Italian blues legend Zucchero ‘Sugar’ Fornaciari is a man who has done plenty of extraordinary things in music and life, composed marvellous melodies like Miserere and Senza una Donna (Without a Woman), collaborated with the most glorious artists of all times including Luciano Pavarotti, raised loads of money for charities – and counting.
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 kid, he was put on track to grow into a football goalkeeper.
As a young man, he studied to become a veterinarian.
Then, when he was just about to finish university, he screwed all his plans and started a musical journey from scratch whilst taking on a number of humble and random jobs to pay the bills.
This turned out to be the best of decisions, and Zucchero ended up making literally the history of blues in Europe and beyond. Known as “the father of Italian blues”, he developed a unique music style inspired by a plethora of other music genres which 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 the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Eric Clapton, Bono Vox and world-famous Tenor Andrea Bocelli.
He has also been the only Italian artist invited to perform at the memorable Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness held in London in 1992, where he played alongside Queen, George Micheal, David Bowie, Elton John, Liza Minnelli and Axl Roses.
Another famous masterpiece by Zucchero is the smash hit duet with Paul Young in Senza una Donna (Without a Woman) with Paul Young, released in 1987.
The song topped the European Hot 100 Singles that year and entered the top 5 charts in 19 countries including the United States but excluding Zucchero’s homeland; Senza una Donna (Without a Woman) reached only number 22 in Italy, but that’s another story – a story shockingly similar to the ones of Andrea Bocelli and Il Volo.
What all these incredibly talented performers from Italy have in common is that they were forced to look elsewhere and multiply their efforts before their easily distracted country even started to notice them – but don’t say Jesus didn’t warn us: A prophet is treated with honour everywhere except in his own hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house. [Mark 6:4]
And so, the release of the studio album D.O.C. in 2019 offered the opportunity to arrange this interview with a prophet of great music and incredibly lovely human being by the name of Zucchero.
Adelmo, how are you?
Ciao! I’m alright, thank you! You know, I came to London to perform in Music for the Marsden, a benefit concert held last night [on the 3rd of March 2020] at the O2 to raise funds to build a new cancer research facility at the Royal Marsden Hospital 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.
Is your songwriting affected by current affairs?
I am still trying to make an effort to go back to authenticity in life. Today, it’s everything about appearance and not enough about 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. As I say in 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 Covid… it’s as if time has been halted. All around the world, I see nothing but worried people and lost youth. Young people are really 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.
You make a point of keeping singing in Italian abroad. How do international audiences 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 had indeed been 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. And so I was like: no, this is not fair. You know what? When they [the English-speaking musicians] 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 singing 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 am always telling the audience that I am Italian and so I sing in Italian because this is the language my songs were born into: these are the original versions. And, to my pleasure, it works! The audience follows me along. We [the Italians] are lucky to speak a language that is loved by so many people all around the world. Italian is a charming language. So, apart from a couple of songs that I composed in English, I sing my songs in Italian, it’s a personal choice.
You have been the only Italian artist invited to participate in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in London in 1992; do you have any memories you would like to share?
My friend Brian May invited me along 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], so he got me on the phone and asked me to join. 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 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 very 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!
How would you describe your album D.O.C. and how did you come up with the 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, compared 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!”. I live on a farm in the Italian countryside, we grow organic food. 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, and this fits quite well too, as I’m a bit insane too, sometimes!
Unless stated otherwise, pictures were provided by Zucchero’s press team © belongs to their respective owners
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