(Rome, 1964 – )
By Marianna Orsi, University of Hawaii
Born in Rome in 1964, Paola Turci is one of the most original voices among singer-songwriters of the so-called Scuola Romana. At the age of eleven she began to play guitar. Gino Paoli’s “Il cielo in una stanza” [“Sky in a Room”] was the first song she learned. Pino Daniele, Franco Battiato, Antonello Venditti, Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, and Joni Mitchell were all part of her musical training. Following the #metoo movement, Turci revealed that as a thirteen-year-old girl, she was a victim of sexual abuse; the song “Fiore di giardino” [“Garden Flowers”], (Tra i fuochi in mezzo al cielo)[Among the Fires in the Sky, 2005] tells of that experience. Even before her twenties she started performing in nightclubs in Rome. She took part in the Festival di Sanremo in 1986 but was not selected for the finals. She competed again in 1987, 1988 and 1989, and all three times she received the notableCritics’ Choice Award, given by a board of journalists, and created a few years before for singer-songwriter Mia Martini. In 1989, the directors of Fonit Cetra asked Turci to perform “Almeno tu nell’universo” [“You At Least in the Universe”], written in 1972 by composer Maurizio Fabrizio and singer-songwriter Bruno Lauzi. Turci refused, and, as she declared later, never regretted her choice. The song was performed at the Sanremo Festival by Mia Martini and became a huge hit. Turci chose instead “Bambini” [“Children”], written by Roberto Righini and Alfredo Rizzo, describing child victims of violence around the world. Turci won Sanremo in the category of emerging artists, and “Bambini” became one of her most famous and significant songs.
In 1993, Turci wrote her first song, “Stato di calma apparente” [“Apparent State of Calm”], an introspective piece focusing on her restless personality and her creative process. Between 1992 and 1993 she took acting classes with Beatrice Bracco and auditioned for film director Ettore Scola, though she was not selected for the film. In August 1993, Turci was involved in a terrible car accident. Seriously injured, she required more than one hundred surgical stitches in her face, and in the following months underwent thirteen surgeries. Turci abandoned her acting projects, but, despite a partially disfigured face, performed in several concerts, covering her scars with her hair. The song “Volo così” [“This Is How I Fly”], (Volo così, 1996), which she performed at Sanremo 1996, described her rebirth after this traumatic experience. Turci, however, was unable to speak explicitly about the accident until many years later. In 2000 Turci began her collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter Carmen Consoli; together they wrote “Saluto l’inverno” [“I Say Farewell to Winter”] and “Sabbia bagnata” [“Wet Sand”], (Mi basta il Paradiso[All I Need is Paradise], 2000). She competed with the first song at Sanremo in 2000. For the album Giorni di rose [Days of Roses], 2001, Turci performed songs written by several female singer-songwriters: Carmen Consoli, Nada Malanima, Marina Rei, Chiara Civello, Naif Hérin, Grazia Verasani and Ginevra Di Marco, and “Lunaspina” written by Ivano Fossati for Fiorella Mannoia. In the 2000s Turci tried several times to participate in the Sanremo music festival, but she was repeatedly rejected. In 2014 she published the autobiography Mi amerò lo stesso [I Will Love Myself All the Same], whose title echoes her own song “Ti amerò lo stesso” [ “I will love you all the same”] (Paola Turci, 1989). In 2016, in Milan, she performed for the first time as a stage actress, with a monologue from her autobiography. This was also the first time she addressed publicly and explicitly the car accident that occurred in 1993. The cover of her 2015 album Io sono [“I Am”] shows a close-up of the artist and her scars, for the first time since 1993. In 2017, sixteen years after her last participation, Turci competed in the Sanremo festival, and, for the first time since 1993, she did not cover her scars during the performance. The autobiographical song she performed, “Fatti bella per te” [“Be Beautiful for Yourself”], in fact, talks about a new idea of beauty, no longer focused on stereotypes or influenced by other people’s opinions. Turci ranked fifth in the contest; her performance was a success. Like Io sono, the cover image of the album Il secondo cuore [Second Heart], 2017, shows her face in its entirety. She competed again in Sanremo in 2019 with “L’ultimo ostacolo” [“The Last Obstacle”], a song elaborating on the loss of her father.
Before 1993, Paola Turci performed only covers (such as “Mi chiamo Luka,” the Italian version of Suzanne Vega’s “Luka”), or songs written by male songwriters (including prominent singer-songwriters such as Riccardo Cocciante, Francesco De Gregori, Luca Barbarossa, Gaetano Curreri).
Her first albums (Sarò bellissima [I Will Be So Beautiful], 1988; Paola Turci, 1989; Ritorno al presente [Return to the Present], 1990; and Candido, 1991 mainly portray conventional female figures, women looking for a soulmate, always ready to forgive their men, completely focused on their lover, whose presence makes them and the world more beautiful. Ragazze [Girls], 1993, is a turning point. It includes, in fact, the first songs written by Turci describing women in more active roles. In “Il suono delle nuvole” [“The Sound of Clouds”], for instance, a woman breaks up with a man because he is incapable of understanding her. The female protagonist is the active subject, and the verbs are in the active form, while in previous songs were often in the passive (“Io non ti amo più e non parlo più di te… non hai capito il senso della vita intorno a te… chi nel tempo incontrerò io lo capirò… prenderò la verità… e ascolto”) [“I don’t love you anymore and I don’t talk about you…you didn’t understand the meaning of life around you… the one I will meet, in time, I will understand him…I will get the truth…I listen.”] Moreover, introspection plays a role in the narration: “risento dentro me il rumore della mia felicità” [“I feel again inside me the sound of my happiness”], “e ascolto il suono delle nuvole che mi guardano, che mi parlano” [“and I listen to the sound of clouds that watch over me, that talk to me”]. Similarly, in “La ragazza di Roma” [“The Girl from Rome”], the woman is the more keenly aware in the relationship and is the one stealing her lover’s heart (“e rubandoti il cuore ti dirà: tu mai lo capirai quanto amore non saprai”)] ““stealing your heart she will tell you: you will never understand how much love, you will never know”]. “Stato di calma apparente” describes a restless, self-reflective, independent woman. Despite the presence of a distant lover (“in questo mare degli occhi tuoi, nella tempesta degli occhi tuoi”) [“in this ocean of your eyes, in the storm of your eyes”], the female protagonist reappropriates her individuality, the act of travelling (“sono sul mio treno” ) [“I am on my train”], the act of observing and reflecting on the world, the creative process (“scrivo piano riflettendo” ) [“I write slowly, reflecting”], and the need for a change (“sul bisogno di cambiare dentro me fuori e dentro me”) [“the need for change in me, outside and inside me”].
“Volo così” has often been defined as a song of rebirth. I would rather define it as a song of reappropriation. Like “Stato di calma apparente,” despite the presence of a supposedly tormented love affair (“questo amore in tutte le versioni”) [“this love in all of its versions”], the woman is the only protagonist, the man is a silent interlocutor (“adesso no ti prego non parlare”) [“now, no, please don’t talk”]. The woman is the one leaving (“e scusa se ti faccio male, se me ne vado via così” ) [“and sorry if I hurt you, if I’m leaving like this”], probably not breaking up with him, but taking some time for a symbolic journey, during which she reappropriates dreams, hopes, love, and ultimately her life, for a new beginning, with no fear of mistakes (“volo nel cuore di chi ha voglia di sbagliare” )[“I fly into the heart of someone who wants to make mistakes”] or dangers (“volo nel sole perché ho voglia di bruciare”) [“I fly into the sun because I want to burn”]. Turci describes a woman reclaiming her life, as in “Stato di calma apparente,” a life of travel, adventures and freedom, powerfully symbolized by the act of flying.
In both “Stato di calma apparente” and “Volo così” the male figure is silent and distant. In “Saluto l’inverno” (Mi basta il Paradiso, 2000), the man is absent altogether. After the end of a love story, a woman wakes up—literally and figuratively—with a new ability to feel (“sentire il profumo intenso dell’estate”) [“feeling the intense perfume of summer”] and a new desire for knowledge that, again, is represented by a journey (“il motivo di un viaggio perenne”) [“the reason of a perpetual journey”]. Once again, the travel, real or symbolic, is an expression of female independence and of a need for change, the desire to overcome stereotypes and expectations (“uno sguardo al di là del sistema solare”) [“a look beyond the solar system”]. The woman described by Turci and Consoli not only overcomes her loss, but manages to turn it into an opportunity for personal and intellectual growth. A woman who learns from her experience, who lives in a perfect balance between a new discovery and a new loss, love and loneliness, Paradise and Hell.
Turci has always been very politically active, collaborating on humanitarian projects with Emergency, Amnesty International, and The Francesca Rava Foundation, especially in Haiti. Among her more politically motivated songs are “Bambini” (1989), “Armata fino ai denti” [“Armed to the Teeth”] (2002), “Un bel sorriso in faccia” [“A Nice Smile on His Face”] (2002), and “Rwanda” (2005).
”Un bel sorriso in faccia” (Questa parte di mondo) [This Part of the World, 2002] is an accusation against Berlusconi, “abile acrobata, illusionista formidabile” [“skilled acrobat, formidable illusionist”], master of the art of manipulation. In “Armata fino ai denti” (Questa parte di mondo, 2002), instead, Turci lists the historical origins of Berlusconismo: the fall of the political and social system that ruled Italy from the 1950s to the 1980s, the loss of certainty and a sense of identity (“il lento passare di un secolo, prospettive incerte, il bisogno di identità, davanti a me un triste scenario di guerra”) [“the slow passing of a century, an uncertain future, the need for an identity, in front of me a sad scene of war”], and contrasts the arts with politics and the economy. On the one hand the present, dominated by political and economic interests; on the other the past that, on the contrary, valued art as an integral part of Italian identity (“Qualcuno diceva che l’arte ha la stessa importanza storica della politica e dell’economia”) [“they used to say that art has the same historical importance as politics and the economy”]. For this past the author is ready to fight. The armed female figure could be interpreted as a personification of Art or Italy (Arte, and Italia are all grammatically feminine in Italian), as in “Quarant’anni” [“Forty Years”] by Modena City Ramblers (Riportando tutto a casa, 1994; Massimo Giuntini, ex member of MCR, collaborated with Turci on Questa parte di mondo) or in Franco Battiato’s “Povera patria” [“Poor motherland”], on Come un cammello in una grondaia, 1991) a song covered by Turci in 2004.
Attraversami il cuore
“Attraversami il cuore” [“Pierce Me Through the Heart”] is, by all appearances, a traditional romantic song. The love arrow piercing through the lover’s heart is, in fact, the most common poetic topos. Loneliness, as a consequence of love (both happy or unhappy), as well, is a very typical feature. The lyrics, however, don’t depict a conventionally happy love, nor a conventionally unhappy one. They instead focus on uncertainty. Love can come too early, too late, or never at all, and there’s no way to control or predict this (“l’amore si può mancare per un attimo”) [“love can miss you by an instant”], (“perché arriva troppo presto o troppo tardi”) [“because it comes too early or too late”]; there’s nothing easy about it when it comes (“ritrovare i momenti perduti non è facile”) [“recovering lost moments is not easy”], (“per uno che ci riesce, mille ci provano all’infinito e troppi sono bagnati di lacrime”)[“for every one who succeeds, a thousand try countless times, and too many of them are bathed in tears”]; and, in the same way it’s impossible to say where the sky ends, so it is impossible to predict where love will go and how long it will last (“io non so fino a dove il cielo allunga le braccia”) [“I don’t know how far the sky reaches out its arms”], (“io non so fino a dove ci porteranno i nostri sogni”) [“I don’t know how far our dreams will take us”]. The only certainty is that it keeps us alive: as long as we look for love, new seasons will bloom. The song doesn’t tell a story, there is no conclusion; on the contrary, with a rinkomposition, it opens and ends with the same, unresolved sense of uncertainty: love can miss you by an instant.
The reference to loneliness, followed by the image of the heart pierced by a ray of light (“attraversami il cuore di luce”) [“pierce through my heart with light”] evokes the human condition as described by Salvatore Quasimodo:
Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
trafitto da un raggio di sole:
ed è subito sera.
[Everyone stands alone at the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of sunlight:
and suddenly it’s evening.]
Fatti bella per te
In 2017, Paola Turci, fifty-three years old, was back at Sanremo, sixteen years after her last participation. She declared, “This feels like the first time, because I am back with something real, something strong, that tells my story, a song about self-acceptance, the choice to love yourself.” (https://www.rockol.it/news-669226/sanremo-2017-paola-turci-canta-fatti-bella-te-videointervista?refresh_ce ). The song redefines female beauty, not as a permanent condition, but as a process. A woman, in fact, is not beautiful, doesn’t look beautiful, she ratheris beautiful for herself.She doesn’t have to be beautiful to satisfy social standards or expectations, nor to be accepted, she should make herself beautiful in her own way and for herself (“fatti bella per te”: make your own beauty for yourself). In the song, the narrator addresses a female figure and describes her as more beautiful when compared to the past: probably a past in which she was influenced by social canons and external opinions. The narrator describes this woman as more beautiful despite, or because of, the fact that she is distancing herself from stereotypical representations, the role of makeup and clothing (“non ti trucchi…ti vesti in fretta…e non ti importa niente, niente!”) [“you don’t wear makeup…you get dressed quickly… you don’t care about anything, anything!”]. She distances herself from the idea of beauty as youthfulness and fake smiles: she is no longer young (“le mani stanche…Passano inverni…”) [“Your hands are tired…Winters pass by”], she went through sorrow (“qualcosa dentro te si è rotto”) [“something inside you is broken”], she is restless (“le ginocchia sotto il mento…E dentro hai una confusione, hai messo tutto in discussione”) [“Your knees under your chin…And inside you is such a confusion, you throw everything into question”], still she smiles because she doesn’t care (“sorridi e non ti importa niente, niente!”) [“You smile and you don’t care about anything, anything!”], and this makes her more beautiful. She is, in fact, beautiful because she is truly herself (“più bella quando sei davvero tu”). She is more beautiful when she decides to do something good for herself (“fatti del bene”), to love herself more, to become beautiful for herself (“fatti bella per te”) in a more natural way (“sei più bella quando non ci pensi più”) [“you are more beautiful when you don’t worry about it anymore”]. Turci, in fact, defines beauty as the ability to be truly and fully yourself (“più bella quando sei davvero tu”) [“you are more beautiful when you are truly yourself”], to love yourself more (“fatti del bene”) [“do something good for yourself”], become beautiful for yourself (“fatti bella per te”) in a more natural way (“sei più bella quando non ci pensi più”) [“you are more beautiful when you don’t think about it”]. Beauty, therefore, is not a condition, but a process, or rather, a conquest. In a recent interview, to the question “are you able to be beautiful for yourself only?”, Turci answers: “yes, I can, now, but it’s a recent achievement. In the past I always worried about how others perceive me. I have always felt exposed to their judgment. And everything was about the scars on my face […]. These scars changed my face […] but it’s wonderful when I forget about it […], I feel carefree, I feel I am done with suffering, I feel I don’t need to mention that anymore […]. My true scar, however, is the fear of being ugly, or, even worse, the fear of being just like everyone else. Women’s scars are wrinkles, which we do our best to hide, erase […]. [But real beauty is] being able to hug, being happy, being able to express yourself, with music or just with a smile. I feel beautiful when I sing” (https://www.grazia.it/stile-di-vita/interviste/paola-turci-intervista ).