37. Paulo Conte’s work

Posted on 08/03/2017

37. Paulo Conte’s work

I first saw Paulo Conte in Paris in the 1980’s. It was a riveting night, opening up a new world of music for me. Not only are his songs delightful, but his musicians are a mixture between what you might hear in a french or italian village feast: antique wind instruments like shawms. Together with this are usually two guitars influenced by Django Rheinhardt and the gipsy music tradition. Holding it all together as well the main solo instrument is Conte’s piano playing. One of his most popular songs has been used in several films: here it is with white tie and tails treatment: very graceful.

To an English speaking listener it is surprising when Paulo sings

‘its wonderful, its wonderful,its wonderful, I dream of you,

its wonderful, its wonderful chips chip chips’

The song is about his inviting this girl to go ‘away with me’ and the prospect for her is summarised by the ‘wonderful, chips’ etc chorus. It is charmingly unexpected and has made this song his most populare.

Conte writes the songs, sings them and plays the piano, always prominently featured. His piano playing is untuous and clever: it deserves the lead  role in many songs. It gets the lead role in ‘Swing’, below, aside from  a charming burst of scat singing starting at 3.1 minutes.

Conte is also notable for his slow and sentimental songs. One of them is ‘Max‘. The lyric is affecting, but hardly says anything:

‘Max was just Max, calmer than ever, his lucidity – Stop it Max, your easiness; dont simplify things Max; Max, doesnt explain himself; let me out Max, I can see a secret getting close, Max’

Thats the entire lyric. Its evocative just as words, but emotional in the song:

The music has a yearning quality, a sense of loss only very indirectly expressed in the lyric. One of his other songs, ‘Hemingway’ is of the same character. In the middle of the Italian lyric he says ‘Et alonrs, Monsieur Hemingway, ca va?’: is everything all right Mr Hemingway. A kindly solicitude.

One song that most certainly comes from the heart is ‘Genova per noi’ (Genoa for us). Conte comes from inland of Genoa, a small town called Asti (famous for its sparkling wine). But the town is immeasurably boring for a man as stylish as Conte, who was obliged to spend a lot more time there than he would have chosen. The song:

The lyric is wistful and evocative:

‘that funny expression that we have before we leave for Genoa….Genoa for us, who live up country and rarely have sun in the piazza: the rest is only rain…[Genoa] we move around it cautiously, like stray dogs…Macaia, ape of light and excess; mist, fish, Africa, sleep, nausea, fantasy, and all the while the shade of their wardrobes, they keep linen and old lavender, let us return to our storms, Genoa, to the days that are all the same…Mm, that funny look, that funny expression that we have, we, who’ve seen Genoa’

Those excerpts frome the lyric illustrate its haunting nostalgic quality. Listening to it always makes my Italian daughter in law cry!

I have referred to another of his songs in Post 36, where his song the ‘Green Milonga‘ is discussed: a mesmerising dance. Again, a mysterious lyric.

This brief review of Conte’s work ends with ‘Boogie’. Conte’s obsessions include mysterious tropical places, mysterious women, nostaligia and sadness/boredom. But a central theme is jazz. Mainly of the swing variety. He was clearly much incluenced by big bands in his early life. His own band/orchestra has elements of the big band about it, crossed with mediterranean village bands, and gipsy music. This can all be heard in Boogie woogie.

The song is set in a hall with a band playing. The lyric begins by focussing upon a couiple dancing (as in Via con me’ video included above). But this song focusses more upon the band. A section of the lyric is:

‘and the song went on its elegant way/the band was ready to fly, taking off, taking off/ boogie woogie/the musicians became one/with the ceiling and with the floor’

If you listen to the italian lyric, you hear the words ‘decolava, decolava’ which mean ‘takeoff’ like an aeroplane: one of the climaxes of the song. The song ends with the splendid line:

‘any mistakes were those made by professionals’

Paulo Conte, although he has strong influences, is unique. His husky deep voice (matured in a million Marlboro cigarettes) enunciates the lyrics colourfully, together with his piano, which emphases the bottom register and has characteristic twists to the style of what he plays. He is very well known on the Continent, but not as famous as he deserves to be in the Anglo Saxon world.


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