"New Italians" make brilliant pop music to combat reaction and prejudice in contemporary Italy
A hope-inducing article from Jamie Mackay in Frieze magazine, about the way that first and second-generation migrants to Italy are challenging the rise of xenophobic and intolerant attitudes in a most direct way... By aiming great pop music at people's hearts.
The video above by the Tunisian-Italian rapper Ghali, "Cara Italia", is the most watched YouTube video in Italian history (beating Ed Sheerin). It's a beautiful mix of domestic celebration and mythic fantasy. It ends with Ghali planting his My Dear Italy flag on a surreal, gravity-defying Italian mountainscape. The chorus goes: 'When they tell me: "Go back home!"/I reply: "I'm already here"/I.L.Y. dear Italy/You're my better half"'.
Ghali is a fantastic example of mainstream intervention. But Mackay covers a range of artists with varying levels of militancy about their status in Italian society. Take Amir Issaa:
...An artist active in the Roman underground since the beginning, emphasizes that this has always been a question of necessity more than fashion or ideology. ‘The music can be about politics but not like politics in government’ he tells me, ‘I’ve always used my lyrics to talk about personal issues and often this happens to mean discrimination.’ In 2006 Issaa tackled these questions head-on in his album Uomo di Prestigio, which contains a number of songs that address his Italian-Egyptian heritage, the abuse he has faced as a result, and his proud embrace of a meticcio (mixed) identity. ‘Even back then I was attacked by the Lega for it’ he recalls, ‘but I had to just carry on. Hip hop is like a mirror to society and you’ve got to be honest.’
...When he’s not writing, performing or producing, Amir Issaa is involved in running workshops at local schools where he helps kids work on rap lyrics to combat discrimination. ‘I’m not just talking about teenagers’ he explains, ‘when you go to elementary schools you see so many people with non-Italian backgrounds all together as friends. It’s beautiful. It wasn’t like that at all when I was growing up.’
Another voice is Laïoung, born in Brussels in 1992 to Italian and Sierra Leonean parents and raised all across Europe.
Mackay talked to him:
‘Fascism in Italy ended in 1945’ he tells me, ‘what we’re seeing now is just a regurgitated form, where the elite create a war among the poor, galvanizing racism to protect their criminal economic system. People get angry about some guys selling necklaces on the street but never talk about the bankers anymore.’ In tracks like ‘La nuova Italia’, which riffs about precarity and unemployment, and ‘Petrolio’ [see below], an environmentalist call to arms, Laïoung’s music often tries to address this imbalance. When I ask him what these can do in the face of such vast problems, though, his answer is more sober. ‘Sure, music can make a big social change in challenging propaganda’ he says, ‘but it’s not a substitute for education, for schooling individual consciousness.’