Paolo Conte was born, grew up, and is to this day a most illustrious citizen of Asti, a small city in the north-western Italian region of Piedmont.

Though internationally synonymous with the names Martini and Cinzano, nothing could be more misleading. For the wine drunk by town and country folk alike is the dark red Barbera which it is not unheard of to find even in the soups and local pasta dishes. This is that part of Piedmont where you can begin to notice a thickening in certain French traits, just as you acknowledge more and more the presence of the Franco-Italian Alps.

The region has of course strong historical links with the French and this is certainly evident in the dialects, but nowadays only the echoes of these ancient ties remain. Asti is far more tied to the Italian way of life of the Po valley, submerged by the unifying effects of the modern state structure though typically "campanilista" and therefore fiercely conscious of its own separate identity and traditions. In one way or another, the "Astigiani" are all connected to the land of the surrounding hills, and to a rural way of life; everyone seems to have some sort of a family history in a rural setting.

Such was also the case of one Paolo Conte, born on 6 January 1937 into a family of solicitors that for generations has practised in the town centre. Though he grew up in the city he spent a fair amount of time, particularly during the war, on his grandfather's country farm and would later recall his upbringing as particularly favourable to an understanding and respect not just for people of all walks of life but also for his own local ways and traditions.

His family background is said to have been musically diverse with both parents enjoying serious music as well as modern popular song, be it Italian, French or American. At quite an early age Paolo and his younger brother Giorgio were started on piano lessons, but apparently neither applied themselves with any particular zeal and this first more traditional approach to music making slowly fizzled out.



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