A dark, tense, urban fusion, Soldi was a surprise winner of San Remo, and is generating a lot of buzz in the lead-up to Tel Aviv. More popular with the juries (professional and press) than the Italian public, it is nevertheless proving to be a strong favourite with ESC fans. Mahmood channels feelings of past and present about his father’s abandonment of his mother, and himself as a 6 year old.
The first line sets the song in Italy’s equivalent of “the hood”, the outer suburbs - the periferia. It introduces his mother as someone who has been wronged, and then his Egyptian father, who drinks champagne during Ramadan, and sits around watching TV and smoking shisha, before suddenly abandoning the family.
Soldi is deep, psychologically deep. It speaks of the tendency of children to blame themselves for their parent’s absence; the pain of revisiting earlier happy memories in the light of the abandonment that followed; most of all, of the loss of innocence, and its replacement with cynicism and distrust. We also feel Mahmood’s bond with his now-single mother, that he loves her and is protective of her and their surviving family unit of two.
Soldi reminds me of 1944. Now... hear me out! Both songs are based around remembered phrases said by someone the singer loved, phrases that sum up a moment of emotion: magic words. In 1944, it is Jamala’s grandmother’s words about her lost homeland. For Mahmood, it is his father’s affectionate words in Arabic - “my son, my darling son, come here” - and his longing to return to the happiness of being a beloved and wanted child, contrasting with his pain and cynicism about “how things are going now”. Both songs are built up in fragments around that core. In the case of Soldi, this corresponds well with a child’s fragmented memories and confused emotions.
Apparently, Mahmood’s father has been married four times and has children in several countries. It reminds me of Fight Club: “I don’t know my Dad. I mean, I know him, but he left when I was, like, six years old, married this other woman, had some more kids. He did this, like, every six years - he goes to a new city and starts a new family - &%#@er’s setting up franchises.”
I’ve heard it said that when someone does you wrong, writing a song about it is the best revenge. Perhaps it can also be therapy?
Soldi is musically compelling, and I’m sure there will be a lot of clap-clapping along in the hall. It should do very well with the juries and the fans, but I wager its success with the general public will depend on whether its message can get across to the mass of viewers who are hearing and seeing the song for the first time, and don’t have a translation on hand. Last years' Italian entry, Non Mi Avette Fatto Niente, solved this by flashing up translations of the key phrases into various languages; I don’t think this will work for Soldi’s more complex psychological landscape. Will they try anyway? Will they attempt to do it with staging, or some kind of background visual? In any case, Mahmood has given us, dare I say, a great song: a song that is powerful because it is complex and true.