Relatively few Italian artists chose to perform in other languages which is why most of them remain unknown abroad. In reality, Italy’s music scene is incredibly wide and diverse. This is no big surprise when you consider the complex historical, artistic and linguistic background of the country, a country always open to cross-cultural influences. There’s much more to offer than first appears. The sweet-sounding Italian language even lends itself to more ‘hardcore’ genres such as metal and hip-hop, not to mention the booming indie scene.
As I have mentioned previously, Milan has grown into the hub of contemporary Italian culture. Thousands of people move here every year to study and work, the city is being blessed with a continuous rise in international tourism, and the local musical production largely reflects the city’s ‘rebirth’. Talent shows and contests, music festivals and live concerts are all important features of the Milanese scene.
Let’s venture into the studios, clubs and pubs, and onto the stages scattered all over Milan to take a closer look at Milan music.
Teatro-canzone: Milan onstage
In the early seventies, a typically Milanese form of art was created out of the fusion of music, poetry and the city’s bustling theatrical environment. I am talking about teatro-canzone. Major figures include Giorgio Gaber and Enzo Jannacci, often mentioned alongside eminent comedians, actors and playwriters, including the late Nobel Literature Prize Dario Fo.
Teatro-canzone can have many styles: performers are known for their fun anecdotes as well as sophisticated monologues discussing politics, religion, or philosophy. However, the Milanese spirit – witty, wry and somewhat melancholic – remains the main feature of this genre. Though its pioneers have passed away, Milanese theatres make sure to keep the tradition alive. On May 3at 8.30 PM, Piccolo Teatro Grassi (via Rovello 2, right by via Dante) will host Milano per Gaber – Canzone e Teatro Canzone. During this event, Paolo Dal Bon, chairman of the Fondazione Gaber, will discuss the art of teatro canzone with the famous Italian songwriter Ivano Fossati. Tickets are very cheap, starting from 5 €, and can be purchased directly from the theatre’s website. Whilst very interesting, it is advisable for attendees to be familiar with the Italian language. Recommended if you are staying in our Bandello Luxe residence nearby.
Modern Milan in Music
Over the last century, Milan has undergone many transformations. Wealthier and more cosmopolitan than Rome, the city has welcomed thousands of newcomers, initially from the southern and the north-eastern regions and then from abroad. Back in the day, ‘adopted’ Milanese and their children would often live in the outskirts and feel alienated from the rapid modernisation of the city. A good example of this is the famous ballad ‘Il ragazzo della via Gluck’ by Adriano Celentano (himself the child of a Southern family) about a narrator lamenting how his rural childhood residence has been taken over by the big city.
Decades later, Italian music has grown more familiar with foreign influences. Society has also changed, even though the contrast between the centre and the suburbs remains sharp. The Milanese hinterland is home to several artists of different genres. Hip-hop plays quite an important role, often breaking into the mainstream scene. Punk-rock and metal have also grown popular since the 1990s, thanks to a number of groups among which we can mention Afterhours and Lacuna Coil.
Of course, this does not mean that a more ‘vernacular’ musical tradition has disappeared. Theatre and cabaret have played a key role in shaping the Milanese music scene. An example of this is Elio e le Storie Tese, a one-of-a-kind group combining hilarious, sometimes nonsensical lyrics with interesting instrumental arrangements and themed videos. They rose to fame on the stage of the Zelig cabaret theatre and they are nothing short of legends to many Milanese and Italian people.
Much like the rest of Milan, alternative culture moves at a fast pace. And music does not lag behind. Several important cultural centres have been opened or restored over the past few years, hosting interesting artistic exhibitions, workshops and performances while spreading the word of emerging Italian artists. A major alternative music event in the Milanese Spring is the Mi Ami festival, taking place on 25th-27th May in the eastern area of the city, at Parco dell’Idroscalo (a reservoir area) and at Magnolia, one of the major ARCI clubs in the city’s area. Jazz and world music is also flourishing in Milan: Blue Note (via P. Borsieri, 37) is an interesting location for jazz amateurs in the city.
Last, but not least, the club and bar scene in Milan is unrivalled in Italy, making the city the country’s main hub for international artists. Whether you are more into mainstream or alternative, electronic or acoustic music, or whether you prefer luxurious, hip or informal locations, the list of venues you might like to attend is virtually endless. The centre of town and the Porta Garibaldi – Corso Sempione area, near our Anta Moscova residence, hosts many high-end clubs and bars, whereas a more alternative ‘movida’ resonates around the Navigli area.