This interview first appeared on the June 2012 issue of Fra Noi. Pino Daniele will perform live in New York (June 7, Apollo Theater), Boston (June 9, Berklee Performance Center) and Washington D.C. (June 10, D.C. Jazz Festival). Copies of his latest album “La Grande Madre” can be found on Amazon.com.
When it comes to music, most artists are fairly simple to categorize. In the case of Neapolitan singer-songwriter Pino Daniele, though, the task is much harder.The 57-year-old guitar virtuoso has been pushing his unique amalgam of blues, rock, pop and melodic tunes for the past 35 years, daring to enter a musical realm that was far away from Italian standards. The gamble paid off, making Pino Daniele one of the greatest contemporary singers and musicians the Italian scene has to offer today.
Although he has been around for a long time, Daniele is now taking on a new challenge: Going solo. After more than 20 studio albums with various record labels, his latest recording, “La Grande Madre,” (The Great Mother) is the first entrepreneurial endeavor for the Neapolitan rocker, who has joined the independent label Blue Drag.
To put it in his own words, it is “the first step as an independent.”
Now that Daniele has left behind the constraints of record label demands, it seems he is in the mood to explore a more sensorial approach to music, mixing African and South American elements with jazz and giving “La Grande Madre” an incredibly funky and catchy vibe.“For me, Africa is like a Great Mother,” he says. “Like my land and the South — all the Souths, actually. It’s like the Mediterranean Sea, like volcanic rock and the sound of children’s voices. It’s the hope that something good is on the horizon.”
“La Grande Madre” comes with 11 new original songs, enriched by a cover version of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.”
“I had the pleasure to meet Clapton in 2010, when he invited me to participate in the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. It was a great experience and I got to know him better. I sent him my version of his song a while ago and he said he loved it.” The song follows the original Clapton melody, to which Daniele has added his own Italian lyrics.
After the album’s release at the beginning of the year, Pino Daniele’s schedule quickly filled up with tour dates. After starting in Cesena on March 24, Daniele and his band of extraordinary musicians toured Italy’s major cities, with sold-out crowds in huge venues like Naples’ Pala Partenope and Rome’s Parco della Musica. (Two separate shows were held in both cities to accommodate the large number of Daniele’s fans.)
“I was really happy to see people’s positive reaction,” says Daniele. “I was a little worried at first, given you’re on your own and have a smaller budget when you promote these shows as an independent. But people have come to expect a great musical show and they are confident it will be good. I try not to disappoint them.”Given how well ticket sales have been going in the United States, it seems Daniele fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean are anxious to take part in the great show. The singer will open his three-day North American tour with a performance at New York’s historic Apollo Theater on June 7, followed by a concert at Boston’s Berklee Performance Center on June 9. The last leg of the short but intense trip will see the artist stop by Washington D.C.’s Jazz Festival on June 10.
“The United States are a fascinating country,” says Daniele. “I’m really happy to be able to play in the country from which so many of the musicians I grew up with are from. It’s quite inspiring.”
Traces of American influences are everywhere in Daniele’s music. From the smooth guitar-playing style to the blues and funky tones of some of his greatest hits, the artist is quite unique in Italy, where many of his contemporaries have preferred to stick to a more traditional and often easier path of Italian pop rock canons. His slightly high-pitched voice is delivered with a wide range of tonalities that captivate the listener, just like in his latest single “Melodramma,” where it seems to trail off into a horizon made of pure emotions. “Poets and artists have always taught us to love all the simple, natural and essential things. For this album I trusted my instinct, which took me on a journey to look for the Great Mother.”
In a way, the new album is Daniele’s answer to an increasingly fast-paced world, where despite the over-connectedness of a Facebook reality, we seem to be drifting away from the pleasing comfort of simple relationships.
“This album is almost like an attempt to take some time off from a society that is falling into self-destruction,” says Daniele. “Look at the musical industry, for example. It is growingly harder to express yourself artistically. When I started in the ’70s, music was a way of getting together and sharing an experience. Nowadays it is much more attached to the entertainment side of business. It’s not all bad, though. Sure, we sell fewer albums than we used to, but I think the people who still buy the albums appreciate the music more. I used to tour so that people could buy my album. Now tours are to prove yourself to those who bought the album and decided you’re worth the concert ticket.”
Throughout the years, Pino Daniele has made sure his concerts are worth every penny. He always surrounds himself with top musicians, like drummer Steve Gadd, pianist Chris Stainton and sax player Mel Collins.
“The live show is very important to me,” says Daniele. “It’s fundamental to play with the best, because you want to deliver something excellent. I think live performances are more important today than they were once, so it puts the artists on the spot. For me it’s great. It’s not as good for those who don’t have much to say.” Daniele, on the contrary, has quite a bit to say, and he’ll prove it once again as he comes to the East Coast this summer.