Italy's Boss

Singer Jovanotti is huge in his homeland; now he’s wooing fans in America with an album and tour

October 1, 2012

Jovanotti is one of Italy’s most popular musicians, but Americans are still getting to know him.

Lorenzo Cherubini is kind of a big deal in Italy. Better known by the stage name Jovanotti, he dominates record sales charts and draws tens of thousands to his live shows. He playfully calls his catalog — a mix of rap, hip-hop, funk, rock and pop — “Frankenstein” music.

In August, the singer released his first album geared toward Americans, “Italia 1988-2012,” a career-spanning compilation. It’s fitting, since Cherubini, 46, just moved to New York with his family for the year (his daughter Teresa is learning English and attending school there, while Cherubini woos American fans, including those at his 9:30 Club show Monday).

This will be your second time playing the 9:30 Club; you were last here in 2010.
[That show] was one of my favorites. I was just coming from a very big Italian tour, in big sports arenas. [I was in] Milan, maybe one week before, where I had 15,000 people for a show. And so finding myself in a small room, packed with people, was a totally different atmosphere.

What’s it like playing at smaller venues here?
For me, it’s always kind of an emotional experience, because I’ve been on the road for something like 25 years, but this feeling of being brand-new in this country makes me feel so fresh. It’s always good; starting points are always vital.

How did you choose which songs to put on “Italia”?
For the first time in 25 years of recording, I didn’t choose anything for this album. It’s somebody looking at me from the outside. I put myself in the hands of [ATO Records and] producer Ian Brennan, and he wanted to do a retrospective album about my career, for people that don’t know my music.

What’s it like for you to listen to the final product?
It’s quite interesting because it makes me discover something about me. I always consider myself an artist that makes you, first of all, dance … somebody who makes you party. I see that here in the United States, people who approach my music for the first time catch, first of all, the lyrical part, the romantic, songwriting attitude.

People have called you “the Italian Bruce Springsteen” or “Italy’s Bono.” How do you feel about those comparisons?
The comparisons make me feel very good because Bruce Springsteen is an amazing artist. And Bono is a giant, you know. So to be compared to giants like that is something that my mother would be very happy about. I would be very happy, too.

Language Barrier

Lorenzo Cherubini — aka Jovanotti — sings primarily in Italian, something he admits makes it difficult for American listeners to connect with his music. But he’s been on the other side of the language barrier and never found it troublesome. “I grew up listening to music that I didn’t understand a word of, because I was listening to hip-hip and American music,” Cherubini says. “The band that really changed my life was the Beastie Boys. When I listened to ‘Licensed to Ill’ for the first time, I knew I wanted to do music.”

Tracks to Try

Find some of our favorite Jovanotti songs on “Italia 1988-2012” and YouTube.

“Il Più Grande Spettacolo Dopo il Big Bang” (2011), a catchy pop hit with references to Lady Gaga, Superman and the Rolling Stones.

“Baciami Ancora” (2009), a slow dance-friendly ballad (the title means “kiss me again”).

“Piove” (1994), a reflection on rain that’s far more upbeat than anything we’d come up with.

“Tanto” (2005), a funk-rock party anthem, performed to great reception at the Bonnaroo last year.

 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Mon., 7 p.m., $30; 202-265-0930. (U Street)
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