Meet Italy’s Eurovision hopeful, the bookies’ favourite to win

Italy's Eurovision entry is tipped to win this year, so we introduce you to the singer, the song, and, er, the dancing ape...

Meet Italy's Eurovision hopeful, the bookies' favourite to win
Francesco Gabbani... and the ape. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

Who is he?

Tuscan singer-songwriter Francesco Gabbani is flying the flag for Italy this year.

Gabbani was born into a musical family; in fact, his parents ran the only music shop in the small town of Carrara while he was growing up, and he started his career as the drummer for his brother's band.

After learning the drums, Gabbani also mastered the piano and bass guitar – and he's worked as a stage technician and sound engineer. He produced his first album at the age of 18 as part of band Trikobalto, which supported the Stereophonics on tour in Italy, before going solo.

Flying the flag for Italy on the EuroVision red carpet. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

What's the song?

'Occidentali's Karma' (Westerners' Karma) – a catchy tune exploring the fascination Western cultures have with Eastern spirituality. In his own words, it's about “our clumsy attempt to ape Eastern habits to find inner peace; the truth is that in other people's cultures we will always be tourists”. 

Look out for references to Nirvana, Buddha, and chanting mantras, as well as the catchy refrain “the naked ape is dancing”.

Oh yes, the dancing ape.

He'll be joining Gabbani on stage, in a nod to the book The Naked Ape by zoologist Desmond Morris, which compared humans to animals and examined their behaviour. But – plot twist – the title doesn't actually refer to apes, but rather to humans themselves: the only one of almost 200 species of monkeys and apes not be covered in hair.

And what about that dance?

Well, the dance is the best part of the song. Gabbani and the man in an ape costume imitate classic yoga and meditation poses – the idea is to mock Westerners who adopt aspects of Eastern culture they don't understand.

And it's safe to say the routine has caught Italy's imagination. After Gabbani debuted the dance at Sanremo Song Festival earlier this year, social media erupted with videos of people attempting the moves, and thousands of parodies have surfaced. Our favourite is this version with dancing nuns.

Want to learn the routine yourself? Here's a video of Gabbani himself teaching the moves.

How was the entry chosen?

Gabbani won Italy's Sanremo Song Festival, a prestigious contest which actually inspired Eurovision and is used to pick the national entry.

It doesn't always work out that way though – sometimes the winning act snubs the cheesy contest so an alternative act is picked to represent Italy on the Eurovision stage. This was the case last year, when Sanremo runner-up Francesca Michelin was chosen.

2017 was actually Gabbani's second Sanremo win: the previous year he scooped the top prize in the newcomers' contest, and he's the first artist to win in both categories in consecutive years.

What are Italy's chances?

Pretty good! Gabbani is the bookies' favourite to win, but this is EuroVision, so anything could happen.

But at the very least, he'll be singing in the final. As one of Eurovision's 'Big Five' – the countries that give the most financial backing to the song festival, Italy automatically secures a spot in the final, along with France, Spain, Germany and the UK.

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La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you’ll find in Italy

From Italian podcasts to surprising delicacies and our favourite overlooked travel destinations, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: The best Italian-language podcasts, and unexpected foods you'll find in Italy

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

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If you’re planning a visit to Italy (or to another part of Europe from Italy) this year but want to cut down your carbon footprint, train travel is a great option and there are more routes than ever connecting Italy’s major cities to other parts of the continent.

Here are some of the main direct international train services you can use for travel between Italy and other European countries this year.

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Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]