Gabriella Ferri was an original. She was unmistakable with her great big voice, raw and raunchy, soft and poignant.
Her remake of songs like Dove Sta Zazą, Stornelli Antichi, La Societą dei Magnaccioni, Barcaralo Romano, and dozens of others brought to life old forgotten Neapolitan and Roman songs. They're distinctly different from other Italian music. To begin with, it's not "proper" Italian, but rather the local dialect. There are as many dialects in Italy as there are towns, but most are understandable. There are some regions, however, like the far North (Trento, which used to be part of Austria) and the far South (Sicily) who don't understand each other at all if they speak to each other in their own dialect. That's why most Italians learn the "proper" Italian, so that they can communicate among themselves. The dialects vary in words, tone, delivery, and more. The hot places, where some the most memorable music comes from, are: Rome, Naples, and Sicily. Songs from those regions are easy to recognize. They are extremely passionate, heart-wrenching, fun, and sometimes even funny. Gabriella made each song her very own, and sang her heart out when she performed. Her emotions came from deep within and were sent out with such force that you felt it too.
It's almost incredible to write about Gabriella in the past tense. She comes through so alive and kicking in her music that you forget the sad headlines in Italian Newspapers of April 3rd, 2004. "Gabriella e morta". (Gabriella is dead.) She was 63.
I'll always smile when I think of Gabriella, and probably burst out in song. She was part of my life through music most of my life, and her songs had a deep effect on me.
When I was 20 years old, I was going through the horror of domestic violence: endless police calls, restraining orders, and finally, divorce, I went through the whole thing on auto-pilot, as a way to protect myself and my emotions. Even though I was confined indoors for a few months due to death threats, I still didn't cry. I went through each day like a robot, acting like nothing was happening. One evening, after dinner at my parents', while we were still chatting at the table, I focused to listen to the song playing in the background. It was "Barcaralo Romano". I heard the music and the words, and I burst out crying right there and then, like I was never going to stop. Everything that had accumulated over the past year finally gushed out, like a dam breaking. Later, I listened to that song over and over, and it was like therapy for me. I cried and cried, until I cried myself out. Then, even though I remembered every single sound of that song and it occasionally came to mind, I didn't listen to it again until almost 25 years later.
I became I life-long fan of Gabriella Ferri as I listened to the rest of that record album and others. Some songs became favorites that came to mind automatically in different circumstances. For example, Party Time was always a good time for "La Societą dei Magnaccioni". "Dove Sta Zazą" is almost a circus song; a song for joy and laughter - a reminder of Spring and Summer. And of course, if you know Italian, "Stornelli Antichi" will have you singing in no time.
Gabriella once said in an interview that singing was like talking about love and life. She laughingly said that songs were like exclamation points, so you naturally burst into song in certain situations. What a great way of looking at life.
Here are some of our favorite Gabriella Ferri songs, in honor of a true artist and a great lady who made us think, laugh and cry.
Rest in Peace, Gabriella, and thank you.
Article by Carmen Colombo
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