Bringing Toto Cutugno Out of Obscurity
by Iryna Byelyayeva
It may surprise some of you to know that I grew up listening to a lot of Italian music. ‘But wait, Iryna,’ I hear you exclaim, ‘aren’t you from a post-Soviet country? One of those odd countries, which hid behind an iron curtain and didn’t let any light (or pop music) in?’ Well yes, friend and ardent follower of my life’s trajectory, but my parent grew up in the very outskirts of the Soviet Union—the edge of the curtain. And at the edge of the curtain, Italian music was very popular.
The man I recognise best from my car trips listening to a CD of Italian music is Toto Cutugno. Perhaps Cutugno isn’t as well-recognised as Italian heartthrob and Mafioso-looking Adriano Celentano (though Cutugno did win Eurovision in 1990), but Cutugno is who I always loved best. His 1983 album L’italiano is a strong staple in my Spotify library.
Cutugno’s music is incredibly pleasant. The Italian, a language I love so much that I never want to ruin it by learning, gives his songs an otherworldly, romantic quality. The way he builds to the chorus in ‘Donna, donna mia’—luring in all the girls with the repetition of ‘mia’—and then pushes us all into a swoon by finally reaching it, is just something else. ‘Solo Noi’ is a lovely song. As is ‘Soli’—although this one is probably better remembered in its iteration by Celentano (who, it must be said, has a much more swoon-worthy voice … if Cutugno is who you bring home to your parents, Celentano is who you go spend hours lying under an olive tree with).
I recently found out, from word of mouth, that due to his contract with Sony, Cutugno had to give the majority of his song to Celentano. Whether this is true or not I can’t figure out because everything on the internet about these two men is in Italian—if I happen to have any Italian readers out there, please help me. Celentano has a great repertoire of catchy tunes up his sleeve, some of which do sound a lot like Cutugno’s writing (‘Il Tempo Se Ne Va’, for example). But Cutugno has one better—‘L’Italiano (Laschiatemi Cantare)’.
‘L’Italiano’ is the perfect musical representation of Italy. It’s classy, romantic, and a little bit heady and slow. Not only that, but I translated on google the lyrics and they are an absolute delight. This is, in fact, a love song to Italy. The sentiments range from ‘With the guitar in hand/ let me sing/ a slow song … because I’m proud/ I’m Italian’, to ‘Good morning Italy with your artists/ with too much America on the posters’ and finally to ‘Good morning Italy/ spaghetti al dente’. Lovely.
Cutugno is coming to Melbourne. My mum and I have tickets to see him live, something she never foresaw all those years ago as she danced to his music in discos during the Soviet Union. Seeing him was something I never thought possible either—I grew up with a ton of languages flying through my pop culture, but in a country that only values English music. Cutugno, like Celentano and masses of others, is a wonderful Italian musician, songwriter and icon. Give him a listen.