Whenever asked to comment on the relationship between words and music in his compositions, Paolo Conte has no doubts in attributing to his music the more crucial role, that of "regista" (director) as he puts it, without fail considering the lyrics somewhat as adjuncts or qualifiers. This may not always be apparent from the final result, where apart from the natural prominence of the vocal line, the two appear magically intertwined and completely interdependent; but unlike some singer-songwriters, and regardless of all the praise heaped on his lyrics, his first and foremost interests have never been other than musical.

Not only does he come from a jazz tradition where he quite typically practised purely instrumental forms, he also spent a large part of his early songwriting career composing purely for the lyrics of others, before seemingly being forced into writing his own, out of the need to adequately mirror what the music was communicating. Even then he continued to explore the possibilities of purely instrumental composition through his theatre and film scores, on a number of occasions reusing previously recorded songs after stripping them of their words. These might very well have been carefully and painstakingly constructed for their context but they could still be discarded if ever necessary.

In fact this less central role is to some extent revealed by the way in which even the lyrics themselves are always on the verge of becoming music. From the "za-za-ra-zzaz" of Bartali (1979) to the "Bababibedadibamba" of Danson metropoli (1995) or that "du-du-du-du" in the famous Via con me (1981), everyone is familiar with Conte's mini-excursions into skat.

Sometimes these phonemes have an explicit onomatopoeic function as in: "grut-grut-grut,pot-pot-pot,cling-cling-cling:/ e' un traffico africano" (…its an African bustle) from Ratafià, (1987) or "Ma i tuoi piedi: tap-tap-ta-ta-tap"(but your feet:… ) from Happy feet (1990).



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