Instead Of A Super Bowl, Why Not A Music Festival?
Italy’s annual Sanremo Music Festival wrapped up last weekend in this Mediterranean coastal city. Nearly every Italian household — and probably even the Pope in his Vatican apartment — tunes in to the competition in which Italian singers introduce new songs and the public votes for its favorite. It’s a welcome moment of national unity in a country where some 35 political parties constantly squabble and it took eight ballots last month for legislators to merely reelect the same president.
In the U.S., the Super Bowl might inspire a fleeting sense of national unity in a time of simmering divisions and roiling vitriol. But even the Super Bowl causes us to choose a side. Which is why I look forward to the new “American Song Contest,” a musical showcase for the 50 states that will unfold on NBC-TV March 21 through May 9. A bit more music, a little more song is perhaps just what we Americans need at this moment in history.
It will be hard, though, to match the Sanremo festival for both charm and spectacle. The final night of the contest begins with a brass band in full military regalia playing the Italian national anthem. Female singers seem to compete to show as much of their breasts as possible without provoking censorship. The heavy eye make-up on the male singers often resembles a work of art. Bare male chests abound. And, oh, did I mention the tattoos?
Achille Lauro, one of the singers, created a bit of a storm this year with his song Domenica (“Sunday”), which was backed up by female singers from the Harlem Gospel Choir. He knelt bare-chested on stage and mimicked a baptism by pouring water over his head. The next day an Italian cardinal complained that Lauro had disrespected a Catholic sacrament — proving once again that our church fathers might win more adherents if they just lightened up a bit and let such things pass.
Soaring emotional ballads often end up prevailing at Sanremo. Think Andrea Boccelli. Last year, a hard rock group called Maneskin was the surprise winner with the song, Zitti e Buoni (“Silent and Good”). Maneskin went on to also win the Eurovision Song Contest, a kind of musical Olympics for European countries. Italy’s win provided a welcome lift for a country that had suffered greatly during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, the male duo of Mahmood e Blanco prevailed with a melodic, soft-rock ballad called “Brividi” (“Shivers). Blanco is only 18 years old, but Sanremo is an equal opportunity showcase for more mature talent as well. One of this year’s three finalists was 77-year-old Gianni Morandi. Morandi had won the competition in 1987 and was twice before a finalist.
Commentary and analysis of the festival continues long after it ends. You can hardly turn on the news without hearing a clip of the winning song, and then you walk around for days hearing the tune in your head.
If the upcoming American Song Contest provokes a similar response, won’t it be a welcome relief? Maybe then we Americans can stop arguing and start humming the same song.