Talk about taking a load off your chest… You could fill a whole room with all the loads that Tommy Kuti took off his chest in his first book (‘I laugh about it. Growing up with dark skin in Salvini’s Italy’ by Rizzoli).
He was the first Italian artist of African origin to be signed up by Universal. He came second in last year’s reality travel TV show ‘Pechino Express’. The rapper who won the talented Fabri Fibra over, doesn’t spare anyone in his book. From his colleague Sfera Ebbasta to the influencer Chiara Ferragni; from the Lega-supporting father of his first girlfriend, to the Italian education system and finally to Zingaretti. «The truth is, that when I make music I am much more laid back», he admits, «because I feel I have a moral responsibility. When I make music, I think about the young people who will listen to it, my fans, but I also care about what my colleagues will think of me. That’s normal. In the book instead you’ll find an uncensored Tommy Kuti. But I don’t have any expectations. If it goes well, I’ll be happy. If it doesn’t, then at least I’ll have spared myself a few years of therapy».
Is that why you wrote the book: to save money on therapy?
«Actually, I’ve had publishers chasing me since my first record, Afroitaliano, was a success. After ‘Pechino Express’, they got really pushy. But my manager told me I wasn’t ready yet, that it was best to wait».
However, given I’m so egocentric, I already had an outline in mind, every single chapter. I only needed a hook, which ended up being the diary that my father, Samuel, had kept. Each chapter starts with a page from his diary.
I was struck by the chapter on racism, in which you include an amusing catalogue of expressions and you conclude by saying: “I’ve had enough of the expression ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. Anything after that ‘but’ is racist”.
«It’s a really important, and sensitive, issue for me. I didn’t want this to end up sounding obvious or superficial. I’m very happy to have mentioned my friend Tyrone Nigretti and his disability. This helped me convey the concept that unless you get first hand knowledge of the daily reality and the challenges faced by someone, you will never be able to talk about it. It is extremely difficult for a white person to get first hand knowledge of the discrimination experienced by a black person in their daily life. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply arrogant».
Another issue that you tackle head on is the economic one: “Don’t assume all black people are poor”.
«There is an episode that I wasn’t able to include in the book. I was in my final year at middle school. By that time, my parents had already opened their shop. They worked really hard and I used to go and help them out in my spare time, even helping with the accounts. I knew exactly what they earned. I remember we were asked to fill in a form at school in which we had to roughly indicate what our family’s income was. I distinctly remember telling the teachers we were in the lowest income band because if I’d told them we were actually in the highest, they simply would not have believed me».
You grew up in Castiglione delle Stiviere, near Brescia, you went to Cambridge, you talk about identity in your songs and you explain the origin of citizenship by birthright (ius solo) in your book. Who does Tommy Kuti speak to, exactly?
Above all, I’m a communicator. My degree in Cambridge focused on the representation of minorities in the media. I speak for my generation, for those second generation youths who, unlike me, have not had the opportunity of making it. Or, they may not be brave enough to rise up, to talk openly about what we have to face every day, about the racism, about the closed mentality that still prevails in Italy. I understand: they are not forced to do it.
«But this is very important to me. I don’t have an inferiority complex because of what I’ve been through. I’m not ashamed of who I am. On the contrary, I am proud of my parents’ amazing story of success. Thinking about where I got to, considering where I started from, then my life is really cool!».
Traduzione di Costanza de Toma