Veramente Italiano: How Pop En Español Got Italianized

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Twitter: @maryangelrox

Throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Latin Americans experienced an influx of Italian pop music, which capitalized on our romantic and sentimental tendencies. A song would be translated and repackaged to unwitting listeners (myself included) who had no idea the track was originally recorded in Italian and that the vocalist was a non-native speaker. Their accent did make us wonder, though, what part of Spain they were from, since the singer’s pronunciation mimicked that of their European neighbor.

This influx has something to do with Italian heritage in Latin America. Italians are reportedly the third largest European group behind Spanish and Portuguese, their arrival dating back to the 1860s and through the 1960s. The creation of satellite technology in the late 1960s allowed countries to receive radio signals from one another and subsequently listen in on each other’s music. Additionally, the similarities in both romance languages allow for the songs to be easily translated while keeping their original lyric phrasing and/or intended message. Lastly and most importantly, the proximity of Spain and the allure of an entire continent of listener consumers made the Italian pop invasion a commercial no-brainer.

Though most of the crossover songs are ballads straight out of a “pa’ planchar” or “cortavenas” mix, for the purposes of this article, we’ll stay in the pop and power ballad realm in order to keep it bouncy. Also, although there are contemporary Italian artists who sing in Spanish, it was this author’s editorial decision to stay in the past for optimal kitsch value.


This track is the crowning jewel of the Italia-Sur movement. The band formed in Genoa in 1967 and was christened Ricchi e Poveri by their longtime producer, Franco Califano, who early in their careers told them they were “Rich in ideas but poor of money.” This song was released in 1982. Though the group was successful in Italy when this track was released, it spread to the Iberian market and then in Latin America, making Ricchi y Poveri international superstars. Angela Brambati carries the track’s sweet and bright vocals, conveying a lighthearted declaration of love, a fool’s journey enhanced by the (faux) string section that gives the music a swell, perhaps mimicking the type of swell you feel in your heart when you fall in love? My favorite line: “¿Por qué te amo? Será porque te amo!” Also listen to the version en español of “Me enamoro de ti.”

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This track placed fifth in the 1984 Sanremo Festival and was a huge hit for Mariana Fiordaliso. Her good friend and Italian singer/songwriter Zucchero wrote it. In terms of composition, this song is pop gold. The breakdown comes in about two and a half minutes in, which then takes us into a nonsensical “Na, na, ni” bridge, and then we jump an octave for the song’s culmination. Oh, but can you feel it?

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Though Al Bano is Italian, Romina was born in L.A., the daughter of film actor, Tyrone Power. The couple married in 1970 after meeting on a movie set in Italy, where Bano was already a well-known performer and Power was fostering an acting career. This track was released in 1982, and it celebrates the euphoria of being in love, not amidst a housing crisis, but in the affluent ’80s. You should also check out “Arena blanca, mar azul.”

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A well-respected member of the Italian pop scene, Battisti released this track in 1976. Though he’s mostly known for combining R&B rhythms into his compositions, this track leans more toward disco, which was all the rage at the time and would feature strongly in his following works. The song has a light-lounge feel and features a funky guitar, some synth violins, and Battisti’s silky and trebly voice, of which he maneuvers the pitch throughout.

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The band formed in 1975 in Genoa. Members of MB were previously in a band called Jet, of which members of Ricos y Pobres (see above) were also affiliated with, which may account for the upbeat and breezy approach the two share. This track was their only crossover effort and though it went on to sell over 1 million copies internationally, it was not their biggest hit. If you want to hear that, look up the rock-opera inspired “Vacanze romana.”

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Italy’s “Little Baby” was responsible for many of the biggest ’70s and ’80s pop hits, including songs for (you guessed it) Ricos y Pobres. This track was released in 1980 and though the Spanish is an ultimatum (a man asking his lover to make up her mind), in the Italian version, titled “Su di noi,” she already has. A steady power chord strum keeps it pumping. Oh, and don’t forget to listen for the violin section, a staple for the Italia-Sur genre.

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Written by Edoardo Vianello, popular Italian songwriter and actor, for the redheaded Pavone and released in 1963, the song is a wife’s protest at being left at home while her husband goes to his Sunday soccer games, in large part because of her doubts about his fidelity. It’s a fun listen.

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Written and performed by Pino Donaggio in 1965, the original Italian version went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. Soon after, it was most notably adapted, recorded, and titled “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” by Dusty Springfield, which shot her to stardom. Zanicchi’s version was adapted to Spanish and released in 1981 and is much different than Springfield’s diaphragm-rooted vocals. Zanicchi’s voice is irascible. Wait for the chorus to hear her throaty, passionate cries.

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La Gigliola, as she’s affectionately called in my house, started singing full time at 16, after taking the top prize at Sanremo and Eurovision in 1964. She has recorded in eight languages and even sang with Los Panchos. More importantly, she’s my dad’s favorite singer. The delicate power and range of her voice, her beauty, and her stage presence have made her one of Italy’s biggest exports. This track was released in 1974 and was effectively banned as it came out amidst a ballot referendum over the legalization of divorce in Italy. The government thought the song was encouraging a “yes” vote.

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Sandro Giacobbe’s “Jardín prohibido” / Umberto Tozzi’s “Te Amo” / Nicola Di Bari’s “Se que fumo, se que bebo” / Mango’s “Flor de verano” / Rafaella Carra’s “Caliente, caliente” / Claudio Baglioni’s “Si no la tuviera entre mis brazos” / Dalida’s “Gigi L’amoroso” / Collage’s “La gente habla” / New Trolls’ “Aquella caricia de otoño” / Riccardo Coccianti’s “Bella sin alma” / I Pooh’s “Tantos deseos de ella” / Gianni Bella’s “Tantos deseos de ella” / Peppino di capri’s “No lo vuelvo hacer”