60. Its wonderful: chips, chips

Posted on 23/07/2017

60. Its wonderful: chips, chips

Not many singers would think of a lyric such as this. Indeed only one has: the great Paulo Conte. Its partly that although he admires jazz and US big bands enormously, he is not a native English speaker. The Italian title is ‘via on me’ and as you can hear in this live version, when he sings ‘I dream of you’ he sings ‘dreme’ like ‘creme egg’. His English is not impeccable but his musical taste certainly is.

His musical influences can be seen in his band. It is partly jazz but also contains Mediterranean influence in the often curious musical influences and instruments such as shawms. He typically has two guitarists, one playing with a circular motion and the other chopping down. Although his has a big band, it is often used for moments of colour rather than slabs of orchestration. The piano and his voice are king.

Conte was born in Asti, famous for fizzy wine. But his experience of it was of a stultifyingly boring provincial town. He wrote the moving song ‘Genova per noi’.

Genoa for us

With that iffy face
that iffy expression
we have before leaving for Genoa
and every time we wonder
whether that place we are going to
will swallow us and we’ll never come back.
But still, we are somehow related
to the people there
and deep down they are as cantankerous as we are
but we are so afraid of that black sea
that moves even at night and never stands still.
Genoa for us,
those who live deep down in the countryside
those who rarely have the sun shining on the town square
and for the remaining time are drenched by rain
Genoa, as I was telling you, is just one of many ideas.
Ah, la la la la la
But that iffy face
that iffy expression
we have when we observe Genoa
and every time [we go there] we sniff it
we move cautiously
we feel a little like stray dogs.
A lull 1, a monkey, light and folly
a haze, fish, Africa, sleep, queasiness, fantasy…
Meanwhile, in the shade of their closets
they keep linens and old lavender.
Let us go back to our thunderstorms
in Genoa, every day is exactly the same.
In the motionless countryside
with the rain soaking us
red prawns are a dream
and the sun is a yellow flash on the windshield…
With that iffy face
that iffy expression
we have, having seen Genoa…

Its a powerfully nostalgic song. This version recorded in Naples still brings tears to the eyes of my Neapolitan daughter in law.  The lyric also contains his dreams of Africa and exotic places that people his daydreams and occupy his songs.

The song ‘oogie’ bears witness to his love of American music, with his own twist. His sung introduction gives way to delicate piano playing, which has no direct relationship to boogie woogie but is quite delightful in its own right. He displays an original way of phrasing his piano playing which I find captivating.

The ‘Verde milonga’ is an amazing song. Its about a mesmerising dance which the mythical author forces Conte to dance. It contains a brilliant piano figure, which conjures up the dance that the artist is obliged to make.

Grappling with a green milonga
the musician enjoys himself and gets exhausted
and you will have me, you green milonga who were written for me,
for my sensitiveness, for my well-polished shoes
for my time and for my taste
you will have me, you restless green milonga,
who wring a smile of truce out of me at each chord
while you drive my fingers mad
I am here, I’ve come to play,
I’ve come to love and, secretly, to dance
and supposing [2] the milonga was a song,
well, I woke it up and led it to a slower rhythm
so the milonga revealed about herself [3] much more than what appeared,
her African origin, her zebra elegance,
her border-line essence, a green border-line,
a green border-line between playing and loving,
green show on the run, to run after,
to always run after, to run after even longer, up to the white lakes of silence
until Atahualpa [4] or some other god
says to you: “Get out of the way, child, I’ll go on!”
I am here, I’ve come to play,
I’ve come to dance and, secretly, to love


Conte has a large collection of highly individual songs. This selection just gives a flavour of it. He is now 80 and still going strong despite a vast consumption of Marlborough cigarettes: another US influence. Long may he flourish!

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