Zucchero ‘Sugar’ Fornaciari
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Zucchero ‘Sugar’ Fornaciari

When he appears on stage, frequently wearing a velvet top hat or some other eccentric headgear, Adelmo Fornaciari, in art Zucchero (‘Sugar'), looks more like a snake-oil salesman in a Wild West travelling show than one of Italy's most popular singer-songwriters. An artist whom the great

Thu 19 Jan 2012 1:00 AM

When he appears on stage, frequently wearing a velvet top hat or some other eccentric headgear, Adelmo Fornaciari, in art Zucchero (‘Sugar’), looks more like a snake-oil salesman in a Wild West travelling show than one of Italy’s most popular singer-songwriters. An artist whom the great Ray Charles once described as ‘probably one of the best blues singers [he] had ever worked with,’ Zucchero has sold over 50 million recordings in a career spanning more than 30 years. He is often compared to America’s Bruce Springsteen for his strong, emotional ties to his roots.



Just before Christmas 2011, Rai2, the national television channel, transmitted his ‘Sound of Sunday’ concert, broadcast live from the Romolo Valli Theatre in his home town of Reggio Emilia. Zucchero and his celebrity guests celebrated the success of his latest international tour based on his 21st poignantly nostalgic album, Chocabeck (see box), which sold over 150,000 copies in the first week after its release and is currently, after some 60 weeks on the charts, still at 16th place.


Born in the village of Roncocesi on the outskirts of Reggio Emilia on September 25, 1955, Fornaciari was nicknamed Zucchero by one of his elementary-school teachers. His earliest passion was not music but football. Only after his family moved in 1968 to Forte dei Marmi and then three years later to Avenza (Carrara), and after he began but never completed a degree in veterinary science at university, did Zucchero focus seriously on entertainment as a possible livelihood. During the 1970s, he not only formed and sang with his several groups, including I Duca, I Decals, and Sugar & Candies, cutting with them his earliest 45s, but he also started to write music and occasionally lyrics for other performers like Fred Bongusto.


In 1980, Zucchero’s first real break came when, with a new band, Taxi, he won the music festival of Castrocaro. Despite his legendary stage fright, he performed at the all-important Sanremo music festival in 1982 and 1983, and in 1983, released his first album, Un Po’ Di Zucchero. Disheartened by the slow progress he seemed to be making in the industry, in 1984, he went to California to broaden his musical experience. He returned from America with a new sound, a mixture of pop music and electric blues, and a more distinctive voice, singing with a kind of rasping rawness evocative of liquid moonshine. At Sanremo in 1985, Zucchero’s song ‘Donne,’ presented with the Randy Jackson Band, came second last in the competition but was an instant hit with the public.


His records Rispetto (1986) and Blue’s (1987) confirmed Zucchero as a star and, something still rare for an Italian artist, allowed him to burst onto the global music scene. In 1990, he toured Europe with Eric Clapton and sang in Russia at the Kremlin; in 1991, he took part in the Freddy Mercury Tribute at Wembley stadium in London; and in 1992, he performed for the first time with Luciano Pavarotti during the Pavarotti International concert after the tenor had agreed to record a duo with him on his album Miserere. Other international gigs followed, among them the 1994 Woodstock festival, the 1997 jazz festival in Montreux, and six of the seven Pavarotti & Friends’ concerts between 1994 and 2003. More recently, highlights of his career have been his 18-month Live in Italy tour, completed in 2007, during which he performed in 207 sold-out concerts on five continents. He has also participated in all the Mandela Day concerts, including the 2009 celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday, held at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Closer to home, in 2010 he was made an honorary citizen of Viareggio for the concert he organised for victims of the disastrous train derailment there on June 29, 2009.


A seemingly uncomplicated but ingenious man, many fellow artists with whom he has worked consider him a friend, among them Bono, Sting, Brian May, Miles Davis, Joe Cocker, Andrea Bocelli, Jovanotti and Gino Paoli.


Away from the hurly-burly of city life, Zucchero lives in Tuscany on his estate at Pontremoli, where he produces wine and tends the land. It is also where he does most of his composing. Divorced, he has three children, Irene, who is also a singer, and Alice (both with his ex-wife) and son Adelmo Blue, with his partner Francesca Mozer. Describing his approach to life, he says ‘I like to live a simple life with my family, observing the old traditions. This is what my music is all about. It comes from inside my soul.’


His fans couldn’t ask for anything more.


The title of Zucchero’s latest album, Chocabeck, has the same meaning in the Reggio Emilia dialect as the Italian word schioccabecco: the noise made by the empty beaks of birds like chickens and turkeys as they look for food. During his childhood at Roncocesi, his father often used the term whenever there was not enough food to put on the table. The international version of the disc contains several songs in English.




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