Obituary: Fabrizio De Andre

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FABRIZIO DE ANDRE was the anarchist son of a wealthy industrialist, a native of Genoa who preferred Sardinia, and a singer-songwriter who was very sparing with his words: "I write songs and I speak," De Andre pointed out, whenever he came under pressure to do either of these things, "only if I have something to say."

In a musical career spanning 35 years, he came up with enough to fill only 19 LPs, including "best ofs" and live recordings. What he said, however, moved generations of young Italians, and had a profound effect on the nation's song-writing tradition.

With his jowly, deeply lined face, constantly half-obscured by smoke from a never-ending string of cigarettes, De Andre would not have looked out of place as a night-club crooner. But his intense, mesmerising ballads - of the outcast and downcast, of war and religion, of the iniquities of power and capitalist might - would have jarred in that atmosphere. Besides, such close and regular contact with the public would have been hell for this very private performer. "For years, I couldn't even get up on a stage without drinking a litre of whisky to steady myself beforehand," he confessed.

Yet music was the driving force in the life of De Andre who, as a teenager in the 1950s, would hawk his compositions around record producers in Milan. In 1958, at the age of 18, his first single "Nuvole barocche" ("Baroque Clouds") was released, sinking more or less without trace. He limped from medical studies to humanities and then law, playing his guitar in small- time Genoese bands and writing songs. Then in 1965, he penned "La canzone di Marinella" ("Marinella's Song"), which was recorded by the female singing star Mina. With L600,000 of royalties in his pocket, De Andre ditched university, and launched himself into a full-time musical career.

Unlike other popular political singer-songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s, De Andre made no secret of his intellectual leanings. "Tutti morimmo a stento" ("We All Died of Hardship", 1968) was a homage to the French poet Louis Villon, the album Non al denaro, ne all'amore ne al cielo ("Not For Money or Love or the Sky", 1971) was inspired by Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology, and Nuvole ("Clouds", 1990) drew on Aristophanes.

His fascination with folk traditions led him to blend Sardinian and native American music in his 1981 album Fabrizio De Andre. The musician David Byrne was deeply impressed - and influenced - by his Creuza de ma ("Mule Track by the Sea", 1984), songs inspired by Mediterranean culture and sung in Genoese dialect, which pre-dated the World Music boom.

Ever a champion of the underdog, De Andre sang his support for gypsies, suicide cases and illegal immigrants. He lambasted hypocritical clients of prostitution, and the death penalty. And, for a while, he sympathised with bandits in his adopted home in Sardinia. Until, that is, they kidnapped him and his wife Dori Ghezzi in 1978, keeping them chained to a tree in the island's desolate heartlands for four months. The irony of the anarchista buono (the good anarchist) being ransomed for L600m - a vast sum at the time - by his wealthy capitalist of a father was lost on no one. De Andre, however, shrugged it off, and characteristically, turned the experience into "Hotel Supramonte", one of his best-loved works.

Anne Hanley

Fabrizio De Andre, singer-songwriter: born Genoa, Italy 18 February 1940; married Dori Ghezzi (one son, one daughter); died Milan 11 January 1999.