4 January 2020

Pino Daniele - guitarist and songwriter

Naples mourned star with flags at half-mast


Pino Daniele on stage in 1982 in the early part of his career, when he was already becoming a star
Pino Daniele on stage in 1982 in the early part of his
career, when he was already becoming a star
The Neapolitan singer-songwriter and guitarist Pino Daniele died on this day in 2015 in hospital in Rome.

Daniele, whose gift was to fuse his city’s traditional music with blues and jazz, suffered a heart attack after being admitted with breathing difficulties. Because of a history of heart problems, he had been taken to a specialist hospital in Rome after falling ill at his holiday home in Tuscany.

On learning of his death at only 59, the Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris ordered that flags on municipal buildings in the city be flown at half-mast.

Born in 1955, Daniele grew up in a working class family in the Sanità neighborhood of Naples, once a notorious hotbed of crime. His father worked at the docks.

As a musician, he was self-taught, mastering the guitar with no formal lessons and developing a unique voice, alternately soaring and soft, and gravelly to the point of sounding almost hoarse.  He named the great American jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and George Benson as his major influences but also drew deeply on the life, culture and traditions of his home city, which he loved.

Daniele taught himself how to play  the guitar
Daniele taught himself how to play
the guitar
His songs sometimes combined Italian, English and Naples dialect.  One of his best known songs was Napule E, which he wrote as a tribute to the city and its contradictions.

Daniele coined the term "tarumbò" to define his music, which he described as a blend of tarantella, blues and rumba. His lyrics often railed against what he perceived as the social injustices of Naples and broader Italian society.

He released his first album, Terra mia - "My Land" - in 1977 and his popularity grew quickly.  Only four years later, he staged an outdoor concert in Naples that attracted 200,000 fans.  His reputation was further enhanced when he was asked to be the opening act at a Bob Marley concert in Milan.

Terra mia was the first of 24 studio albums, one of the most successful of which was the 1980 release Nero a metà - "Half-black". He also recorded seven live albums and 23 singles. His last recording - Nero a metà Live - captured his performance on stage in Milan only a couple of weeks before he died. It was released after his death.

Daniele’s total record sales have been conservatively estimated at in excess of five million. He was at his peak in the mid-1990s. His 1995 album Non calpestare i fiori nel deserto - “Don’t Step on the Flowers in the Desert” - sold more than 800,000 copies, while Dimmi cosa succede sulla Terra - “Tell me What Happens on Earth” (1997) - topped one million.

He also wrote the lyrics and music, including the hit Quando - "When", for three films directed by his fellow-Neapolitan, the actor-director and comic Massimo Troisi.

Daniele in 2010, at around the time he was performing in concerts with the legendary Eric Clapton
Daniele in 2010, at around the time he was performing
in concerts with the legendary Eric Clapton
In 2010, Daniele was invited by his friend Eric Clapton to play at the Crossroads Guitar Festival at Toyota Park in Chicago, and the following year reciprocated by performing in a concert with former Cream lead guitarist Clapton at Cava de' Tirreni stadium.

Daniele was hailed by the great and good after his death. As well as receiving countless tributes from fellow musicians, including his close friend Eros Ramazzotti, the then-prime minister Matteo Renzi spoke of “an incredible voice...precious guitar-playing…” and “a rare sensitivity that was tinged with passion and melancholy that will continue to tell the story of our country to the whole world."

A service for Daniele took place at Rome's Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love before his remains were taken back to Naples, where the funeral had to be moved from the Basilica di San Francesco Di Paola to the Piazza del Plebiscito to accommodate tens of thousands of fans.

Daniele grew up in the working class  neighbourhood of Rione Sanità, at the foot of Capodimonte hill
Daniele grew up in the working class neighbourhood of
Rione Sanità, at the foot of Capodimonte hill
Travel tip:

The Rione Sanità district of Naples, where Daniele was born and grew up, is situated at the foot of the Capodimonte hill and was once home to some of the richest families in Naples, as the presence of some fine palaces is a reminder. It then fell into disrepair, becoming a notorious slum area, with high unemployment and a dominant Camorra presence.  However, its air of faded grandeur attracted a number of writers and film directors to use it as a backdrop and it has seen something of a revival in recent years, with shops, artistic studios and workshops springing up, and a growing number of bars and restaurants turning into a popular area after dark. Sanità was also the birthplace of the brilliant comic actor Totò.

Porticoes line the historic main street through the centre of Cava
Porticoes line the historic main
street through the centre of Cava
Travel tip:

Cava de’ Tirreni is a fascinating historical town just a few kilometres inland from Vietri sul Mare, the seaside resort at the southern end of the famed Amalfi Coast, occupying the valley between the cities of Salerno and Nocera Inferiore.  It takes its name from its first inhabitants, the Tyrrhenians, who were descendant from the Etruscans. The focal point of the town is the long, porticoed Corso Umberto, which runs from one end of the centre to the other, eventually turning into the narrow, winding Borgo Scacciaventi, which was Cava’s 15th century shopping centre. With its nearby Benedictine Abbey, the Abbazia della Santissima Trinità, Cava de' Tirreni has been an important destination for travellers since the 17th century and was popular with poets and Grand Tourists in the 19th century.

Also on this day:

1710: The birth of ‘opera buffa’ composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

1881: The birth of Gaetano Merola, founder of the San Francisco Opera

1952: The birth of Mafia executioner Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Greco

1975: The death of Carlo Levi, author of Christ Stopped at Eboli


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