Alfonso Manzella, aka ‘Zuccherino’ (Sugary), was apprehended by Carabinieri in Pagani, Salerno (YouTube)
An Italian singer from the Mafia-ridden outskirts of the city of Salerno, near Naples, has been arrested by police in a raid that has exposed the close links between music and the mob in some parts of southern Italy.
Alfonso Manzella, aka Zuccherino ("Sugary"), was apprehended by Carabinieri at the end of a manhunt after a night-time shootout between rival gangs in the central square of Pagani, just kilometres from the ruins of Pompeii.
The 25-year-old, arrested for his alleged involvement in the shootout, was a celebrity in the town which is a stronghold of the Naples mafia known as the Camorra. He sang about love and crime in the Neapolitan dialect, in what is called the neo-melodic style.
The music video of his Comme Se Fa (How we do it) made national headlines for its controversial message and graphic images.
In the video Zuccherino plays a Camorra boss, who kills a rival gangster with whom his wife had a love affair.
To play the gangster role is typical of neo-melodic singers.
"[Neo-melodics'] lyrics strongly justify Camorra and criminality as a way out of poverty and a means to preserve and convey the land's values such as honour and love," said Marcello Ravveduto, a researcher with Salerno University.
"It was indeed you who had to betray me/ A well-respected street boy who was sold by his fiancée," Zuccherino sings in Comme Se Fa. "You sold me to the man who yesterday opened fire against me."
Crime bosses love it. They frequently book the neo-melodic singers to perform at weddings, city fairs, birthdays and religious celebrations.
"Top singers' can fetch up to €6,000 (£5,000) for an appearance," Ravveduto said. "They're often paid in cocaine."
Zuccherino walked the line separating criminals and their minstrels. He had already been sentenced for an attempted armed robbery in 2008 and was rearrested as part of a large anti-drug operation in 2011.
In jail, Zuccherino wrote about his experience behind bars and claimed to be a victim of injustice.
On release, he went on to become one of Pagani's best-known singers.
Ravveduto described the neo-melodic phenomenon as a sort of Mediterranean "narcorrido", the musical trend celebrating Mexican drug cartels.
Violence features in many lyrics but is not idealised as in Mexico and is often accompanied by more tender-hearted issues. "Neo-melodics always sings about their mums," Ravveduto said.
Although crime is glamourised, individual bosses are rarely singled out and celebrated.
An exception is the song Ciro Ciro, by Alessio, which is dedicated to convicted camorra Boss Ciro Sarno.
"However he [Sarno] is believed to have written the lyrics himself," Ravveduto said.
Neo-melodic songs are loved not only by gangsters and mafia bosses but by teenage girls and religious housewives.
"Local families push their sons to embark in a neo-melodic career because, like football, singing is perceived as a quick and sweat-less way to riches," Ravveduto said.
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