all time. When I wrote the album I didn't want to venture into roads or paths that would be difficult for me to travel on, such as metaphysics or even theology, first of all because I don't understand anything about those, secondly because I always thought that if God did not exist we should invent Him, which is exactly what Man has done ever since he set foot on Earth.
Probably the characters in La buona novella lose a bit of sacralization, but I think, and I hope, particularly to the benefit of their better and greater humanization.
The attitude taken by De André against the political use of religion and the Church hierarchy is often sarcastic and highly critical about their contradictory behaviour, such as, for example, in the songs Un blasfemo, Il testamento di Tito, La ballata del Miché and the last verses of Bocca di rosa.
I feel myself religious, and my religion is to feel part of a whole, in a chain that includes all creation and so to respect all elements, including plants and minerals, because, in my opinion, the balance is exactly given from the well-being in our surroundings. My religion does not seek the principle, you want to call it creator, regulator or chaos makes no difference. But I think that everything around us has its own logic and this is a thought to which I turn when I'm in difficulty, perhaps giving the names I've learned as a child, maybe because I lack the imagination to find out other ones.
After the kidnapping, the religious vision of De André had a new development;
While I was abducted, it helped me to find faith in men, just where there wasn't faith in God. I have always said that God is a human invention, something utilitarian, a patch on the fragility ... But, however, with the kidnapping something has changed. I've not changed my mind, but it is certain that today swearing at least embarrasses me.
After De André's untimely passing, various releases in various formats appeared as tributes to him and to his career.
As evidenced by the various live performance clips featured within the Dentro Faber documentary series (as noted above), De André was very shy and reserved throughout his career, even as a live performer - indeed, he started performing live only in 1975, after reaching several high points in his career, because he did not feel confident enough to perform before a live audience. Furthermore, he always viewed his live shows as either a "necessary evil" or as a job. Because of this, his live performances feature a number of idiosyncratic, eccentric behaviours and attitudes.
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