Passing time in Fiumicino Airport in Rome recently, I drifted into Feltrinelli. Since I had zilch carry-on space, buying an Italian book really wasn’t a viable option. But then I spotted the CD rack. I heard my Italian tutor Gabriella’s voice, “Listening to Italian music is a great way to learn the language.”
I scanned the offerings trying to intuit who would sing slowly and clearly enough for me to understand. Tiziano Ferro’s direct gaze on the cover Alla Mia Età captured my attention, as did Malika Ayane’s expressive face on Grovigli. The discs were discounted so I bought both and squeezed them into my bulging bag.
Ferro is great but it’s Ayane who intrigued from the start. Physically, she looks like a cross between the late Amy Winehouse and an un-masqueraded Lady Gaga. I’ve since learned that she’s 27 years old and was was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father. At the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory, she studied cello for 6 years. Simultaneously, she sang in the chorus of La Scala and sometimes had solo roles.
Ayane’s career trajectory changed dramatically when producer Caterina Caselli discovered and signed her in 2007. Of Ayane’s self-titled first album, Paolo Conte said: “Il colore di questa voce è un arancione scuro che sa di spezia amara e rara.” The color of this voice is a dark orange with a dark and rare spice.
Grovigli—the CD I purchased—means “Tangles.” Ayane wrote lyrics to several of the songs, some in English. The moods are varied but work together: Sultry emotion on Chiamami Adesso. The Lovin’ Spoonfulish pop vibe of Believe in Love (a duet with Cesare Cremonini) and Brighter Than Sunshine. The playfulness of the Little Brown Bear duet with Conte. The marvelous Ricomincio da Qui won a top award for Ayane at the San Remo Music Festival.
My favorite is called La Prima Cosa Bella (The First Beautiful Thing) which turns out to be the theme song of the award-winning 2010 film of the same name. Of course, I’m going to get the movie. After I watch, it will probably become my latest cinematic obsession—even if I didn’t discover it for myself.