Diana Est – Tenax
In late May 1982 an unforgettable song was released, at least for the Italians, which after a long time evokes memories and suggestions and still infuses energy like few others. In this case we are talking about an interpreter who was unknown at the time, but who was definitely able remain in the hearts and memories of us dinosaurs, even if she actually had a fairly limited career for her own decision.
Just like in other cases, the performer and the song were quite closely related, one evoking the other. If you think about it, it had already happened for example with Japanese Boy and Aneka, who appeared in a kimono exactly to evoke the atmosphere suggested by the song. And in fact Aneka (who was actually an excellent Scottish opera singer), remained sort of prisoner of her character, even if this experience for her was just a fun excursion into the world of pop music.
In this case, however, we do not travel only in space, but also in time, because this song brings us back to suggestions of ancient Rome, even if the absolute modernity of the song was absolute clear when we read the text.
You have now understood that we are talking about Tenax and the fabulous Diana Est, absolute icon of the 80s. The author of the song was the great Enrico Ruggeri, who at his time was in a transition phase between his experience with his group Decibel (interrupted mainly because some of the members had to do military service) and his fabulous solo career. In this phase he often found young and unknown performers, who however found the advantage of starting with super songs; another example were a group called Canton who presented Ruggeri’s song Sonnambulismo in the youth section of the worldwide famous Festival of Sanremo in 1984.
The song, we said, was fabulous and is still very modern. A text where Ruggeri’s signature is very recognizable, I only think of the idea of getting psychoanalysed, a concept not new to Ruggeri’s texts of that era. Tenax‘s refrain contains the phrase “Maybe it’s already morning and I don’t know”, which has become so famous that it is even painted (in the original Italian version) on the walls at the entrance to one of the most famous disco clubs of the Italian riviera on the Adriatic Sea.
Of course we must also talk about the real pearl that we find in the text: the use of Latin. The young people of Milan in those years knew more or less which schools the most famous singers had attended. Enrico Ruggeri had attended a high school for classic studies and it is therefore realistic to think that he felt the fascination of the Latin language. To tell the truth, it’s a sort of “Ruggeri-style” Latin, with some adjustments to make the sentence have a better sound.
And therefore we not only find Latin in the title of the song, but also in two verses of the refrain, which are actually adaptations of two verses by Terentius and Seneca. Two lines that became a paradox, with the students singing verses in the nightclubs during the weekends, in the language they hated most for the rest of the week! More or less, the meaning of these lines is “But old age is a disease in itself. Here is the song of excessive living.”
But Tenax‘s success was certainly due in large part to its interpreter: Diana Est, with an obviously Latin stage name, and clothing freely inspired by images of the Latin world.
Diana Est, or rather Cristina Barbieri, is actually a relative in art, being the nephew of the great Italian author and producer Mario Lavezzi, and made her debut as a backup singer for other artists. Ruggeri noticed her or at least came in contact with her, and created for her the icon of Diana Est. Mini tunic inspired precisely by the Latins, an innocent but seductive black short hairstyle, an irresistible charm, perfect name and character for the song.
By the way, Tenax did not even have an official video, after all in May 1982 there were still no music programming channels in Italy, so we need to leverage the various clips of the TV programs where she was singing the song.
Tenax was a resounding success and Diana Est really entered the imagination of young people, Italians and non-Italians, of the 80s. Her career lasted only for two other songs, Le Louvre and Diamanti, after which she decided to change her life, no longer wanting to bear the rhythms and mechanisms of the music industry. But here the unbelievable happened.
We could think that Diana Est was all in all doomed to a quick oblivion, but it was not so. Perhaps because of her sudden but total retirement from the scenes in 1984, she became an iconic and mythological character, if we think that she never agreed to appear in any nostalgic tv program about the 80s. In 2002 an Italian magazine published a beautiful story speaking of a woman in her forties who sometimes leaves home and family at night to secretly go to disco clubs, with the sole purpose of hearing once again the song that made her famous, and this song is Tenax. The story was so successful that the fans thought that this was the true story of Diana Est, who from time to time went to the discos to hear her song once again.
In 2004 Diana Est broke her isolation for a radio interview in which she confirmed that she had left the world of entertainment because she did not share its principles and rules. But from 2013 onwards, thirty years after her complete retirement from the scene, the miracle took place: Diana Est, now about fifty, mother of two and with a respectable job as an antique dealer (but on this there are differences of opinion ) returns to perform almost as a surprise in some 80s evenings, once in Padua, once in Milan, also in Amsterdam. It wasn’t a common thing, but there are amateur recordings on YouTube that prove that it really happened!
In short, Diana Est was the protagonist of a fabulous journey with us through time and imagination. A journey that could last all night dancing to the beautiful music of the 80s. And if it’s already morning, I don’t want to know!
Diana Est on Wikipedia