Rock music has a unique place in Italian culture.
It’s been present in the country since the genre’s birth in the ’50s, but perhaps because rock isn’t native to Italy, it didn’t really explode onto the popular scene until the early ’90s.
Don’t worry; this isn’t a history lesson!
But what this means is that rock music in Italy has always had a local flavor. It’s not associated with filling stadiums (like the crooners and pop stars have always done) but with small clubs and bars.
The singer’s voices that cut through riffing guitars highlight local issues and political turmoil in regional dialects, accents and with a healthy dose of slang.
If you’re interested in peeking behind the scenes of Italian culture, learning some real down-to-earth Italian and hearing some excellent tracks, then turn up your stereo and get ready to rock.
Rock Out with Your Book Out
We can all understand the language of music. When you hear a great song, you start tapping your foot no matter what country it’s from.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are a different matter.
Rock music isn’t written with language learners in mind, so if you hope to boost your skills while listening to Italian rock, you’ll need to do a few things to stay sharp:
- Study the lyrics. Look up the lyrics and copy them down. This will help you to remember the vocabulary.
- Look up new words. Get out your trusty dictionary and translate away. Use a highlighter to identify new words.
- Watch videos. Hit up YouTube for music videos. If there are Italian subtitles available, this will help you simultaneously practice reading and catch any unfamiliar words. The video itself can also provide important clues about the context and tone of the song.
- Sing along. It’s not enough just to sing the words. Remember to imitate the accents as closely as possible to improve your pronunciation!
- Memorize the lyrics. Committing a song to memory means all those words will stay with you for years to come!
Punks, Shoegazers and Headbangers Unite! 5 Rock Groups for Learning Italian with Music
Delving into a new music scene is never easy, but luckily for you, we’ve done the footwork and gathered up some of Italy’s most interesting and entertaining rockers for your learning and listening pleasure. This is just a sample of the vast array of bands and genres in the Italian rock library, so if you like what you hear, keep digging and keep listening!
One of the most famous Italian rock bands, Massimo Volume (Maximum Volume) bends toward the post-rock genre with their complex rhythms and spacey jams.
This is one the best bands to start with for a number of reasons. First, they hail from Bologna, so they speak a clear, unadulterated Italian that’s probably similar to what you’ve studied.
Second, the lead singer doesn’t exactly sing; he opts for spoken word to add depth to his poetic lyrics, which makes it much easier to make out each word.
Third, the lyrics are meaningful and beautiful but at the same time down-to-earth. This means the songs contain a lot of accessible vocabulary and day-to-day Italian that can be learned and used right away in your own Italian conversations.
This incredible Venetian band’s name translates to “The Theater of Horrors,” and they dominate the Italian alternative rock scene. All the members are masters of their craft, and while some of their work tends toward the darker side of life, it’s never without passion and intellect.
The distortion and noise rock aspects of their music can make the lyrics difficult to distinguish at times, but listening with the text reveals the hard-hitting yet direct (and grammatically simple) messages. For example, the title track of their album “A Sangue Freddo” (“In Cold Blood”), which is dedicated to a murdered Nigerian poet, features these lyrics:
Non ti ricordi di Ken Saro-Wiwa?/ Il poeta nigeriano/ … perché troppo ha amato/ L’hanno ammazzato davanti a tutti. (Don’t you remember Ken Saro-Wiwa?/ The Nigerian poet/ … because he loved too much/ They killed him in front of everyone.)
The strong yet easy to grasp messages in Il Teatro degli Orrori’s lyrics make them a great choice for picking up some Italian while learning about some of the societal issues that the Italian alt-rock community is confronting.
On a lighter note, we move on to a duo of Sicilian folk-rockers known as Il Pan del Diavolo (the Devil’s Bread).
These acoustic guitar-slinging ramblers from Palermo might choose to play “unplugged” but that doesn’t mean they don’t rock as hard as any other band on this list.
Their music infuses American folk and country sounds with the heart and soul of Sicily. The Italian that the singers belt out is full of biting Sicilian humor, and if you can handle the accent, uncovering the meaning behind these lyrics will bring a wry smile to your lips.
Musically, Il Pan del Diavolo is a great band to help you transition from American to Italian sounds, but lyrically they’re definitely an intermediate level listen.
Although the world of Italian rock can seem dominated by men, there are women artists making their mark on the genre. This brings us to Levante, (which translates roughly to “rising up”), the stage name for musician Claudia Lagona.
Levante’s rich voice and catchy hooks will have you tapping your foot upon the first of many listens, and her lyrics are full of witticisms on modern life and finding love.
Lagona was born in Sicily but moved to Turin, so her Italian is sharp and easy to understand. She also doesn’t have heavy instrumentals on her tracks, so her voice is front and center.
It’s hard not to be touched by the raw, frank emotion of Levante, and some of that can be easily understood in her lyrics:
Io non so se questo é amore/ se batte forte il cuore/ se volano farfalle nello stomaco… (I don’t know if this is love/ if my heart beats quickly/ if butterflies fly in my stomach…).
Some of her other lyrics do, however, get more grammatically complex and use conjunctive and conditional tenses quite often, so you might want to study up before trying to learn all of Levante‘s catalog.
We finish our look at Italian rockers with one of most amazing origin stories of any band, ever.
The members of this group met in a hospital in Abruzzo as they recovered from a car accident, and when they got out and started making music they decided to name their band Management del Dolore Post-operatorio (Post-operative Pain Management) after their harrowing experience.
Management del Dolore Post-operatorio fits under the post-punk category and their lyrics are full of crude and counter-cultural jabs:
Amore non ti posso sposare/ le tue scarpe sono troppo costose (My love, I can’t marry you/ your shoes are too expensive).
While they have some of the most thought-provoking lines, their lyrics can be hard to understand and follow, making them appropriate for an upper-intermediate student or someone looking for a challenge.
Don’t Let the Man Get You Down
As you’ll surely see and hear after a few listens, there’s much more to Italian rock music than thrashing guitars and tattooed frontmen. Once you get into the music, it’s time to become a part of the Italian rock community.
Most of your favorite Italian singers and bands have Facebook and Bandcamp pages and can be followed and supported just like all the bands you already listen to. Make sure to take your musical knowledge and Italian listening to the next level by logging on and watching live performances and interviews by your favorite new artists.
If your ears get tired, sharpen your reading skills by searching bands on Wikipedia Italia and reading their bios. You can even drop an artist a line and let them know how much you like their work. Italian rockers don’t get as much love as they do in the U.S. or the U.K., so they really appreciate hearing feedback. Who knows? You might end up with a new Italian pen pal! Rock on!
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