“Let’s put a moustache on Jaconda”.
Napoli… pizza Margherita, mozzarella, sfogliatelle, babá, struffoli, ragú, spaghetti alla puttanesca, the Pulcinella, cornuto, the Moka espresso pot, Bernini, Bud Spencer, Paolo Sorrentino, Totó, opera buffa, mandolino, Cinderella (Cenerentola) by Giambattista di Basile, Enrico Caruso, Domenico Scarlatti, Roberto Murolo, Mina, O Sole Mio, Torna a Surriento, Funiculi Funicula, Santa Lucia, and the list goes on, dazzling the world with all the wealthy ingredients of art, culture, history, literature, and music belonging to the true Neapolitan roots. In this wonderful haven in South Italy, the proverb is often heard, “Vide Napule, e po’ muore”—“See Naples and die.” Such is any one’s gut feeling after savoring all the scrumptious flavors of Napoli’s day-to-day surprises.
The “new city” (Neapolis), with a long history tracing back to the 7th century B.C., having survived leaderships of kingdoms of Greece, Sicily, the Normans, France, Spain, and the Roman Republic, is today bustling with incessant energy and power, borrowed from the same courage and determination passed on by its ancestors. It is no surprise, then, that so many politicians, novelists, poets, artists, and musicians have planted seeds in this soulful soil of Italy, exploding with rich traditions so delicately felt in the colorful graffiti decorating its city walls.
Traditional Italian songs are generally attributed to Neapolitan songs. The great opera maestros Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, who are widely known to outsiders all over the world have marked their repertoire with renditions of Neapolitan classics: O Sole Mio, Torna a Surriento, Funiculi Funicula, Santa Lucia, Marechiare, Maria Mari, Malafemmena, Anema ‘e Core, Reginella, Passione, and more. With a historical record spanning since the 1830s, the melodic, poignant, stirring and often romantic vibrato of Neapolitan songs never fail to touch the ears and hearts of listeners.
In celebration of the important legacy of the canzone Napoletana, two Neapolitan artists, with their own successful contributions to the future direction of music, have compiled an album of selected Neapolitan songs injected with juice of novelty. Antonio Fresa, talented musical arranger, pianist, film score composer, and conductor and Fabrizio Fiore, highly esteemed DJ in clubs around Italy and Europe, music programmer, producer, and bandleader of jazz-soul “Flabby” have long married music hand in hand before embarking on this exciting project.
Fresa: I first did a piano solo of a remix of a Flabby song by a DJ, who was a friend of Flabby. They received the remix and found it great. One year later, Fabrizio bought the album “Maison Maravilha” that I participated in as pianist for Joe Barbieri (singer from Napoli). He listened to this, freaking out, and telling the DJ I contacted, “You got to buy this album; this pianist is killing me. Who is it? Every note is deep and just amazing.” The DJ explained that it was me, who was the same piano player of his Flabby remix song. So, Fabrizio was really struck by this. When I went to Milan to play with Joe (Barbieri), Fabrizio said he wanted to meet me, and that is how we met.
Fiore: We got along instantly. My partner Ross (Pellecchia) and I told Antonio that we wanted him to write strings for our next album. So, we sent him tracks and we all changed this and that, almost redoing the whole album. From then, we started to collaborate and spend a lot of great time together. Antonio became the musical arranger for our album, “I’m Feeling Good Today.”
Then, last year, the idea of Napoli Files was born.
Fresa: It was around early September last year. I was booked for a jewelry fashion show that had a theme of revisiting Neapolitan songs. I thought of Fabrizio because I imagined it would have been quite boring to do it with just the piano since the music was to be out in the streets, not in-house. So, I thought that piano + DJ sounded good. I told Fabrizio, “Let’s do something crazy. Let’s put a moustache on Jaconda”.
A moustache may be just the appetizer. The Napoli Files menu may have just served Jaconda in curly hair and glowing eyes for the main course and a sun tan for dessert. The record vibrates with so much upbeat, joyous rhythm, and ingenious classic and electronic arrangement that it does completely no harm to the original rendition of the classic artists, but instead revitalizes tunes of Napoli that can be savored by all generations and hemispheres from South to North.
Fiore: The total concept of this project is a musical absorption of contemporary art in Neapolitan songs. We took the original songs, cut them up in bits and mixed them from older recordings, giving them a new innovative feel never been done before.
Fresa: After we did the fashion show, people from all ages—kids to old age—were so enthusiastic about the results because they recognized the Napoli songs but heard something new. So, I told Fabrizio, “We got to make a record like this”. Nothing stopped us. After two weeks, we approached the most important publisher of old Neapolitan songs, Edizioni Leonardi, based in Milan. They listened to the tracks a few times and they liked it, and decided to produce the album with us. This was very exciting for us, and it was all a huge work for 7-8 months.
Fiore: The compilation of songs was also a bit complex because some songs needed copyright permission. I live in Milan, so I would send material with rhythmic cuts to Antonio in Napoli, then he would work on the piano arrangements. It was like getting something in black and white, then putting color or something else on it.
The careful selection of twelve traditional songs accompanied by Napoli’s best canzone singers, such as O Sole Mio and Indifferentemente with Sergio Bruni, Malafemmena and Santa Lucia Luntana with Roberto Murolo, Anema ’e Core with Nilla Pizzi, Scalinatella with Trio Carosone, Luna Rossa with Nunzio Gallo and sons Gianfranco and Massimiliano, plus Carmela with feature artist Raiz, and others, provided the spark and glow for Antonio’s and Fabrizio’s original composition, Tutte ‘e Journe, their dedication to the plight of women in modern times.
Fresa: You can say it is a kind of song on feminism, with a point of view of Napolitan women who work in the shade for a long time. Women issues have long been a problem in Italy, in many cases where they are subjected to violence, injustice, imbalance and inequality in work, lack of autonomy in thought, and national statistics don’t give the right feedback about their situation, especially in the South where the women tend to be more conservative than those in the North.
The South Designers, a name appropriately fitted to the success and creativity of the duo, have also chosen their red and blue identity mark as a fashion marketing tool that fuses the blue sea of the South and the modernity of red in fashion. The album jacket also brilliantly carries the “segno delle corna” or sign of the horns, which signifies both the gesture of driving away bad luck and the famous “cornuto” red horn icon of Napoli.
Fiore: We wanted to inject a contemporary feeling into the classic tradition as much as possible. It is renewing a language, and bringing to the attention of the audience performances they have never listened to. I think the album is very addictive, especially that we also have music videos in motion graphics, like the music video for Scalinatella that received as many as 50,000 viewers in one week.
Fresa: I think it will be very attractive to the age market of 40s to 50s because this is the typical age bracket when you rediscover your tradition. You belong to that era, the culture, and place, but you are also very curious that someone has renewed your identity. Napoli Files is a vision of the contemporary touch to tradition where you can feel the Pulcinella or the horns as transparent and elastic. Nothing is untouchable.
Johann Wolfgang van Goethe would not have just meant to “see Napoli and die” when he spoke these words during his visit to this enchanting sanctuary in the latter 1700s, but also to “hear Napoli and die” after one captures the clinging euphony of graceful notes and sensitive lyrics of the Neapolitan canzone, now in red, blue and fashionable colors of Napoli Files exquisite creation.
“Oh sweet Naples, oh blessed land,
where the creation wanted to smile!
You are the kingdom of harmony”.
(“Santa Lucia”, Canzone Napoletana)