The moon slowly sets between the pillars of the Selinunte Hera temple bathed in colourful limelight. Onstage, facing the audience awed by the atmosphere of the tepid July night in these outstanding surroundings, three personalities are awarded a very special prize: The Premio Pino Veneziano, celebrating its 11th edition in the Selinunte archeological park (on July 24th).
To start with: Who is or was Pino Veneziano?
Pino, born in Riesi in 1933, was a famous personality in Marinella di Selinunte, throughout Sicily and beyond. A man of humble origins, he worked as a waiter in Lido Azzurro, charming his guests with his outstanding talent as a “cantautore“ …a singer who composed his own songs in his Sicilian mother tongue.
Pino was not a man of conventional education; rather, he lent his voice to the “humble“ Sicilian people, addressing their everyday life and strife, love and loss, work, reward and exploitation, tackling relevant topics such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the threat of pollution, corruption etc. Deeply rooted in the soil of his native island, he still felt linked to the work of Latin American protest singers of his time such as Victor Jara or Mercedes Sosa, with whom he shared his political attitude. He did not tour Italy or Europe, but when a personality like Argentinian writer José Luis Borges or his fellow cantautore Lucio Dalla happened to come to Selinunte and listen to his songs, he did not fail to leave a deep impression.
Pino died in 1994. As he had never been an artist who had appeared on TV-shows or on large national stages, not many of his songs were recorded and there is a limited number of photo and video documents – however, there are people unwilling to forget the man and his message, among them Umberto Leone, who, in his youth and at the start of his own career as an artist and musician, accompanied Pino on the guitar.
Involving Pino’s family, the Associazione Pino Veneziano was founded and an award was created in 2004 meant to honour those whose work followed in the tracks of Pino Veneziano, which communicated similar basic truths and doubts, expressed down-to-earth attitudes while cherishing the very elements of Sicilian/Italian life, the basic features of people’s identity … and which spun the thread from the past into the present and, hopefully, further into the future.
In 2015, the Premio’s topic was “La grande Madre Terra“. All three prize-winners are, each in his own way, committed to a quote from a song by Pino: “Di questa terra facciamone un giardino“ – Let’s turn this earth into a garden. Pino loved the earth/the soil. He sang about it, he sang to it in a simple, every-day language. He restored culture to the people … and this is exactly what candidates for the Premio Pino Veneziano would be expected to do. This year’s winners were:
Antonio Presti who believes in the strength of spirit and beauty, and is, among other things, founder of the large-scale land art project “Fiumara d’Arte“ and the Atelier sul Mare – a gift to locals and visitors.
Eugenio Bennato, a renowned Neapolitan cantautore himself and founder of the “Nuova Compania di Canto Popolare“, committed to the conservation of Southern Italian folk songs.
Carlo Petrini, founder of the “slow food“ movement, whose name was listed in The Guardian as “one of 50 people who might help to save the earth“.
Petrini, who was not able to attend the Premio Pino Veneziano in person, being on a working trip to Brazil, sent an intense video message to those watching at the foot of the ancient temple, talking about the importance of every individual’s commitment to making the world a little better, even in view of seemingly overwhelming calamities and political failures.
Antonio Presti’s lifetime achievement, the “Fiumara d’Arte“ was also presented in a short video.
As to be expected, Eugenio Bennato performed some of his songs before and after accepting the award, which was handed to him by Umberto Leone, who, along with his German-born wife Ute Pyka was able to organize the festival successfully and against many odds for the eleventh time in a row.
However, Bennato was not the only musician to enhance the nightly magic of the archeological park. As has always been the case, guest musicians turned the ceremony into a splendid, colourful event celebrating the roots of culture as well as forms of its contemporary expression. In 2015, they included Francesca Amato, Massimo La Guardia, Giana Guaiana, Pippo Barrile as well as the German sound artist and composer Werner Cee, currently working on a comprehensive acoustic art production about Western Sicily.
Some of the musicians have been awarded the prize in past years, as have Palermo filmmaker Davide Gambino, tamburello virtuoso Alfio Antico, cuntista Salvo Piparo, singer Etta Scollo as well as many more personalities committed to the sustaining of Sicilian/Italian culture rooted in the people, in the soil – La Terra.
Let’s hope that this small, but very special festival, this celebration of cultural identity in the past and present, will endure in the turmoil of present-day budget cuts and other adversities. This is culture made by the people themselves, not forced on them from “above“– as Pino Veneziano said: “Lu patruni è suvecchiu“ – there’s really no need for a boss.