An interview with Gianna Nannini


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 3 2015)

Her voice is unique, just like her character. In 1980, Gianna Nannini produced what for many people was the sound of their youth and she has maintained her wild temperament. But what many don’t know: the Italian rock singer originates from a family who always placed value on hand made things – whether that’s music, the finest confectionary products or the manufacturing of coffee. 

Ms Nannini, how can one imagine the life of a musician to be? Where do you get your inspiration?

Gianna Nannini: I catch the wave. There are frequencies where I encounter melodies, they come to me suddenly. Then I get a feeling that makes me sing the melody, sometimes even sprinkled with words. In order to complete the text though, I sometimes have to have many dreams and long journeys.

How do you remember your musical ideas when you are on the go?

G. N.: I put my iPad or telephone on and write down different things which I work on when I’m home again. I prefer to write the texts by hand in a notebook.

How do you then pour your thoughts into a mould?

G. N.: I record sound vision tests in Pro Tools. It’s often the case that a guitar part or a spontaneously recorded idea remains on the record at the end. When I have sung them I send the recordings to Wil Malone who prepares the string arrangements and the sound design for my voice – always sticking close to the basic ideas from the test or demo. 

What meaning does pen and paper have for you?

G. N.: As I said already, mind, hand and pen are better for the creative part because you have to act like an antenna as the inspiration flows through the longitude of the body. That’s something completely different from moving the hand up and down on a digital keyboard. Words are very important. They are part of the materiality which is created. In my case through the voice.

What is essential in order that text and melody melt into an inseparable unity?

G. N.: That the voice doesn’t reject the words. When all words fit, it’s like in a puzzle. An image emerges which I like to describe as a poetic image.

How does it feel when you put on a real vinyl record and the genuine sound of music resounds through the room?

G. N.: It’s a different experience listening to music with a record player. I listen to very little music on MP3 as the piece quickly sounds boring for me when I cannot hear the harmonics. And the MP3 format smoothes the overtones. I don’t really listen to much music, but when I hear the needle in the groove with its typical crackling sound, I notice more than ever that emotions are engraved here. The vinyl sound is warmer, without a doubt. On the other hand, new technology helps to enable quick communication. In this case, for example when I send tests to my employees, I use MP3 files of course. 

You did the music for Berthold Brecht’s ‘Die Dreigroschenoper’ together with Sting in 1987. How did this collaboration come about and what is the choice of play all about?

G. N.: Having access to this play by Brecht and Weill brought me a lot. I remember that in my first concert when I was sixteen, I played pieces such as Surabaya Johnny and Seeraüber-Jenny alone on the piano. Later, in 1987, composer Eberhard Schöner invited me to work on the production of the Dreigroschenoper with Sting and Jack Bruce, in order to perform it with an orchestra and original score in the Hamburger Staatsoper.

To what extent can you identify with this genre?

G. N.: It’s also something which has characterised my way of listening to music. Brecht and Weill composed songs and pieces of music which founded European music in a way. The German language also goes well with these melodies. To know and sing this repertoire was like an introduction to the culture of the opera, our great European heritage.

What projects would you like to realise in the future?

G. N.: Something for children, and I would also like to try and get my piece on the Sienese noblewoman Pia de Tolomei onto the stage. This is a piece that I have dedicated to my home town Siena.

Making music always has something to do with passion. Your grandfather Guido Nannini also had a passion, and that was roasting coffee. At the beginning of the last century, he opened his first business in Siena, the ‘Bar Ideale’. To what extent did you notice his passion for this as a small child?

G. N.: My grandfather Guido and the grandfather on my mother’s side, Guiseppe were geniuses of marketing for their time, between the two world wars. I followed in their footsteps. However, reaching results means a lot of sacrifice; you have to learn to give everything.

After almost 80 years, your brother Alessandro has continued the family heritage and has purchased a small roasting business. Today the famous Nannini coffee is at home in all large cities in the world. For you personally, how important are delicacies?

G. N.: I am not a fan of sweet things, I only like apple cake.

Your family also runs a patisserie for high-quality confectionary products. How was it growing up in a family where everything is ‘hand-made’?

G. N.: My family held the hope that their children would devote themselves to the same work – confectionary. Unfortunately it didn’t happen as they wanted.

Which of your family’s specialities do you particularly like to eat? 

G. N.: I would say the ‘Ricciarelli’ merely because I lost two finger segments in the machine while learning how to make them.

Where does the fascination with self-made products come from do you think?

G. N.: From the fact that they are made by the hands of a person who invests a lot of care.


On 14 June 1956, in Siena, Gianna Nannini was born into a traditional Tuscan family of confectioners. With hits like ‘Latin Lover’, ‘Fotoromanza’, ‘Bello e impossibile’ or ‘I maschi’, she also quickly became famous outside of her homeland. After her A-levels she left her parents’ home and studied piano in Lucca, and following this, composition in Milan. In 1994 she completed her degree in literature and philosophy with a dissertation on the topic ‘Il corpo nella voce’ (The body in the voice).

Picture credits © Foto live 2007 Londra Sheperd Bush, Ph Alessandro Sala/Cesura

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