Nearly three decades in the business, Italian singer Zucchero is still selling records like hotcakes and is riding the crest of a wave of a sell-out tour. "I hope I can keep going like BB King,"

The man credited with introducing rhythm and blues into Italian music admits he still gets rather teed off with "conservative" countries like the UK and the US.

Asked whether he persists in inserting English lyrics into some of his singles as a means to reach a wider audience, Zucchero replies:

"I love to sing in Italian. It's very difficult to translate or adapt certain lyrics. But in countries like England or the US, unless you sing in English they won't play your music on the radio. It's different to the rest of Europe, which plays songs in English."

That does not mean English lyrics automatically provide the passport for Italian artistes to break into the mainstream, he says, even though, over the past decade or so, singers like Eros Ramazzotti, Andrea Bocelli and Laura Pausini have been selling well beyond their shores.

But Zucchero has always been more accessible than Andrea Bocelli or Luciano Pavarotti, and less polished but more versatile than the better-looking Eros Ramazzotti and Laura Pausini.

Zucchero was the first Italian to pack his roots in rock, blues and soul music and sell it to the rest of the world.

He will headline the four-night Jazz and Rock Festival being held at the Valletta Waterfront this weekend, and the Italian singer sure knows a thing or two how to whip the crowd into a frenzy.

During his two-hour-15-minute set-list, he will play five or six songs from his latest album Fly, plus most of his hits, ranging from Senza Una Donna to Diamante and Baila.

It's been some 11 years since Zucchero first played at the dusty Luxol football ground, but hundreds of concerts have clearly not erased any memories.

"I remember I was very happy when I played in Malta. I remember there were a lot of people there and the night before we had a fantastic dinner by the sea. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to see Malta... but I hope to do so this time.

"For me, being in Malta is like being in Sicily - the people are very hot and passionate," he says in good English diction, laced with a strong Italian accent.

Despite selling, and earning millions since that time, Zucchero has shunned trendy lifestyles and big city lure normally associated with musicians of his ilk and instead lives on a "big beautiful" farm in Tuscany.

"I love having dinner with friends. We have animals, we do wine, cheese, olive oil, and bread. I love the country life, a simple life," he says.

Away from the limelight, Zucchero has struck a number of high-profile friendships along the years with the likes of Sting, Brian May of Queen and U2's Bono. What do these rock stars talk about in social circles?

"We talk about food, music, children, family, like normal friends... When I'm with Pavarotti we talk about our common passion - horses; with Sting, who lives an hour away from my house in Tuscany, we talk about wine and olive oil."

Asked whether he has ever given musical advice to the Police frontman, Zucchero says: "Yes, sometimes I have done. The last time I met Sting before the tour he asked what I thought about the Police reunion - he said 'at the moment I don't know what to do for myself and I don't know where I want to go in music'. Yeah, we talk about music and what we intend doing in the future".

Zucchero's (real name: Adelmo Fornaciari) rise to the top of the charts was hardly a breeze. He started by learning to play the organ in his local church, and aged 13 he met an American student who introduced him to soul, blues, and R&B music. It was only after a couple of attempts at the Sanremo festival that he broke into the mainstream with the album Rispetto.

Then, one day out of the blue, the legendary Miles Davis called Zucchero saying he loved his voice and that he wished he could work together some time.

The Italian singer thought it was a joke and put the phone down. The legendary trumpeter called him back and Zucchero was duetting with him in no time.

Suddenly, he had the music world at his feet, released his classic album called Blues and since then has sold over 1.5 million copies of each of his 13 albums.

He says his music has not changed much since the early 1990s when he was on top of the world. He has since toured the world, chipping in to events like Woodstock and the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, took part in the Pavarotti and Friends concerts, and collaborated with artistes like Eric Clapton, Sting, BB King and Andrea Bocelli.

Despite the critical acclaim of albums like Blues and Oro, Incenso E Birra, Zucchero does not single out any particular album as his masterpiece, though he believes his last album Fly is among the best he has penned.

Though blues will forever run through his blood, Zucchero says he enjoyed dabbling in other musical genres, singling out his gospel/ classical duet with Luciano Pavarotti - Miserere - as one of his favourite moments of his career.

This led to his collaboration with Andrea Bocelli, paving the way for the classic album Romanza, which sold 24 million albums worldwide.

He now says he is compiling his second greatest hits package, after the original one in 1996 sold five million copies.

Zucchero admits it is increasingly difficult for young and up-and-coming artistes to break into the music industry - several record labels are not doing well and are reluctant to sign new artistes.

"Musicians out there have to persist and keep going. Because if you have something within you and you want to release it, you have to believe in yourself. Don't get depressed... keep going." How long will Zucchero himself keep going?

"I've been in the business for over 30 years and I still like touring and doing music. I hope I can keep on going like BB King who is 70 years old and doing 100 concerts a year.

"It's beautiful to be on stage. I normally feel a bit anxious before going on stage, but when you're out there the vibe and energy from the crowd is very emotional. Even when I'm tired, the moment I step onto the stage I feel great."


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