“…I gave my song to the stars, to heaven,
which smiled with more beauty.”
from “Vissi d’Arte,” Tosca by Giacomo Puccini
There was once a playful and carefree boy from the small town of Taranto, in Puglia, who ventured out to the cobbled streets of Martina Franca in his sweetened youth. He spent so many imaginary days in his grandmother’s house where an old piano had always been waiting for him to play it, like a huge toy. In less than a decade, the giant toy transformed his lyrical prose and silvery voice into songs—of visions, love and beauty.
“I always felt good every time I played my grandmother’s piano, and that was how I decided that music would be my life.”
Renzo Rubino, belting out powerfully with his melodic piano arrangement, accompanied by the virtuoso violinist and drummer, percussionist and violoncellist Andrea Libero Cito and Andrea Beninati, respectively, appeared majestic and spiritful in his black suit and crisp white shirt, as his voice, both tender and daring, resonated throughout the Fazioli Showroom (c/o the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan) on that unforgettable night of October 23rd in Tokyo. Two more concerts followed: in Osaka the next day; and at the Arai Piazza Studio in Tokyo on the third night. Delighting Japanese Italian pop lovers with familiar tunes, such as Volare and Estate, and favorite tracks from his three albums, Farfavole (2011), Poppins (2013) and Secondo Rubino (2014), Renzo inevitably had the audience singing together with him the reputable songs that have made him the star of south Italy: Il Postino (Amami Uomo), Per Sempre e Poi Basta, Lulu, Colazione, L'amore d'autunno, Ora, L'altalena Blu and more. The third night’s finale of a waltz rendition pulled the crowd to the dance floor, swaying with partners in a wonderful nocturne of bliss.
From a child primped in his Lorenzo Jovanotti costume, to a prince of sparkling promise, a colorful halo crowns over Renzo’s energetic presence—sometimes, a silent thinker, fiddling with his Smartphone; and other times, an expressive poet, speaking of home, nostalgia, euphoria, and love. When Renzo debuted at the Young Sanremo Festival in 2013, the whole of Italy could no longer forget him. Il Postino (Amami Uomo), the award-winning entry for Best Song and arrangement, was THE song that would stir the breakwater and lift the eyebrows of many conservative Italians.
RR: I would say that is the most famous song that people identify me with. People look at it as a song about “gay love,” but for me, it is about a love between two people—man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, old and young—a very beautiful kind of love that I wrote like an aria of an opera. At first, it was considered taboo in Italy, especially because of Catholic protests (against homosexuality). The Sanremo Festival airs on national TV, so it was not an easy song to interpret, and it could have produced a strange impression when I sang it in the festival. But, for me, I focused on the way I presented the song with beauty and sincerity. In time, the song had received extreme popularity in the press, and children, old people, and everyone now sing and dance to it, like they understand the passion of the message.
Could this be a passion particularly linked to Renzo’s roots in Martina Franca, a panorama of “la belllezza Pugliese,” like it was carved out of Puccini’s romantic operas?
RR: I love my hometown. Martina Franca, in the southern part of Italy, echoes the perfect climate, the rustic smell of the soil, the ray of colors, blue skies, golden sun, olive trees…life is slow, unlike in Tokyo. You get up late because stores open late. You have time to photograph the life around you. This is very important for artists, to have time and space to think. Many famous artists and musicians in Italy come from the south.
For a songwriter, “home” is the beginning of inspiration. And, so it is with Renzo.
RR: My hometown is very close to my heart, and definitely influences my songwriting. All the songs I write are real episodes in my life since I was very young till today. They are like a bundle of experiences woven in a secret diary of a little girl, writing and hiding in the bathroom (laughs). Every feeling of love and sadness that I translate into music comes from my adolescent past, like a sentimental journey. My songs are my real self.
Renzo’s musical journey started from an old grandmother’s piano that drove him later to play and sing at nightclubs primarily as a “job,” when he was 19 years old. For him and his small band, it was, at first, a playful attempt to attract girls.
RR: So many girls came to the nightclubs. I thought that if they come to the club because they like me, then it was enough for me to get out of that lifestyle and find a “real” job. I had the band with me for about one year, then I moved to Milan to seriously study singing under the direction of Andrea Rodini, my singing coach, who has since been my most important artistic producer. Through him, I was able to perform all over Italy, from south to north.
Joining numerous song competitions and winning notable awards, such as the Next Generation Wind Music Awards and Lunezia Prize for his second album Poppins, both in 2013, Renzo’s success found himself playing cozily next to the renowned trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso for the song Milioni di scintilla. During the Sanremo Festival 2014, Renzo once again stunned the public with his poignant rendition of Per Sempre e Poi Basta—a delicate ballad that feeds the heart of a fragile classic love.
RR: This song is no doubt, one of the most beautiful songs I have ever written. It tells essentially of a classic love, with all its hurt and disappointment.
And, when there is love, certainly, there is beauty—a fundamental ingredient in Renzo’s compositions, including his expressions of “pop” tunes.
RR: I know a lot of people think my song, Pop, sounds somewhat crazy maybe (laughs). It really started when my artistic director told me, “Renzo, you have to write a pop song.” But, I thought, what is pop? I don’t know pop. Mona Lisa is pop. La Dolce Vita is pop. Beauty is pop. Pop is everything that we know, but most of all, it is beautiful! So, I must instead, write a song of beauty, and people can decide if it is pop or not. But, I hope that people listen to my songs without thinking that my songs simply make me a star, but rather, because I play them from my heart. I did not have formal music education, and I don’t know if I’m a good piano player or not, but I believe no one can play my songs better than me. And, I just like my style of singing and playing the piano.
Finally, leaving all the historical elegance of the Mediterranea behind, and landing in a quite hyperbolic image of a livable manga world that is Japan, Renzo found himself swimming in a basin of incomprehensible surprises.
RR: Japan is so different from Italy. It is like totally another world! I love what I don’t know, so I was excited to come and play in Japan for the first time, in a culture so unfamiliar to me. To be honest, I felt being in Japan was like being in a middle of a manga (laughs). Tokyo looks so huge, like a perfect engine; everything is so synchronized, orderly and clean. I was anxious to see how Japanese respect each other, bowing all the time... for example, one morning, I was by the elevator in the hotel, and there were about five elderly ladies there, who never stopped bowing—like dancing in a disco (laughs). It was a little shocking. I only knew Japan from manga, so I came here feeling like it was a fantasy land.
Maybe Japan is manga in itself?
RR: (laughs) Maybe it is. When I was a child, I read Kenshiro and Mazinger. I went to Akihabara, the electronics district, and I entered a building that had nothing but manga toys and electronic stuff. There was all that noise, music and people playing with the gadgets. Incredible. But, did you know the very first song I wrote when I was only 8 years old was a Japanese song? (laughing) “To-ki-na-ma-e…” (singing)
And, the meaning?
RR: Nothing (laughs). I merely invented the words. It must have been the manga influence. But, I still remember the composition very well. And, look where I am now (smiles).
The child in Renzo is probably his endearing quality that makes his music so genuine in spirit and intent. What he may lack in formal music education, he manifests in his preferred tendency to preserve the Italian classics. Such attention given to the seeds of Italian classic melody and opera makes Renzo a unique breed of youngsters in his generation. In his latest album, Secondo Rubino, this seductive contrast of Renzo’s two souls seems to split somewhere between the universe of synthesizers and the silent aura of nostalgia.
RR: My melody is quite opera-inspired. When I was young, I often went to the festival of the opera in Martina Franca, where musicians played with the orchestra. Those melodies from Puccini, Verdi, even Ennio Morricone, or Nino Rota, were embedded in my heart and mind for years. They come out naturally from within me. Unfortunately, the young Italians today do not think these types of old classic melodies are “cool,” and have been so swarmed by American pop culture, but I strongly believe we need to understand where we came from, and to remember that our music begins in the melodies of our past.
And, on that note, Renzo glides once more on his magic carpet, back to his beloved Italy, to another memoria soon to be scribbled in his secret diary of ardent songs.
La mia testa è come un girasole non si alza più
Solo un’altra canzone
Poi cancellerò il tuo nome
Per sempre ed un’ultima volta
Ti porterò con me
Insieme tra sette notine
Danzeremo per sempre e poi basta
E ogni volta che suonerò questa nota
Sarai vicino a me
My head is like a sunflower that raises no more
But just one more song
Then I'll erase your name
Forever and one last time
I'll take you with me
Together, among seven notes
We will dance forever and then enough
And every time I play this note
You'll be close to me
“Per Sempre e Poi Basta” by Renzo Rubino
Special Gratitude to Gianluca Salvi, Maurizio Vultaggio/Isola degli Artisti, Rachele Grassi/Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and New Age Productions/Suoni Italiani