In the lovely summer of 1981, while travelling through my beloved territories in Italy, my free compass after visiting the Umbria Jazz Festival took me to Sardegna. There, in a ‘campeggio libero’ at at beach near Santa Lucia, I met a free-spirited group of people from Naples. As with meeting any Napolitan, we became immediately close friends, cooking together, and enjoying the sun.
One night, across the campfire, sharing wine, they started to hum some tunes, in the lovely, sweet dialect of theirs. I was instantly all ears, and hooked by the melodies.
‘What is it? Who is this?’ I asked them. Equally bewildered by my reaction, they looked at me and asked, addressing me by the nickname they had given me to tease me, who is the patron saint of Napoli.
‘Gennaro’ laughed Diego.
‘This is Pino. Don’t you know Pino Daniele? Don’t tell me you don’t know him.’
Then, in a chorus, all five-six of them hummed, ‘Gennaro, come on!’ They could not believe that their hero was ‘that unknown’.
Soon, a cassette player was brought to the assembly at the fire, and I was introduced to Pino Daniele’s divine world of music. All night long by the seashore, till dusk, I remember myself listening to his first albums — ‘Terra Mia’, ‘Pino Daniele’, ‘Nero a Meta’ and — what the boys from Napoli then loved to hum — ‘Vai Mo’.
As a connoisseur of music, I had thought I had a grip on the Italian progressive music scene — one can only imagine the Zeitgeist of the ’70s — and felt a discreet shame for the late discovery.
But, I was so overwhelmed that it passed quickly.
What mesmerized me was the immediate impact Pino’s music had on anyone, regardless of where she or he comes from. There you had a musician whom you could not pinpoint easily, an artist who had apparently reached maturity at a very early age.
He had been in his teens instinctively understood the value of freedom beyond the norms and forms, absorbed influences of blues, funk and jazz from territories distant from the port of his beloved Napoli, and saw an unprecedented way of amalgamation between his folk roots and those ‘outside’.
From the very first note, you could hear Pino’s soul in his music: free, rebellious, ‘counter’ yet with full of respect for his roots, devoted to the Napolitan tradition of expression, perhaps deeper than any other Italian musician in his generation.
He blended the ingredients in such a succesful way — which perhaps could be compared to another great artist of our times, Milton Nascimento of Brazil- that he was rapidly drawing the attention from musical explorers like him elsewhere: Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Eric Clapton, Pat Metheny, Nana Vasconcelos, Marcus Miller, Richie Havens and others who did appear on his albums, as well as did jam with him in concerts.
What distinguished Pino was also his grand achievement to bring his city to world attention through his flawless compositions, but more importantly, his particular ‘Pino…