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MUSIC

Italy puts 200,000 classic Italian songs online for free

Have you been hunting for the definitive version of 'O Sole Mio? The original Volare? Folk songs of deepest Puglia? Or how about pop diva Mina covering The Beatles' Hey Jude?

Italy puts 200,000 classic Italian songs online for free
Italian singer Andrea Bocelli. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

You're in luck: Italy's Ministry of Culture has just put a century of Italian popular music online, for free.

Go to canzoneitaliana.it and you'll find some 200,000 tracks available to stream to your heart's content, courtesy of Italy's Central Institute for Sound and Audiovisual Heritage, ICBSA.

Created in partnership with the Spotify streaming service, the site launched on Monday to coincide with Italy's biggest music festival, Sanremo, which opens on the Ligurian seaside on Tuesday. 

The catalogue covers Italian music from 1900 to 2000 and is divided chronologically, geographically and thematically. You can search for traditional songs from each of Italy's regions, explore political songs from the first half of the 20th century, track down Italian hits used on movie soundtracks, or work your way through 49 years of Sanremo archives. 

Not sure what you're looking for? Browse the specially curated playlists for an overview of everything from Enrico Caruso's greatest hits to the women of Italian rock to cult TV theme songs.  

Each section is accompanied by historical and musical context, available in eight different languages.

If despite all that you can't find what you're looking for, have hope: another 5,000 songs will be added each month, according to Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who says the idea is to make the site “a sort of central state archive that will last throughout time”. 

While popular music has sometimes taken a back seat to Italy's more highbrow cultural exports, he told reporters on Monday, this project finally recognizes the artistic and social significance of the tunes that form the soundtrack to Italians' lives. 

 
 Mina performing at Sanremo in 1960. Photo: public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Five playlists The Local recommends:

  • 'O Sole Mio: No, not Naples' most famous song on repeat, but 12 classics of Neapolitan song.
     
  • Dialects in the City: Early recordings of ballads sung in regional dialects from across Italy – a rare chance to hear lyrics in original Venetian, Sicilian, Florentine and more.
     
  • Sanremo '58: Go back in time to this legendary edition of the Sanremo festival, the one that gave the world Nel blu dipinto di blu (better known as 'Volare'). 
     
  • Mina 1960-1970: Italy's greatest modern diva at the peak of her extraordinary powers. Go on, treat yourself.
     
  • Italian Songs in the World: Did you know that Dusty Springfield's You Don't Have to Say You Love Me was originally Italian? Or that Elvis Presley's It's Now of Never is based on 'O Sole Mio? You'll find these and other songs that might surprise you on this playlist of internationally covered Italian hits.

CULTURE

Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

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