It is with a huge amount of honour, thrill and excitement that I have finally interviewed someone I have always wanted to interview.
This is a man who has done extraordinary things in life and music, someone who has raised millions of pounds for charity, collaborated with the most glorious artists of all times and may well be the wealthiest of all the celebrities I met.
At the same time, he is the only one who articulated the following six words: thank you for the interview, Silvia.
Born in 1955 in a tiny rural village in Northern Italy, Adelmo Fornaciari got his stage name from his primary school teacher who first nicknamed him Zucchero, the Italian word for ‘sugar’.
As a young kid, he was put on track to grow into a football goalkeeper.
As a young man, he trained to become a veterinarian.
Then, when he was about to finish university, he screwed all of his plans and became a musician, while taking on any humble and random jobs he could possibly find to support himself and his music.
It turned out to be the best of decisions, and Zucchero ended up making literally the history of blues in Europe and beyond: the father of Italian blues‘ music style is inspired by a plethora of other music genres that also include soul, rock, gospel and R&B, resulting in over 60 million records sold around the world.
In a career that spans over three decades, Zucchero has collected an impressive number of awards, achievements and magnificent duets with artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Eric Clapton, Bono Vox and world-famous Tenor Andrea Bocelli, whom I also had the honour to interview.
He’s also been the only Italian artist to perform at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness held in 1992 in London, where he played alongside Queen, George Micheal, David Bowie, Elton John, Liza Minnelli and Axl Roses.
Another famous masterpiece from Zucchero is the smash hit duet with Paul Young in Senza una donna (Without a woman), released in 1987.
Listening to this song from my dad’s car stereo without understanding anything, neither the words in Italian nor those in English but just enjoying the sound and trying to sing along is one of the first music-related memories I have.
I was just three and I would never have imagined that – 33 years later – I would be given the immense honour to speak with this outstanding musician.
The occasion is the launch of a new, amazing album called D.O.C. and a world tour that will bring Zucchero across the globe for 70 live shows.
The irony is that, just like what happened with Andrea Bocelli, to be able to interview a fellow Italian, I’ve had to pass through the UK.
The Ancient Romans got it all completely wrong.
Good… good morning, Sir. I’m Italian just like you, so we can speak in Italian.
Ciao! Oh yeah, I read that you’re Italian as well.
Sorry for trembling. I am frightened as a rabbit.
No worries, there’s no need to be frightened.
Thanks. So, how are you? What are you doing in London at this time?
I’m alright, I’m alright. I came to London to perform in Music for the Marsden, a benefit concert that was held last night (on the 3rd of March 2020, Ed.) at the O2 to raise funds to build a new cancer research facility at the Royal Marsden Hospital here in London. It’s been a massive event with a lot of stellar artists – some of them are friends of mine, such as Eric Clapton, Paul Young, Tom Jones, Mick Hucknall and Cat Stevens, and I got to know the others on the spot. It’s been great. The O2 was packed out, and we have raised one million pounds to help cancer research. Great stuff.
Such a shame I was not there.
Your new album is called D.O.C. How did you come up with this title?
Making this record has been a bit like going into labour. When I finished recording, I came up with a few titles that I liked, but none of them felt quite right – maybe it just wasn’t the right moment. This album is much more intimate to me, comparing to the others. It’s about freedom, about spirituality and redemption. It’s a more private record, and, until the end, I couldn’t make up my mind regarding the title. Then I got a call from the record label, and they were like “Time is up! Either you come up with something now or we are going out without a title!”.
What happened next?
I live into a farm in the Italian countryside, we grow organic food. On that afternoon, I was discussing organic agriculture with my farmers, we were talking about our effort to live in a more sustainable and authentic way, and this is how I come up with the name D.O.C. In Italian, D.O.C. is an abbreviation and acronym for “controlled designation of origin”, it means that certain foods or wines come from a geographical region or a specific area that is recognised by official rules to produce them according to special characteristics related to location. So, D.O.C. means high quality. And so I was like, OK, I put so much dedication and hard work into this album, it took me over a year to complete it and I wrote over 30 songs for it, I worked on this record from the beginning to the end taking care of every single detail, so I am going to call it D.O.C. In addition to that, this acronym has pretty much the same meaning in every country in the world, so it’s quite straightforward.
D.O.C. is also an acronym for obsessive-compulsive disorder…
Hahaha, yes! I talked about this in another interview – haha. At some point, someone made me realise that D.O.C. may also mean obsessive-compulsive disorder… but this fits quite well too, as I’m a bit insane too, sometimes!
Is your songwriting affected by current affairs, at the present moment?
I am still trying to make an effort to go back to authenticity in life. Today, it’s all appearance and little substance and, in my opinion, this is very bad and annoying. Look at the way people live today: people just want to be seen, but then when they finally get there and get what they want, they realise there’s nothing in it. As I say into the album, we are living in… suspicious times. You see what the world is like today, do you? There are nothing but wars everywhere, plenty of refugees, and then this Coronavirus… it’s like if the time got suspended. All around the world, I see nothing but worried people and lost youth. Young people really are lost these days, and it’s not even their fault. They don’t have anyone who teaches them values – the same values that, for example – have been crucial for me when I was young. Young people look and sound lost. These are the days we are living in, and D.O.C. is all about creating a more authentic world, retrieving a more authentic life and being free for real. You know, we all believe we are free, but in reality, we are not.
At some point in another interview, you said that you make a point of singing in Italian, especially when you are touring abroad. How does the international audience react to that?
In the beginning, the recording label, my colleagues and pretty much everyone in the music industry were like: “you are not going to make it in countries like the UK and the US if you don’t sing in English: they won’t accept or like anyone to sing in any language other than English”. For a while, I thought they were right, and I recorded several songs in English, before realising that – apart from the lyrics from Bono Vox or Elvis Costello that were composed directly in English, and were composed by great artists such as the ones I have mentioned – when my lyrics were translated and adapted into English, they lost all their original and inner meaning. Translated lyrics always lack something, either some literary impact, a certain sense of humour or those idiomatic expressions that are so typically Italian. When these things get translated, they lose all meaning.
So very true.
Yeah, and so I was like: no, this is not fair. You know what? When they (English-speaking musicians, Ed.) come to Italy and we don’t speak English very well and we don’t get the lyrics, we still sing along with them, even if we don’t understand anything. As a kid, I enjoyed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and I’d sing their songs even if I didn’t understand a single word. But I still had fun, because music is a universal language: music alone should already be able to convey the lyrics’ inner meaning, so the overall message should be clear even if you don’t speak the language. And so I decided to keep my songs in Italian. I was like: I don’t know if this is going to work, let’s try and see, and I am always explaining this during my live shows abroad, I always tell the audience that I am Italian and I sing in Italian because this is the language my songs were born into. This is the original version.
And what do people say?
To my pleasure, it worked out! The audience follows me along. We (Italians, Ed.) are lucky to speak a language that is loved by people all around the world. Italian is a charming language. So, apart from a couple of songs that I composed especially in English, I sing my songs in Italian. It’s a choice.
You were the only star from Italy to participate in at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1992 in London; have you got any memories you would like to share about it?
My friend Brian May invited me there. He had been incredibly generous to me. He had previously fallen in love with my 1989 album Oro, incenso e birra (Gold, incense and beer, Ed.), so he got me on the phone and asked me to participate. Even today, he continues to say that my album is still on his CD shelf like an all-time-reference. He really really wanted me to take part in the tribute concert. He welcomed me and treated me as if I were a big deal – to my greatest surprise. I mean, I’m not that popular in the United Kingdom and, at the time, I was known just for my duet with Paul Young in Senza una donna (Without a woman) and for my other duet with Luciano Pavarotti in Miserere. The memory I’ve got from that day is the backstage with all these great musicians such as David Bowie, Annie Lennox and the others. They were all doing regular things such as smoking, having a drink and chatting between them as if nothing special was going to happen. They were all so calm and quiet. But I was in a cold sweat. I was terrified.
Of course, it was the first time for me! It was the first time I was going to play at an event broadcasted worldwide, outside of Italy and with all those people attending. I was panicking, and when my turn finally came and they called my name on stage, I felt like walking the plank. Then when I started singing I really enjoyed myself and in the end, I didn’t want to stop at all! But at first, I was really frightened! Oh sorry, the staff is saying I’ve got to go. Apparently, I am going to be live somewhere at the BBC within minutes.
Alright. Even if we were supposed to speak for 15 minutes.
Really? And how many minutes did we speak for?
13 minutes and 19 seconds.
You know, punctuality is quite a big thing in the UK ;)
Anyway, if you want to add something else, real quick, I’m all ears…
Oh well, first of all, thank you for the interview, Silvia.
Many thanks to you, Sir. What an honour for me ❤
I hope to see you all soon at our live shows… the tour calendar is live!
★ Enjoyed this interviewed? You may also like our interviews with Andrea Bocelli, Paul Young, UB40, Jah Wobble, Prince’s musical director Morris Hayes, The Brand New Heavies, Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock and Bruce Foxton from The Jam
★ For some more anecdotes about Queen and other music legends, also have a look at our interview with Danny Zelisko, the concert promoter who has worked with everybody, from Alice Cooper to Pink Floyd, from Stevie Wonder to Guns ‘N Roses
All the pictures published have been provided from Zucchero’s private collection © to the owners