A basic guide to the San Remo Festival


The San Remo Italian song Festival is classic Italian television at its best wonderfully hyperactive, ostentatious, trashy and irrational all at the same time. This year the festival is in its sixty-fifth edition making it a dinosaur compared to the continually evolving landscape of the small screen.

San Remo is always filled with controversy as the song or singer who wins is never the most popular which leads people to believe the judging is rigged and jury corrupted like so many other things in Italy.

The international guest artists are always bizarre and to be honest I’m sure they would never know a good Italian song, even if it bit them on the bum, past guests include: Sharon Stone, George Clooney and Gerard Depardieu.

Italians are always complaining about the winners, the decline of Italian music and the absurd amount of money spent for guests and hosts but the last night always has record viewers as everyone wants to know the winner even if it only to criticise.

Arisa, Carlo Conti and Emma.

The spectacle’s hosts are always a talking point, this year it will be hosted by the ever-tanned-Tuscan Carlo Conti together with two well-known singers and past winners at the festival, Arisa who took home the golden lion last year and Emma who took home the main prize in 2012. These host make a subtle change from the history of standard male game show hosts ( it was dominated by Pippo Baldo and Mike Buongiorno for many years) and two ever-changing clothe horses  eye candy female models.

Arisa and Emma are contrasting artists who will give the show a new dimension this year. Arisa started her public life on San Remo as a perky- feel good -thick -rim -glasses- wearing- songstress and has evolved into a more elegant and mature artist. While Emma is the winner of another big Italian television hybrid reality talent show ‘Amici’ di Maria De Filippi which sees young dances and singers compete against one another for a recording/work contract. Their voices are quite distinct from one another: Arisa has a beautifully lyrical sound along the lines of traditional classic Italian sound, while Emma’s voice is harsher, emotive and modern sounding (it’s not pretty at all and she should probably should cut down on the smoking).


The first ever edition of the Festival in nineteen fifty-one consisted of only three Italian songs and singers but San Remo has developed into a complex contest with many categories.
The participating songs are strictly in Italian or in one of the various regional dialects, exclusively performed at the festival (any song performed to the public beforehand results in disqualification), there is a vote the public for a popularity prize and a jury panel gives an overall prize and critics prize.

San Remo’s categories are a little confusing, at times you are not sure which songs are competing against one another and which are out of the running for one reason or the other. Often the New Artist ( Nuove Proposte) group will have a popular song but since they are not a part of the Professional category will not be eligible to win. I know it gives me a headache too, the rules are convoluted.

Last year’s Winner Arisa with Controvento.

Some random Festival facts:

  • There are also prizes for the best lyrics and career achievement awards.
  • Over the course of the three-day festival the songs are performed three times, sometimes as duets or in different arrangements but always with a full orchestra.
  • The winner represents Italy in the Eurovision Song contest, the apex of Euro kitsch.
  • The city of San Remo in Liguria hosts the festival every year, it’s a beautiful resort town near the border of France famous for its flowers, skiing and spas.
  • The festival has always been broadcasted live, first from the San Remo Casino and  then as of nineteen eighty-four from the historical Art Deco Ariston Theater.
  • In 1984 some songs in English and French were allowed to take part but it was a brief experiment.
  • Foreign singers often collaborate with Italian composers to participate.


One of my favourite historical San Remo moments Jose Feliciano participating in 1971, he finished third.

  • In 1967 the singer Luigi Tenco committed suicide in his hotel room a few hours after he had performed on the first night of the Festival.
  • Many now famous faces of Italian pop have cemented their careers by performing at the festival it is must for anyone trying to make it as a singer in Italy. Past winners include: Al Bano, Alexia, Adriano Celentano, Johnny Dorelli, Elisa, Giorgia, Marco Mengoni, Annalisa Minetti, Domenico Modugno, Gianni Morandi, Anna Oxa, Pooh (group, yes I know they are really called Pooh, smirk … ), Povia, Romina Power, Eros Ramazzotti, Massimo Ranieri, Francesco Renga, Ron, Enrico Ruggeri, Valerio Scanu, Bobby Solo, Tosca (Yes, that’s a singer not the Opera), Umberto Tozzi, Claudio Villa and Iva Zanicchi.
  • This year Festival includes a list of twenty big names and songs in the ‘professional’ or ‘campioni’ category:  Annalisa (Una Finestra tra le Stelle), Malika Ayane (Adesso e Qui), Marco Masini (Che Giorno E’), Chiara (Straordinario), Gianluca Grignani (Sogni Infranti), NEK (Fatti Avanti Amore), Nina Zilli (Sola), Dear Jack (Il Mondo Esplode), Alex Britti (Un Attimo Importante), Biggio e Mandelli (Vita d’Inverno), Moreno (Oggi Ti Parlo Così- Italian rap artist), Bianca Atzei (Il Solo al Mondo), RAF (Come Una Favola), Lara Fabian (Voce), Grazia di Michele e Mauro Coruzzi (Io Sono Una Finest), Il Volo (Grande Amore- Group), Anna Tatangelo (Libera),  Nesli (Buona Fortuna Amore), Irene Grandi (Un Vento Senza Nome) and Lorenzo Fragola (Siamo Uguali).
  • Bet makers are predicting this years winner will be the Milanese blues guitar legend Alex Britti.


Ariston 2015


Italians love ‘evergreens’ they are looking for that perfect mix of anthem, love song and catchy popular tune. The songs are a mixture of many styles, anything from spoken word protest songs, full on rock love ballads (I’m not sure that is a real genre but that’s what you will here), rap, folk songs, it can be a real mixed bag and that’s what makes it so surprising.

Love it or hate it this years San Remo Festival della Canzone Italiana, from the 10th to the 14th of February, is the apex of Italo song and spectacle, a creative explosion of tradition, controversy and haphazardness.

I look forward to hearing something new, falling in love with a new artist only to have it finish last 😉


Take a look at all the winners from 1951 to 2013 here.

Which is your favorite Italian singer and song?

If you are new to the world of Italian music, let me know if you would appreciate some posts about great Italian singers.

4 thoughts on “A basic guide to the San Remo Festival

  1. Excellent and informative post. really enjoyed reading it as I have never understood sanremo and never really liked its songs.

  2. Rochelle,

    Thanks for so much information and the attached videos are a great addition to the post. It seems that San Remo started and continues a tradition that is popular all over the world.

    1. I’m happy you enjoyed the post, yes San Remo is certainly a unique show and I’m looking forward to this years show. I really can’t help myself it’s addictive like watching reality t.v 😉 Grazie for you your comment.

Comments are closed.