Francesco Gabbani meets Desmond Morris — the zoologist who inspired “Occidentali’s Karma”

Back in February the famed zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris revealed that he was a huge fan of Italy’s Francesco Gabbani and his Eurovision 2017 song “Occidentali’s Karma”.

But, owing to advancing age and his sick wife, he said that he would not be able to travel to Italy to meet this year’s Eurovision favourite.

Thankfully Francesco — who wowed audiences at the London Eurovision Party on Sunday evening — can still travel, and on Monday he took the opportunity to visit the legendary academic at this home in Oxford, England.

“Today I had the incredible privilege of meeting Desmond Morris in his home in Oxford,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Aside from the surreal circumstances, comparable maybe to grabbing a coffee with Heraclitus, I had the proof that the wisdom and the greatness of a man are directly proportional to the humility and the ability to express with simplicity very profound concepts. Thank you, Desmond.”

This most peculiar of meetings — between a world-renowned academic who studied the evolution of apes and a potential Eurovision winner who dances with one — resulted from a shared interest in Morris’ 1969 the book The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal, which has sold more than ten million copies worldwide.

The Italian representative at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest 2017 took inspiration from Morris’ work, which will hit English libraries with its latest update soon. Francesco quotes the title of Morris’ book in the lyrics of “Occidentali’s Karma”.

That’s not the only reference, of course. Francesco’s dancing gorilla is a clear and fanciful reference to the theories described by Morris, who makes use of the term “the naked ape” to refer to the human species, considered the most evolved version of monkeys, in this case devoid of the heavy coat of hair.

Antonello Guerrera, journalist at La Repubblica, contacted the ethologist in February and found him to be a big fan of the Sanremo 2017 winner.

“I’ve listened to his song,” he said. “It’s wonderful! Then I’ve seen the videoclip with Japanese costumes. ‘Occidentali’s Karma’ is beautiful, catchy. Next May I will be in front of the tv cheering for him at the Eurovision”.

This is what we call an endorsement!

“A British journalist asked me if he had offended me,” he recounted. “What an honor instead! I’ve been studying for years the sign language in the world, and seeing what Gabbani does on stage and in the official video of the song is extraordinary since he combines and blends different cultures and quotes.”

The English scientist made high-level comparisons: “I’ve read the lyrics and I’ve been fascinated by their beauty, culture and richness of citations. Never heard anything like this, perhaps only in Bob Dylan and John Lennon…the precision and sophistication of the lyrics is something I know because I met Lennon and we often talked about this art”.

Morris then explained what brings Gabbani near to the songwriter who co-founded The Beatles: “Lennon always recommended to avoid weasel words, empty or ambiguous ones, the clichés. Occidentali’s Karma embodies this axiom. John was a man with strengths and weaknesses and not so cultured, but he had cleverness and a natural talent with which he reached the poetic heights of Dylan Thomas“.

At that time a meeting seemed unlikely.

“Unfortunately, after a life around the world, I cannot travel anymore,” Morris explained. “It’s something that saddens me deeply, but I have to look after my wife Ramona who is not feeling well. You know, we got married in 1952 … maybe if Gabbani comes to England, who knows.”

The zoologist sent the singer a signed copy of the Italian version of his best-seller The Naked Ape, which lept back into the book charts in Italy on IBS and Amazon after Gabbani won the Sanremo music festival with the song.

The brilliant idea to place “the naked ape” in the lyrics is the brainchild of Fabio Ilacqua, one of the authors of the song.

The Italian lyricist — a great admirer of Morris’ studies — recently told Il Corriere della Sera, in reference to “Occidentali’s Karma”, that “we, as humans, believe we defeated Nature. But actually we are still in caves because our instincts remain the same.”

Morris applauds this definition.

“I absolutely agree. But, even if we share emotions and passions with them, there’s something that distinguishes us from the animals: creativity. Something that only humans have.”

“For this reason I’m optimistic looking at the future: we have so many problems, first of all the overpopulation of the world. But with our creativity, and technology, we will succeed. The karma of the West, and the world around, is not so bad, trust me.”

Are you pleased Francesco and Desmond got to meet? Are you touched by their encounter? Let me know below!

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