A conversation with Italian musician and composer Lorenzo 'Jovanotti' Cherubini

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

LOS ANGELES, Calif -- “Ragazzo Fortunato, translation,  Lucky Boy;” it is one of Italian hip hop artist Lorenzo Cherubini's first hits,  from 1995.

Now, 17 years later, as Cherubini,  aka, Jovanotti, makes a push into the United States, we wondered is he  still feeling lucky, here’s what  he had to say, “ Yeah, I am a lucky old guy, if I  would say I am not lucky , maybe it would be like the sparking you know,  crossing the roof and hitting my head.”

Well if  lightning struck , it started with Jovanotti himself, when he recently  took the stage at the El Rey theatre in Los Angeles where he wrapped up a brief US tour. In a white suit, black shirt, and red tie, he electrified the audience.

A crowd filled with fans from 7 to 70, native Italians and Southern Californians alike were all treated to a show where energy and joy leaped from the stage.

In Italy, Jovanotti fills Soccer stadiums, but chooses smaller clubs here...like the El Rey which holds about 900. That’s where we caught up with him for an exclusive interview. And he says even 900 is too big, “I would like to play to even smaller clubs, than this. This is too big for the idea that I have. You know, because, it is a sort of balance with the blessing I have in Italy of playing in big arenas. In the last year I have done 70 concerts with an average of 12,000 people, in big sports arenas. And I love it. You know, love everything connected with that.” Still he adds, “There is something, there is just one thing that you lose in that kind of experience. This one thing, how do you say, the original part of what I do. So this contact with the people this fact that I feel them. You know today, now when you play big arenas we have ear monitors in the ears, so I am quite isolated, you know. And there is something,  you know, it is beautiful because I see an ocean of people in front of me, you know, when you do stadiums. But, having the chance to do it, I wanted to go back to the roots of my work. That is just a couple of musicians, a few musicians, hot music, improvisation, deconstructing the songs, and this is what I like.

But, it is not just the fan's energy...it's the energy of the venues themselves, clubs that have hosted,  a host of musicians from up and comers to movers and shakers.  It’s an experience Jovanotti says he does not get in his native country, “In Italy we don't have clubs like this, in Italy we have big arenas , or theatres, beautiful theatres, the most beautiful theatres in the world. You don't have this kind of theatre, like La Fenice or La Scala, you know, amazing places. Here you have also this culture of small clubs, for rock and roll, and this is very beautiful. And there is also mythology of that, you know, for us Italians, the mythology of rock and roll, of  rock culture. It is in many ways an emotional journey for Jovanotti, “When I get inside this dressing room, of this theatre I feel, the smell of this mythological heritage and I love it. I feel emotion, you know I cry sometimes when you get inside this kind of club where , you feel, where maybe Bob Dylan played, you know, when he was young. You know it is like , I always say for a musician of my generation. Playing in the United States is like a priest to go to the Vatican. You know here is the center. Everything was born here. You know the music I love, the music I listen to.”

He says all the genres he loves, come straight from our shores, “All of the kind of music of the 19th, the 20th century is born in America, you know, so you cannot escape from music born in America, the music today, you know, because everything comes from the blues; Hip-Hop, Funk, Modern Pop, everything has a root in the blues. But today it is quite impossible to recognize how many routes there are, different routes there are in music, you know. So I was an Italian child growing up, listening to the music from the radio, from everywhere. So, it is normal to get in touch with American influences for an Italian guy.”

Still, Jovanotti has released only one album in English,  “My first one was in English. We call it spaghetti English or macaroni English you know it is an English more invented it is a creative English. Because I was listening to rap, hip hop you know so it was natural to do it in English. Not in Italian. Because it was very strange to rap in Italian, because Italian language it is still very strange for rap.  And for rock and roll also because there is a question of, structural question, connected with the vocals, the words, you know. So it is difficult for us to do rock in Italian. But you have to do it, because I want to do something more than say move your feet to the beat. , you know. And I wanted to say something more organic, something more complex. And so I had to use my language.”

But, he has collaborated with several American artists including Ben Harper, and most recently Michael Franti, with a song that was a hit this past summer on both sides of the Atlantic, The Sound of Sunshine.  Jovanotti says it was a real ear opener for many Italians, “In Italy it was a big hit, because Michael  Franti, nobody knew Michael Franti in Italy, just a bunch of passionate people, people who loved music but now he is very popular because the song was a summer hit.”

But not all of his collaborations are formal, on sites like Soundcloud; he shares his tracks with other musicians and fans alike.  Something Jovanotti says comes naturally for him, “When I started I started as a disc jockey, I was DJ-ing for 10 years as a professional DJ-ing. Since my 16 to 30 I was a professional DJ.  And so DJ-ing is that creating, sequences. Stealing things, getting things.  So when I became a popular artist in my country, I wanted to offer to the DJ-ing the material to do what they want.  Creativity, I believe ideas is for everybody. And a good idea, when I have a good idea, and it tell you a good idea, I don't lose my good idea. We got a good idea, you have a good idea.  You know ideas are not like material. That if I give you mine, lose it. Because I give it back to you and then you give me back something more. Something different. And that is beautiful.  You know, sometimes I listen to young kids, they re-mix my songs, and there is something even better that I like more than something I have done. And that is beauty, because in the next future I will use their idea in my music you know, so it generates art.”

And art is what fans of his shows will see on stage, his songs ripped apart and re-built in front of their eyes as he and his band play for the crowd...and play- off each other. The joy of the collaboration is clear, and Jovanotti says he loves every minute of it, “It is more than fun, you know it is sort of a physical, there is a sort of creative community, you know.  You get real in touch with music, and you become an instrument of the music. You know you become like possessed. By music and you have to translate this sensation you have and the momentum.  And that is it, that is it, you have to be like, I’m not a real musician in the traditional sense, you know, I don't read music,  you know. But I am, I feel music inside of me.  And so what I do is like, you know in Italy you have they guy you know on the cross road, that do like, this, you go, you stay, stop it.  Pass ok. You know, and that is the things I do you know. The thing I do. You know a classical director, you know he's got something to read, and so he has to interpret something that someone has written before.  In my case it is totally different, I don't have quite anything written.  So I have to interpret the atmosphere of the place. To interpret what is happening musically, the speed of the song. The structure of the song. And that is fine for me. And that is experiencing also. Because I learn a lot every night I learn. I do a lot of mistakes, but I don't believe in mistakes, you know mistakes don't exist. Life is always full of energy. And mistakes are very useful actually. “

That openness to all that life and music have to offer already has Jovanotti looking ahead, and he says and in an interesting way, looking back. “Then you know,  growing up, getting older I rediscovered my origins musically. My ancient origins that my parents would listen to the origins of the music of the Mediterranean area you know.  And so that is the beauty of life, you always discover something.” And he adds, “I spent 20 years of my life never considering all the Italian music heritage, but now getting my white beard I am getting crazy for opera, I listen to opera a lot of times. It doesn't mean you will be listening to me singing in bel canto, it is not like that  but in opera there is something magical, I don't know how but I think I’ve got to steal something.”

Until he decides where that will lead, fans can content themselves with an album from this tour due out in late spring and perhaps another U.S. visit in the fall -- at least if we're fortunati, lucky.