One of the greatest Italian musicians of all time, as far as I’m concerned, has just passed away. His name is Pino Daniele. He died after an apparent heart attack at the age of 59.
Pino made a great impression on me, back when I was growing up in Italy in the 1970s and 80s. The dominant Italian musical genre on the radio then was the bland, romantic pop ballad. Some of them were nice ballads, but pretty boring to my teenage ears.
Along came Pino Daniele.
He made music like I’d never heard before. It mixed jazz, rhythm and blues, and thumping funk with the more traditional elements of music from Naples, which is where Pino Daniele came from.
He sang some lyrics in English, but mostly he sang in the almost impenetrable Neapolitan slang. I am fluent in Italian, but my Neapolitan isn’t so good. So I’ve never understood about half of what Pino Daniele said in his songs.
But you don’t have to, his groove carries you along.
In fact, Pino Daniele became known by the title of his 1980 album, “Nero a metà.” It means “halfway black” and it was an apt nickname because it highlighted Pino's passion for African American musical styles that no Italian artist had embraced so fully before.
And he pulled it off with his own style. He managed to sound both funky and Italian, and it’s that combination that was so mind-blowing for me decades ago when I first heard him.
And it still is today, and not just for me.
As Italy mourns the passing of one of its musical greats, many Italians are reminiscing by buying Pino Daniele’s songs all over again. Many of his most famous hits are on the top 20 list of most popular downloads on iTunes’ Italy site. And as for the top five downloaded albums on the site — all belong to Pino Daniele today.
Rest in peace, Pino. Mi mancherai, I’ll miss you.