Raf asks: “Where shall we sit? Is that table fine?”. He walks slowly towards the furthest corner of a room of Teatro Grande, right next to a piano which he’ll play softly after the interview. It’s raining outside, Rome’s heavy raindrops. “I don’t like the rain – he says – I just don’t like when it’s cold, it makes me moody”.
He smiles often, with the nice manners of who’s in peace with life, dimples on his cheeks and almost too shy to look around. From October 19th to November 26th he toured Italy to promote his latest album, “Sono io”, and from the light flickering in his eyes as he’s talking, it must have been a good tour.
The tour to promote your album “Sono io”, was concluded at Politeama Genovese on November 26th. How did it go? Are you happy with it?
I’m very happy with it. I wanted to present my album in theaters this year, which I hadn’t done in quite some time. I got to enjoy the cozy atmosphere of a small place again, where you can actually get close and personal with people, see their faces from the stage and feel fulfilled. The music sounds better too, there is less noise, more concentration overall which allows for more acoustic sounds, piano and voice, and softer atmosphere: all the arrangement is noticed in every detail.
Is that connected with the themes of your album, too? Love, art, depth of the soul all seem to flow into each other to bundle up in a punch straight to the stomach.
Not directly. This album, that seems quite conceptual, isn’t actually that different from the previous ones. Over the years there have been many songs that went unnoticed and ignored by most people. Songs with uncomfortable themes, social ones, blunt and straightforward, more than any committed author would dare to do. Going back to your question, theaters respond to the need to explain my songs up close and personal with the audience.
So did you like it?
I don’t know about that (laughing), but the album is called “This is me”, so that’s what I wanted to explain, a few things about me. It was the right time.
In the single there are lines such as: “I may be a visionary, but I wouldn’t trade any of my flaws/ no one in the world is perfect/ still, everyone can judge others better than themselves/ in this time of excess I am the paradox”; but also: “…that’s why I was born, I am what I think, play, sing”. It kind of sounds like: Get up! Shout who you are! It pushes you to be brave. Who taught you to be brave?
It happens throughout life, just like that, with someone you come across, which in my case was my wife. There are people who put a mirror in front of you, so you can see who you really are, see the truth. You leave the difficult path for your journey and head on to the easy one. That’s something that I understood over the years. As for music, when I was younger I was the typical teenager who’d listen to music I didn’t like just because that’s what everyone did. Those are the years when you’re looking for yourself, which often brings you on the more difficult paths rather than the right one for you.
Did you already know who you wanted to be?
It came later, I didn’t know much about myself at all, and it all happened at once. In the song “Sono io” I talk about some important truths about myself, about the flaws I wouldn’t change. Because if you try to do what I do, you have to open up and let go. That’s what I did in this album.
When you write a new song and become bare, becoming vulnerable, do you every wonder how your fans will react?
If I did I would get the opposite result: studied out songs, prepackaged lyrics. If you make light music you never want to stick to clichès. It’s the only way to be original and it’s really hard.
Besides, you must always take the responsibility of the risks you take, even if that means having lots of ups and downs in your career like me. I produce, I do everything. Not to boast (laughing), but I just love what I do and want to enjoy it. So yes, it is risky to not worry about how they will take your songs, but this is me, I couldn’t be any other way.
Your songs aren’t all light music, though.
Right. In each album there are always two or three pieces of a totally different genre, both for the music and for the contents. There have been whole albums like “La prova”, which were pop rock songs, not very commercial. Even then, though, it wasn’t planned or thought out, it just came like that.
In this album you go back to English lyrics, (“Show me the way” ) after almost thirty two years since your debut with “Self control”. What makes an author write in a different language? What does that add or take away?
In my songs it’s a question of rhythm, harmony. All the songs I write are in English at first. I just jot down words sometimes, with no apparent connection, but that’s just part of the creative process. I may think of a melody, write sentences in English that go with it, then at the very end I come up with the Italian lyrics. It’s not a mere translation, of course, because you need the sound as well as the concepts to go with the music, so it’s a long process.
When I wrote “Self Control” there were people helping me, but for “Show me the way” I did it myself. My English is definitely better now that I live half the year in Miami.
Why did you decide to live in the US and why in Miami?
The weather! (laughing) Honestly for the people my age America has always been a dream place. We didn’t have play stations back then, but vinyls, we spent our days listening to music that came from America: all songs came from there, and we were fascinated by that. I would watch the Beatles and think I wanted to be like them! Then in the 70s’ there was a sense of rejection, of division: political turmoil, peace demonstrations in the streets. All these contradictions, the innovation alongside with closed mindedness, made me want to get to know America directly, to understand. The world may no longer be centered in the US, but it’s still fascinating. When I spend a long time there, I feel free. It’s for my children, too. I want them to have more opportunities.
Part of my album was recorded there, not in Miami, which is more of a base camp for me, but in Los Angeles.
Was that interesting? Was it different from recording in Italy?
Definitely. Globalization reduces the differences now. It’s extremely fascinating, walking in studios where the real myths of music worked, so that’s very exciting.
You often write, even in the album “Sono io”, on the value of dreams. Do you, Raf, still have dreams?
Let me say this first: I don’t want to be accused of being overly sympathetic for what I’m going to say. Dream is a word that’s been overused in the past few years in Italy, as if those who speak with common sense just cared about popularity. My priority today is my kids, their happiness and the happiness of the future generations. That’s where my dreams are in, a peaceful world. Many of us feel that need.
Photography: ANDREA CICCALÈ
Make up artist: VALENTINA CIPRIANI
Location: TEATRO CENTRALE ROMA
Special Thanks: TIZIANA TOZZI and MARA ESPOSITO
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