The music accused of glorifying Naples gangsters

Still from the Clan Chief video, courtesy of
Image caption Nello Liberti has been accused of inciting violence in his song Clan Chief

It is a music video of the darkest kind. Set to a hammering beat, the song tells the story of an execution by the Camorra, as the mafia is known in the Italian city of Naples.

But there is no sympathy for the victim. Just the opposite.

The singer praises the Camorra boss who orders the killing of a "traitor".

The video shows the gangster giving the hitman his instructions, telling him who his target will be.

Then we see the assassin handing his horrified victim a note with his name on it. His Camorra death warrant.

Meanwhile the lyrics say of the boss, "It's not true that he's evil". "We have to respect him" goes the song as the hitman pulls out his pistol.

Clan Chief is sung by Nello Liberti in the Neapolitan dialect, in what is called the neo-melodic style. It is a genre of music born of the city's many tough neighbourhoods.

But there has always been concern that the neo-melodic world is too close to the Camorra, that some artists glorify the gangsters.

And prosecutors in Naples are now investigating Nello Liberti.

They have been reported as saying that his song justifies the killing of anyone who betrays the Camorra, and the singer is being accused of incitement to commit a crime.

The neo-melodic phenomenon has grown over the past 20 years.

It long ago built up a big following in and around Naples but it is increasingly popular beyond its southern heartland.

A profitable recording and production industry has developed in which the Camorra is believed to be heavily involved.

And as the music becomes more influential, there would seem to be all the more need to counter its links with the underworld.

"It's a cultural battle, a phenomenon that worries us and that we are investigating," says Rosario Cantelmo, an anti-mafia prosecutor in Naples.

Given the extent to which the Camorra has a grip in the city's suburbs, it is perhaps inevitable that gangsterism might sometimes feature in the music emerging from those same streets.

But a local investigative journalist, Amalia de Simone, says that while there would be nothing wrong with reflecting some of the reality of life in Naples, going a step further and glamorising the killers has serious social consequences.

"They become very negative examples for young people who live in those areas," she says.

"When they listen to this music they think of the Camorra boss as a fascinating, cool character, an example to follow. And this is absolutely unacceptable and shameful."

'Only love songs'

But it would be completely wrong to think of the entire neo-melodic scene as being fixated by the Camorra.

Songs that openly praise mafia figures are very much confined to the fringes.

Image caption Musician Rosario Miraggio avoids controversial lyrics about crime and sticks to love songs

The sentiments behind the vast majority of the genre are the stuff of pop everywhere: teenage heartache, love and betrayal.

Many moody singers are guilty of nothing more than a certain kitchness.

Rosario Miraggio, one of the young rising stars, is hugely in demand at times, singing at weddings and baptisms and parties.

Sometimes he does several gigs a night.

"I only sing love songs," he says. "I prefer to avoid the social problems of the city."

Rosario says his audience of mostly teenagers, many of them girls, is not remotely interested in being sung to about the difficulties that confront the city.

Instead he provides a little relief from all that, a chance to escape into his music.

And he takes the view that given the nature of life in Naples it is inevitable the city's performers might sometimes rub shoulders with its gangsters.

"We are just singers," he says. "We don't ask for the criminal record of the people we perform for.

"I can sing at the party of a worker, or the mayor, or of any other people. We're in Naples. it happens."

But another very different type of singer, Luca Caiazzo, takes issue with this sort of argument.

He is from the Neapolitan hip-hop scene. And when he performs under his stage name, Lucariello, he often chooses to address the city's social issues.

"If you listen to all the lyrics of neo-melodic music, you won't even find one song that speaks badly or in a critical way of the Camorra," he says.

"Yes, no one asks for the criminal record of the people you're performing for.

"But if you are aware that a big part of your market as an artist comes from that money, that is money stained with blood.

"I would ask myself some questions, you know, when you're singing at the wedding of a mafia boss or his son."

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