Three Monkeys Online had the pleasure of meeting up with Negramaro one fiery sunny afternoon in July, at Arezzo where the sextet from Salento prepared themselves to play on the main stage at the Arezzo Wave Love Festival. The guys are tired and hot like us, already destroyed by the sound check and a line of interviews for TV, but they greet us all present and accounted for, seated on the couches of the VIP room, in reality a suffocating marquee without the hint of a breeze of fresh air. Ermanno Carlà, the bassist of the group, introduces the band and their poetics. After a couple of jokes about their origins (“in reality we were a company, he [pointing his finger towards Giuliano Sangiorgi, the singer] was the plumber”), he reveals that they met “at school, some of us at University, some of us in the countryside and Giuliano, who's the singer, right from the start had something to say, and he put to us these … [hesitates] poems. And together we started to put together a band, like all the bands in the world. Like so many other bands we were born in a garage as well, and so we have this sound and this hermetic scheme of things [T.'s N.: ermetismo is an early twentieth century Italian literary movement], with the first album ”. So the six brought together their individual baggage, sharing though a passion for “emotional music”, as Ermanno defines it, and from a background “motley but somehow similar, starting with the classics, like the Doors, Pink Floyd, Jimmi Hendrix, then in the '90s, I don't know, Nirvana and all shades of punk; now, those people who have stored up these big emotions like Radiohead, and younger groups like Coldplay who feel like brothers to us, intended with all humility….”, he finishes not exactly modestly, but with a winning smile.
As mentioned Negramaro are all from Salento and from the start they have made Salento part of their manifesto, starting from the name “that comes from a grape from our region that's called Negro Amaro” [Black Bitter – an indigenous grape of the Puglia region, primarily found in the provinces of Lecce, Taranto, and Brindisi, whose name is derived from its dark colour and from the bitter taste of the wine it produces], then the “climate, a way of thinking, a cultural and artistic aspect that's mixed and complex. It's a region that from time immemorial has been the birthplace of a civilisation that shaped the world's history more than any other…[Ermanno chuckles, pleased with himself]…always storing up that humility that I was telling you about…”.
With the enthusiasm of a first interview, the bassist continues on to describe Negramaro's poetics, a “poetry of contrasts or better still of oxymorons, i.e., the rhetorical device that consists in bringing together, in the same expression, words with opposed meanings, for example the living dead, like the other members of the band in the type of natural sauna that is the VIP room behind the main stage at Arezzo], these receptacles of emotions that like a see-saw counterbalance each other”.
OK, let's move for a moment to the future before returning to the present. What are the plans, are Negramaro exportable, and if so, how? Andrea De Rocco, described by Ermanno as 'the man of the future' wakes from his lethargy and gives us his view of how exportable the songs may be: “There's nothing that's true, that comes from a man that can't be felt outside Italy, outside Europe, even across the ocean, so obviously we hope that this project will go far outside Italy, in as many places as possible, and we think that it has got what it takes to do just that. We hope the energy that we put in it is so strong that we can involve those who don't understand Italian, who don't understand our language. And music is a universal language, so we believe there are no barriers for what we express in the music”.
And here a bit of controversy is generated when we suggest what can happen with a foreign singer that puts all his/her inspiration into the lyrics of a song, then comes to play in Italy where perhaps the public don't understand the subtleties of the lyrics, they don't follow… Giuliano interrupts us, feeling a strong call to arms, being the main author of the lyrics: “On the contrary, I believe that Italy is a primary example of this, of how much Italians do understand music coming in from abroad. We are more open; actually sometimes we are more open towards foreign music than towards ourselves. English music, in terms of language, is all the rage in Italy, like any other music, or ethnic music… We are very alert towards music coming in from abroad. We'd like that it'd be likewise for the others [countries outside Italy], and this is not easy”.
Ermanno jumps in to say he is convinced “that historically, Italian music, operatic music has taught to the rest of the world how to do it and how to reach success without necessarily understanding the lyrics”. To strengthen his theory, Giuliano tells us that “as a kid I used to listen to a song in English and only now I have realised that, although at the time I could not understand, what I had imagined was exactly what I now finally understand. Why is this? Because the great [musicians]leave their mark through music, not only through the sound or the text, but through the tight bond between the two. Only then the text, the musicality of the text [and the music itself] bond together. The imagination is facilitated for the audience. The incredible magic that makes you imagine what an Arab person is saying if he/she manages to say it with the right notes, at the right time, with the right soul. And this is what happened to me as a kid, and I am aware of it now, so I hope, and I believe, that it can be the same [for Negramaro]. A success like Andrea Bocelli's now is exactly this: I don't think it's the Italian-American success. No? He is so famous because Opera is history…” This time around, it is Three Monkeys' turn to interrupt, insinuating that with rock music however it's different… “… it never happened, but it could!”, Giuliano replies, convincingly, reasserting that “in my opinion, this is an incredible magic that the greats can perform, not those that believe in their territorial boundaries. We are not interested in that”.
Perhaps, the music, the text should be changed… “Well perhaps”, grants the singer. For example there are Italian groups singing in English, we tease him. “We are not close minded about this either,” Giuliano concedes, “it all depends on what we want to express and how. In Italy, we wanted to express it this way and not in Enlgish; if we want to go abroad we could continue to do it in Italian, because in any case we are confident [in ourselves], because to date it's not possible to refer to us as 'greats' in terms of the history of music, but we hope we will become so, that we are so. In that case, we would hope to be great in any language we can use; but I don't bar the Italian language chances of success, thatItalian music has the chance to be exported, with all its strength and soul, outside the context of 'hello my friend, pizza, spaghetti & mandolino'. I mean, in New York a group singing in Italian can make it if they are great; anyway, choices are made on the basis of the century’s language, aren't they? Florentine used to be the world language at some point, as they were the powerful ones. Now we have others in power and we must… we must 'submit' in inverted brackets. Whoever thinks of being in a section of the world at a given time is submitted; if you believe you are in the world, there are no more boundaries. Here is the origin of music, or at least of a textual music, the longing to express oneself through a text”.