The figure of Primo Zanasi is secluded, lonely, with a different look than many others on what music is, first of all, and life, basically.
From the sweet hills of the province of Bologna, Italy, in 2015 we found a good pretext to bring you to the world of Primo Zanasi for the very first time: Poco di Tutto, (literally: “a tidbit of everything“), his third instrumental album was released.
It was the perfect introduction to a different spectrum in music production. A whole new vibe: beat-making dub fully analog hip-hop. As cliché as it may sound today, Zanasi was (is) the pure incarnation of an underdog from the suburbs, a cool fellow with genuine love for authentic music. As a hip-hop kid grown into a man, he’s a dedicated multi-instrumentalist, a family man, and overall a funny guy with lots of inspiration.
His efforts are available from his own Bandcamp, in both digital format and hand-made ultra-limited cassette tape edition (go dig for these gems!). Think of it as the gateway to a musical genius.
The tape was pure fire, period. It helped strengthen our attention to Primo’s music, as we also featured Zanasi’s beat-making style in our Production Specs column.
We’ve always kept in touch with the guy since our first interview, back in 2015, and it’s only right to renew it as he’s just launched a new beat tape, in partnership with our favourite brothers at Spalato Wyale.
Now he’s back with another amazing release, titled Con Occhio Benigno, a sort of “Christological beat-tape”, all sampled and reassembled by crazy FM airwaves, with a precise message and reasoning behind it. The crazy artwork is also curated by Primo Zanasi himself, with a dedicated and exquisite collage, as it happens with all his ultra-limited cassette tapes.
But hey: no spoilers here, the best way to talk about Primo Zanasi and his “hip-hop-dub-experimental-loops-ism” is to leave the room to the uncut report of a long chat between Zanasi and Stromberg, in full StrettoBlaster style, for the young and the old. Enjoy the reading!
I make music by running away from something, I don’t know what, maybe routine or maybe inconvenience. While I do it, I never think about who will listen to it, and I forget all the patterns and rules I know. In order to get as close as possible to a non-ego that makes it up. – Pri Zan
The genesis of Primo Zanasi: the origins of an underground musical search.
Starting from the beginning, what about introducing yourself?
I am Federico, also known as Primo (my grandfather’s name) Zanasi (my granma’s last name). Call me what you like.
Ok, Primo is fine. But, Federico, since you’re here, can you tell me how you started with music, please? Just to understand a bit more…
It is a bit strange the discomfort from which everything was born, but when I think about my attachment to music I blame a very specific event…I must have been six years old, I was sleeping in the room with my older brother then sixteen…
I know it sounds crazy, but I heard my parents fucking once, and even if I already knew a little about the fact, because of the courtyard where I was playing with older kids, it shook me very badly to hear my parents making noises. I got into my older brother’s bed and I told him: “Ricky, Ricky…mom does ha ha ha …what’s happening?!”…oh gosh, I laugh my ass off even to this day…
As a result, starting from that very day on, I was going to sleep with a walkman and a tape, headphones on my ears, and I was listening really about everything. My brother had two old turntables, and he was mixing dance music dance, early Nineties acid-house and so on, you know?
I also remember a tape of Snoop Dogg, rap recordings of Venerdì Rappa show on Radio DeeJay, and much more…every now and then I also mixed secretly from my brother with his turntables, he didn’t want me to do it because I broke everything. Having said that, the years go by.
One day I was playing basketball at the playground, I was about eleven…I heard a drumset sound from a distance, I approached and it was a band playing country music.
Moral: a friend of mine was the drummer’s friend and I asked him to try it, then from there I stole my mother’s pots and start hitting these, then for many years I play with friends, improvising, with no desire to do live shows or make records or whatever. We knew a lot of people, you know…we basically just play, no need to record, no “label” need to us, it was all just about the music.
Then one day I was in a rehearsal room in my hometown, and I find my childhood friends with the rap cazzimma… 6 or 7 boys in a cypher who rapped their verses on some instrumentals…I saw great energy…that among those there was also a very young man Roi Alcocat rapping: amazing! From there I started to produce thinking about them.
First with the computer, and then I got passionate about the machines I fell in love with and continue to be. I always live the music as before, without thinking of any type of careerism, it is an escape for me, if I am well I do not play I enjoy life, but since I work against will every day I am not very well, and I play every day, there is sadness in my music and anger.
These two components brought me together with Dj Spass and Taiotoshi (famed Italian deejay and underground emcee, respectively, author’s note), with them I share this taste for music that makes us cry. Taio and Spass saved my life, I was convinced that nobody appreciated my musical sadness, many of those around me told me that the music was too sad and paranoid. What should I say?
It comes to me like this, I struggle to do anything else. I make music by running away from something, I don’t know what, maybe routine or maybe inconvenience. While I do it, I never think about who will listen to it, and I forget all the patterns and rules I know. In order to get as close as possible to a non-ego that makes it up.
Let’s start discussing your music closer. How Poco di Tutto, your early introduction to us as instrumental tape-master, was born?
That tape was the skimming of over 100 beats. I have a machine that is a separate 4 track loop station that holds 100 beats once the memory is filled. I kept my favourites and let them out. Gennaro (DJ Spass) says that I’ve kept the ugliest ones…obviously, he jokes!
But he says it because there were many darker ones inside the loop station, which I have discarded, and which he prefers to the ones I put out. I didn’t feel like going out too dark and melancholy, that’s why Taio thinks about rapping on my sadness…it wasn’t the right time to go dark for me, back then I had a 16-month-old baby in good health, how could I have been in a dark mood? 🙂
I am a drummer of musical training, I have always played for pure fun, staying as far as possible from stages and formulas or schemes. When I started with hip hop instruments I always felt the lack of that improvisational slice that traditional acoustic instruments give you.
I managed to find it in the loop station and so I “invented” a kind of way to make beats. I hoped my tape sounded different from the globalization that surrounds us, and I hope my music still conveys my person as much as possible, which is a bit what Madlib managed to do with his music.
When I listened to Quasimoto’s album and his beats, I was convinced that if I had known him I would have had many common visions with him. Actually, I can’t say it but reading the few interviews that are available, I think I was not wrong. If your music makes people perceive that you are a good person, it means that you can put a piece of your soul into it.
His work illuminated me, his spontaneity, breaking the rules, I really loved him…When he came to play in Rome for the “Dissonanze” festival, I went to hear him with the Jackson Conti project. I broke through security to bring him a spliff while he was doing the final set …hahaha…love is love…
Digging into Christ: veering towards a more impromptu approach in music.
After Poco di Tutto, your output has gone past some different phases. First, the 12 (!!!) beat tapes series named according to as many colours. Then, the strong tack towards more vast research, in terms of sampling, to deliver From the Spizio, and finally Con Occhio Benigno.
How has your approach to beat-making changed, in the last few years?
It became as spontaneous as possible. Without going too far to search but more than anything else it is to be found ready. I like to think that there is something to guide us.
Poco di Tutto was rather simple: choose a record, capture a sample and go on without frills, throw on bass and drums. Game, set, match. On the opposite, with the following tapes, such as “Sos dallo Spizio“, I raised the level of randomness, or if you want the level of “seizing the present moment”: I’ve used only sounds and samples taken from the FM radio I listened to. Samples taken at the moment, either you are there or you are not there. This is it.
It’s about time that we bring back the good old “peace, love, and unity”. I do not see and do not hear any positive messages for our children. So with the providence of the FM sample set between Radio Maria and Radio Evangelo, that’s it. – Pri Zan
All this embraces a bit the romantic concept I have of music, which is made with “poor” means, or rather with what you have there. Like the MacGyver of the beat. In short, I dig the Guglielmo Marconi record store.
The “Christological” beat tape (if we want to call it that), on the other hand, is the result of the desire to chase away all the evil messages that people like so much nowadays, and which is especially popular among the youngest crowds.
It’s about time that we bring back the good old “peace, love, and unity”. It is okay to challenge each other to improve the craft, but I do not see and do not hear any positive messages for our children. So with the providence of the FM sample set between Radio Maria and Radio Evangelo, and little else, that’s it.
So what is your personal relationship with this “Christological” approach, then? How did you come up with it, in the first place?
Knowing a person changed my vision. Imagine the classic boy son of very Christian observing parents, who spontaneously follows their path, and with his own way, he kinda imposes himself on a very different reality compared to his inner life.
He has invited me to his wedding, and there I met a number of very loyal people, really top people. I prefer them and their approach, compared to much else these days. I am not a practitioner, nor a believer, I’m somehow religious, but the message is fine…Then, of course, the Church is a business, on the other hand, but I kept focusing on the peace and unity message, really.
After this “discovery”, I started collecting skits and vocal interludes from believers and people in need of help, but I want to be careful using these audio snippets, not to make fun of or ridicule anyone.
Digging in this direction I kinda realized that there are many people who really need support, help, and they find it in Christ…if you want to say that.
To me, these are incredible discoveries, which then merge with my musical research and pure joy in discovery. I mean, generally speaking, we are in the “idols are dead” zone, but this radio sampling stuff I did for fun, and in the end, it brought me more “hype” and interest than anything else, paradoxically.
From Bologna to the Bronx: collaborations, opportunities, future features.
All the research brought your music to trespass the Ocean, and collaborate also with original Bronx bombers such as Kool Keith and Prince Metropolis, isn’t it? How did this all happen?
Yes, we’ve got in touch through the beat tapes I had published on the Bandcamp page. Metropolis wrote me, reaching out asking for a collaboration, as he liked my beats. He was the link to arrive to
Anything else? what do you want to tell me about the so-called beat scene? A lot of useless biters, isn’t it?
We are pissed at those who “copy” because they have great energy and possibilities but do not exploit them. Unfortunately, they make us feel imitations of things already out there. I mean, we’re sorry, we don’t hate them, we just think they are assholes… what do you think? Then honestly I don’t follow beat-making a lot, I really listen to everything but I’m more interested in the history of the music of other cultures around the world, rather than other beatmakers.
Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Indonesian music called gamelan, it’s a good deal that I would like to do an instrumental project with samples of this kind only, inside there are beautiful things.
In general, in the history of music, there have always been founders, people who brought a sound or a style that has become classic over the years, I can think of the sound of Coltrane’s classic quartet, Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, they are sounds that have opened up worlds and ways of playing. In the instrumental world of hip-hop, we know well who has given and gives much of the inspiration to many: one should be able to take the spirit of these masters and make it their own.
We don’t think there is much to add. You too can listen to Con Occhio Benigno, and maybe you can tell us how you feel about it. All praises due to Primo Zanasi and Spalato Wyale.