I love karaoke so it was going to be fun for sure, I thought.
Little did I know that at the end of that night I would feel singled out and a bit embarrassed too.
Reason: while everyone was singing full out all those English songs, I didn’t know a single lyric.
I am Italian. I was raised in Italy. Yes, I learned English as a second language but I had no idea about the kind of songs you can find at a British karaoke night. I felt like I was missing a huge piece of a cultural puzzle.
My English friends had grown up with those songs and they knew all of them because those songs had been the soundtrack of their lives in that country. Which was completely different from mine.
Which brings me to you, and the reason why I wanted to write this article.
If you’re learning Italian and want to understand Italian culture, it helps to know a bit of Italian popular music.
These kinds of songs are such a big part of Italian culture that it’s not rare to make reference to popular songs in the middle of conversations. For example, I don’t know how many times one of my friends, called Laura, has heard a joke about her name with reference to Nek’s song “Laura non c’è”.
Or how many times I heard my Italian friends use the refrain of the song “Perdono ” by Tiziano Ferro to apologise for something in an amusing way! (more about this song and the singer later).
Plus, Italians love singing. In the 90s, we had a very popular TV show called Karaoke where the host Fiorello used to travel around Italy hosting massive karaoke parties in the main Italian cities ( I went to one of those myself!). A huge crowd of people would gather to sing along and everything would be broadcasted on TV. Because we Italians are not embarrassed about showcasing our singing skills!
So, today I’d like to invite you to an Italian Karaoke Party and introduce you to some popular Italian songs.
And, if you’re looking for strategies about how to use songs to develop your language skills, you’ll find a few helpful ideas in this article:
But for now, let’s get to know a little bit more about the Italian culture through some of the most popular Italian songs, the kind you’ll be very likely to hear at a karaoke night in Italy. Some of the songs and singers mentioned in this article can be found on LyricsTraining, a great website where you can train your listening skills and have fun with popular Italian songs of every genre.
So let’s get this karaoke party started.
Songs to learn Italian #1: 50 special
This one is one of my all time favourite songs. If you go to an Italian karaoke night you can be sure you’ll hear (and sing!) this song.
As you may know already, 50 Special is a kind of Vespa, the popular Italian scooter manufactured by the Italian brand Piaggio, which has become one of the symbols of Italian culture. This super cheerful song sings about the good times you have when riding a Vespa and the singer, Cesare Cremonini also celebrates and sings about the beautiful, summery, landscape of his native Italian region, Emilia Romagna. I bet you’d love to travel around the “colli bolognesi” with a Vespa too!
You can sing along here:
About the singer
50 Special is sung by the Italian group Lunapop, which split up a few years ago. But the main singer, Cesare Cremonini, is still very active on the Italian music scene. His songs have often a very relaxing rhythm, and the lyrics can be at times deep, but also inspiring, like this one:
Songs to learn Italian #2: Mondo (World)
Songs to learn Italian #3: Ragazzo fortunato
Ragazzo fortunato means “lucky boy” (in Italian the adjective goes after the noun!). It tells the story of a young boy who feels lucky and grateful for the little things in life. A song to sing when you feel happy about life, and we Italians love celebrating life, aka the “dolce vita” (sweet life). Personally, I love this line of the song ” Se devo dirla tutta, qui non è il paradiso ma all’inferno delle veritá, io mento col sorriso,” (If I have to say it all, here’s not the heaven, but in this hell of truths, I lie with a smile.).
About the singer
This song is by Lorenzo Cherubini, aka Jovanotti, who is a famous Italian rapper. Despite having a cheerful and upbeat rhythm, his songs often carry an important message to make people aware of social issues and injustice. A very popular song that does this is:
Songs to learn Italian #4: L’ombelico del mondo
This song by Jovanotti can be translated in English as “the belly button of the world”
Songs to learn Italian #5: Ligabue certe notti
Certe notti means “some nights”. This song describes a seemingly lighthearted Italian night amongst friends. In a way, this song has different levels of interpretation. On the one hand, it celebrates the lightheartedness of Italian people, on the other, it draws attention to the shallowness of some people’s lives. This song is so popular that has been parodied many times.
About the singer
Ligabue is one of the most famous Italian pop-rock singers, second only to Vasco Rossi (more about Vasco below). Ligabue has been on the Italian music scene since the 80s and if you love his voice and his songs, you can find quite a few of them on LyricsTraining.
Songs to learn Italian #6: Vado al Massimo
“Vado al massimo” means “I go full out” and is an evergreen Italian song by Vasco Rossi which you always find at Karaoke night. This is the kind of song that you’d listen to to give yourself a boost of energy and enthusiasm. The lyrics of this song are not particularly meaningful or deep but they play a lot with word sounds and assonance of words.
A little cultural anecdote about this song: The Italian world champion racer Valentino Rossi told in a few interviews that one of his rituals prior to a race is to listen to this song to get a boost of motivation…so he could go full out!
Here’s the song’s translation:
About the singer
Vasco Rossi is a real rockstar in Italy and if you like pop rock music,you should definitely listen to his songs. Some of them are also on LyricsTraining for you to get some practice too.
Songs to Learn Italian #7: Nel blu dipinto di blu
“Nel blu dipinto di blu” literal means in “The Blue Painted Blue”. This is a very classic Italian song, which is super popular abroad too. You may have heard it in its English version (with the title of “Volare” or “Fly” too.). The singer, Domenico Modugno, born in the Italian region of Puglia, was inspired to write this song to celebrate his land, its sea and blue sky. Personally, I love this song because its lyrics conjure up a feeling of freedom and light heartedness.
You can find it on lyrics training here:
And here’s the song’s translation
About the singer
Domenico Modugno is considered one of the fathers of Italian music. He was born in Polignano a Mare, in Puglia, one of the most beautiful Italian towns, today Unesco world heritage. I travelled a few weeks ago to his birthpace (and I took a photo under Domenico’s statue) and if you get the chance I’d advice you to visit his town too as it’s stunning and one of the most perfect places to speak Italian (I wrote about it in this article)
Songs to learn Italian #8: Ma il cielo è sempre più blu
Sticking with the blue theme, let’s listen to this song by Rino Gaetano . The title means the sky is always bluer. Once again, this is a controversial song. At a first glance, this song seems to be optimistic and lighthearted. At a deeper level, this songs actually highlights the issues and problems of Italian society in the 70s, such as corruption or social injustice – and some of the issues mentioned are unfortunately still true today. There is also a cover version of this song by Giusy Ferreri which I find energizing and upbeat.
Here’s the recent cover of this song by Giusy Ferreri
Here’s the translation:
About the singer
Rino Gaetano was an Italian singer famous for his rough voice and he used his songs as a way to report social and political issues. He also wrote a book with the same title of this song, “Il cielo è sempre più blu”, in which he collected some of his songs; some of these songs were dedicated to important historical personalities like Louis Armstrong, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King e Mao Tse-tung. A pretty cool guy, Rino, who used his art as a mean to serve society and so many Italian singers went down that path after him (see Jovanotti, above)
Songs to learn Italian #9: Perdono
Perdono means “forgiveness” or “sorry” and, as you may infer from he title, this song is all about forgiveness within a love story. Most Italian popular songs are love songs because, you know, Italian people are fairly romantic and passionate. By the way, from a linguistic point of view, if you can sing this song at its real speed, you’re an Italian pronunciation master.
Here’s the song’s translation
About the singer
Tiziano Ferro is the author and singer of this song and is a worldwide famous singer, who has sung not only in Italian but also Spanish, French and Portuguese. When he first started his singing career, he was fairly innovative as he managed to bring a mix of different genres into Italian popular music, like Pop, Blues, Soul, Rhythm and blues.
So, did you like these Italian songs? They by no means reflect the vast and varied landscape of Italian music, but I hope they’ll give you a sneak peek into the way Italians think. In popular Italian music, you’ll often find the lighthearted Italian way of looking at life but you may also find more meaningful songs with lyrics which talk about social issues or rave about the beauty of our Italian land. And, yes, we have some love stories here and there too!
Ermy is a certified language coach who helps lifelong and creative learners become fluent in the language they love so that they can finally enjoy travelling around the world! Join her at The Language Rose or download her free ebook “How to become fluent in the language you love”