1. Mario Merola, “Napoli… Serenata calibro 9”
From the film: Napoli… Serenata Calibro 9. Directed by Alfonso Brescia, 1979.
Neapolitan music boasts a long tradition of songs dealing with criminal stories. During the 1970s, for example, singer-actor Mario Merola (1934-2006) became extremely successful across Southern Italian audiences with a string of musical films based on an a tradition of songs and theatre dealing with criminal characters and alternative moral values. These were low-budget gangster films (“poliziotteschi“) that often carried stylistic influences from spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation and martial arts movies. In his film-sceneggiata Serenata Calibro 9, Merola plays the role of an “honest” cigarette smuggler who sees his wife and son killed by ruthless young robbers (video 1). In the final, surreal scene, as the improbable hero, he theatrically shots the bad men (video 2) – always to the sound of the title-track. Remarkably, Gigi D’Alessio himself has worked as a pianist and author for the late Merola.
2. Tommy Riccio, “’Nu latitante”
From: ’Nu latitante. MEA Sound, 1993, cd.
Tommy Riccio’s “’Nu latitante” (A Fugitive) is by far the most popular neo-melodic “criminal” song, with lyrics and a video narrative that romanticize the fugitive as an innocent victim and as a family man chased by the law. The song strikes for its closeness in music, singing style, and content to the canons of 1970s filmed sceneggiata. This particular version of the official video was apparently recorded from a local tv.
2a. Tommy Riccio, “’Nu latitante”
Broadcast on the local tv Campania TV, 5 April 2013.
Another version of “’Nu latitante” shows a recording of a “live” performance by Tommy Riccio in a tiny television studio (where he actually sings in playback). Superimposed on the images can be seen the artist’s booking phone numbers and the local TV’s contact numbers: by phoning to these numbers, fans are charged for their requests of specific videos or dedications.
3. Nino D’angelo, “Rap ’e Tano”
From the film: Tano da morire. Directed by Roberta Torre, 1997.
Neapolitan singer and author Nino D’Angelo (b. 1957) is credited as one of the innovators of Neapolitan song who, during the 1980s, paved the way to the emergence of neo-melodic music. In 1997 D’Angelo made a sensation with his ironic soundtrack for Tano da morire, a musical film about a fictional mafioso, set in Sicily but entirely sung in Neapolitan dialect. Shot in the lower-class area of Vucciria, the movie is remarkable for its grotesque portrait of criminals and everyday life and in Palermo, its use of non-professional actors, and its blend of popular and avantgardish style. “Rap ’e Tano” (Tano’s rap) sarcastically commemorates the untimely death of Mafia boss Tano Guarrasi.
4. Stefania Lay, “Voglio ‘a libertà”
From: Stefania Lay. Zeus Records, 1997, cd.
The great majority of neo-melodic songs deal with love. While many of these tunes are unashamedly sexist, songs by female singers sometimes offer an alternative view from a woman’s perspective, disputing men’s possessive and violent behaviour. In “Voglio ‘a libertà” (I Want To Be Free), 16-years old singer Stefania Lay tells the story of a pregnant underage woman and sings: “I want to be free … take with you the keys of this cage … I will stay away from violence and from your hands”.
5. Maria Nazionale, “Ragione e sentimento”
From: Storie ’e femmene. Duck Records, 1997, cd.
In “Ragione e sentimento” singer-actress Maria Nazionale stages a simple, yet effective contrast between love’s “reason” (left) and “feelings” (right), between a relationship with a unfaithful, violent man and the woman’s affection for him. Maria has been praised for her acting in the film Gomorra.
6. Gigi D’Alessio, “Annare’”
From the film: Annare’. Directed by Ninì Grassia, 1998.
Romantic singer Gigi D’Alessio is the only neo-melodic singer who has so far managed to crossover into the Italian national pop scene, where he is now extremely popular. In the film-sceneggiata Annare’, built around the eponymous song and hugely successful across Southern Italy, D’Alessio plays the role of a successful singer who recaptures his old lover Annarella from the hands of a possessive boyfriend. One of the credited authors of the song’s lyrics was Camorra boss Luigi Giuliano.
7. Lisa Castaldi, “Femmena d’onore”
From: L’ora d’‘e suonne. ERS, 2003, cd.
In “Femmena d’onore” (Woman of Honour), Lisa Castaldi plays the role of woman who stands by her convicted man and lashes out at disloyal members of his gang who betrayed him (pentiti). The video includes the voice of the judge reading the verdict in a tribunal.
8. Nello Liberti, “’O capoclan”
From: Lasciatemi crescere. ERS, 2004.
In February 2012, Naples’ public prosecutors requested the arrest of little-known (amateur) singer Nello Liberti with the indiction of ”concourse in incitement to crime”, claiming that his song “’O capoclan” (The Camorra Boss) “leads people to see camorra in a positive light”. The song’s chorus goes “The capoclan is an upright man / he is not an evil man”. Magistrates eventually rejected the request of arrest.
9. Alessio, “Ma si vene stasera”
From: Emozioni della nostra età. Zeus Record, 2006, cd.
A scene from the film Gomorra (directed by Matteo Garrone, 2008), whose soundtrack is almost entirely made of neo-melodic music. Two young wannabe gangsters steal a bag of cocaine from a gang of black pushers, then celebrate their theft by dancing to the sound of Alessio’s love song “Ma si vene stasera.” The two unruly youths are then summoned by a local camorra boss, who will eventually have them killed. On the film the song is credited to “G. Carluccio” (Gaetano Carluccio, real name of singer Alessio). Other sources, however, credit the tune’s lyrics to one Rosario Armani, aka Rosario Buccino, an author who has been himself investigated for ties with organized crime.
10. Rosario Miraggio, “La macchina 50”
From: Mille pezzi di cuore. 2006, cd.
Another strand of neo-melodic songs deals with symbols of consumer culture such as cars and mobile phones. “La macchina 50,” sung by neo-melodic star Rosario Miraggio, celebrates a type of small city car that can be driven by 14-years-olds without holding any license – an obvious nod to Miraggio’s teenage female audience and their upwardly mobile aspirations. The song was part of Gomorra’s soundtrack.
11. Giuseppe Junior, “Bellissima” (“A minigonna”)
From: Speriamo che me la cavo. OP Music, 2008, cd.
A peculiar aspect of neo-melodic music is the phenomenon of precociously-sexualized baby singers such as Anna, Fortuna, Piccolo Nardi and Giuseppe Junior. The home-made video “Bellissima” (Beautiful) also known as “A minigonna”, (The Mini-Skirt), shows 10-years old singer Giuseppe Junior lying on a bed with a coetaneous girl (both dressed) and singing “Take off your mini-skirt”. Following protests, the video was removed from the web, only to be shown on national TV and then reposted several times on YouTube.