Eleven-year-old Sasà is famous in the popular neighbourhoods of the southern Italian city of Naples. He is part of an army of neomelodici, child and adult singers of neomelodica music, a genre which mixes traditional Neapolitan music and pop music. Its lyrics are mostly in Neapolitan, a language much different from standard Italian. The love for neomelodic music is widespread among the popular classes in Naples, its periphery and some other areas in southern Italy. Outside this milieu and geographic area, the phenomenon is often frowned upon or ignored altogether.
The neomelodica music scene is a real money-making business involving hundreds of people and businesses: child and adults singers, composers, impresarios, video producers, recording studios, TV stations etc. Some players in this business have been linked to organized crime, very much present in this region.
In a city with high unemployment, singing neomelodica music is a feasible way to a better future. Most children’s parents are unemployed and it’s often the father that manages the child’s singing career. Families invest a considerable amount of money in the hope that it may lead to opportunities for their child. With competition fierce, the need for self promotion is high. Vocal qualities however, seem not to be a key element in obtaining success, untuned voices are fixed with audio programs and singing is mostly playback.
Although almost all children have recorded one or more CDs, most income is generated by performing at private parties such as wedding celebrations, confirmations, baptisms and street festivals. In high season, running from May to August, it’s not uncommon for a child to perform at several events per day.
Children dream of becoming famous all over Italy but it’s very rare for neomelodici to break into the mainstream music business. Most likely they will be stuck in the local circuit of restaurants, banquet halls and piazzas.
The photo story shows child singers aged between 11 and 17 years. I photographed them at home, at recording studios, TV stations and gigs at private parties, documenting their unrelenting pursuit of a place among the city’s idols.