Angelo “Sigaro” Conti was born in Rome in 1956 and became a skinhead in the early 80s. In the mid 80s, after the Italian skinhead scene had split into a far-right and a non-racist wing, he embraced the redskin tendency.
Sigaro was the guitarist (alongside Scopa) and co-vocalist (alongside Picchio) for skinhead punk/ska band Banda Bassotti, as well as author of most of their music and lyrics. Banda Bassotti formed in 1990 as a fusion of Sigaro’s previous project and Scopa’s band Fuori dal Ghetto. Politically militant, they were what we call a ‘combat rock’ band in Italy. What’s more, they were all construction workers – so they didn’t have anything to prove in terms of working class identity. The band was literally formed on a construction site.
Sigaro died of cancer aged 62 on 11 December. So, a few days have passed since, but I only felt like writing something personal now.
People from my generation remember all too well the media bombardment about boneheads in the late 80s and early 90s, which began after German reunification and the neo-nazi upsurge in most European countries. While the first wave of European nazi boneheads originated in the UK, it’s safe to say that the second wave originated in Germany. In Italy at least, the mass media referred to far-right militants simply as “skinheads” – even if they didn’t wear a crop – and later “nazi skins”.
For a kid like me in the pre-internet era – not to mention in a small and isolated town like Viterbo – a skinhead was a shaven headed nazi, period. This, despite the fact that in the second half of the 80s there had been skins in my town too – as I discovered later.
One day – I was 15 or so – a friend told me that not all skinheads were nazis, and that there were even communist skinheads named ‘redskins’. I remember literally laughing at him.
My friend had serious issues and disappeared from circulation for a long time. When I met him again in the late 90s, he looked me up and down with amusement. I said, “well, I guess you were right when you told me about left-wing skinheads”… He laughed and just went, “I see, I see”…
In 1992, when I was 17, I bought a compilation LP named Balla e difendi (“Dance and stand up”) because it contained two tracks by AK47, one of two parts into which the very important rap group Onda Rossa Posse had split (the other part became Assalti Frontali, who are still active). The real surprise, though, were two songs by Banda Bassotti, “Sveglia” and “All are equal for the law”. Their style was a sort of elaborate Oi punk with militant yet poetic lyrics.
Part of the reason why the compilation made such an impression was also the picture on the cover. It showed a group of people with covered faces throwing clenched-fist salutes against a background of squats in the Roman district of San Basilio. Many of them were skinheads.
San Basilio was a very important place for the squatter movement and the Italian radical left in general. In 1974, a 19 years old guy, Fabrizio Ceruso, was shot dead in the so-called ‘Battle of San Basilio’, which broke out when the police tried to evacuate the squats.
Balla e difendi was compiled and published by Gridalo Forte Records, a label run by two Banda Bassotti members, David and Luca. I had been desperately looking for information on skinheads for a long time, and finally I held something concrete in my hands.
Before long, I started ‘being a skinhead’, despite the fact that I only had a rough idea what that subculture really was. In 1994, together with my first band Radio Avana, I had the pleasure to share the stage of a local centro sociale with Banda Bassotti. At the time, we were slowly moving from our initial rap crossover towards Oi and hardcore sounds.
After disbanding for some time in the late 90s, Banda Bassotti came back with a brass section and opened up to latin influences. While the latter element was already present on their second album Avanzo de Cantiere (1995) – which I still consider one of the best and most representative records of the Italian skinhead scene – it now became really central to their sound.
This change was appreciated by a section of their fans, but it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea, and the same goes for some of their audience. Also, my tastes evolved over the years, and I figured out which things suited me best in the broad musical and cultural landscape of the skinhead cult – so eventually I stopped following the band.
However, it would be hard not to acknowledge the band’s consistency, just as one cannot deny their relevance and influence on a large part of the Italian skinhead scene, especially in the 90s.
With Sigaro, a piece of my personal history and many other skinheads’ of my generation has disappeared. May he rest in peace.