Meet Giacomo Turra – the RnB virtuoso who went from small-town Italy to the main stage
Whether it’s to play Stevie Wonder or George Benson or Prince, the Italian guitarist has his own way of doing things.
To say Giacomo Turra knows what “groove” means would be an understatement. He rather embodies the word. Over 350,000 people – including Alex Skolnick, Jordan Rudess and Sergio Vallin – follow him on Instagram for his funk covers and the immaculate vibes paired with them.
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Whether it’s to play Stevie Wonder or George Benson or Prince, or even his own little bits of improv, the Italian guitarist has his own way of doing things. It’s not unusual to see a row of guitars hanging behind him as he jams in a fluorescent shirt and backwards cap with a big grin.
But, maybe most impressively, he never seems to pay much attention to his fingerboard or his right hand – his gaze always springs back to the camera. And that’s probably another reason why he’s got such a massive following. He makes every video seem so welcoming.
Below we chat about growing up in Italy, using Instagram as a career step and ultimately headlining his own tour.
When did you discover you loved the guitar?
“I was born and I grew up in Milan, and I was very lucky to grow up in a family that was very sensitive to music. In a way that they exposed me to music since I was really young. Even though neither of my parents played any instruments, my mum was a dance teacher and my dad was a very avid vinyl collector. I remember exploring my dad’s collection and listening to all these old vinyls, and that is where my interest started growing in music, especially in guitar.
“When we moved to the north of Italy for my dad’s work, basically I really started focusing on the idea of learning guitar. And I decided to play it on my own – self-taught. And I would just put on a record and try to jam to it by ear. And this sort of [technique] still follows me today – I don’t close myself off to learning music. Of course, music theory is very helpful, but at the same time it kind of puts your playing into boxes. Especially visualising the guitar and the fretboard.
“And if you learn to jam by ear, of course it’s harder, because you don’t know what key the song is in or how to play the scales but at the same time, you’re freer to improvise without following those specific boxes that sometimes can be a little limiting.”
Are you shifting away from making cover songs?
“The covers, I think, were a really helpful tool at the beginning. Because I always liked the idea of taking something people know – like a Michael Jackson song or an Earth, Wind and Fire song – and using that melodic structure to do something original inside of it. Because to create something original from scratch, it’s hard, but you have endless possibilities open. To try to limit your possibilities in a way of figuring out how you can rearrange a song that people already know and try to give it a different spin – I always find it very challenging, but it’s fun to do.
“I did release a couple of original singles under Vokall Records [Get Into The Groove and Sweet Life, 2022] that are doing pretty well on Spotify – I’m really happy that people have been interested enough in all the covers to listen to them. And I have an album coming in the summer too.”
Talk us through some of your original music.
“Get Into The Groove started from a guitar riff I posted which used techniques borrowed from other instruments, like bass guitar. And percussive elements, like slapping and popping. And I was trying to maintain a whole arrangement using only the guitar. And that video did really well – it’s still my most-viewed video. Everyone was commenting and asking what it was because they thought it was so cool.
“So I contacted some amazing musicians who I know – a singer from Canada called Mikey Jose, a great drummer from the US called Jerrod Sullivan (who also toured with Geoffrey Osborne) and all these people, and we started changing the project. We created the full song together, and I’m really happy with it. It’s so far my most streamed single.”
What’s the proudest moment in your career so far?
“Definitely being invited two times to the Soul Live Festival in the Netherlands. Being on the same stage as some of the musicians I’ve always loved like Candy Dulfer – who was the saxophone player for Prince – and Incognito, was incredible.
“I was in the dressing room with Stanley Randolph, who was the drummer for Stevie Wonder, and I always saw videos when I was a kid of him playing on TV. It was incredible just to be near him. And the crazy thing is that he recognised me from my Instagram, and he was saying that he loved my stuff.
“To be able to reach these people that I admire just through a platform is amazing.”
Do you think your success would be different if you hadn’t started on social media?
“It’s a double-edged sword, really. I don’t think I would be a musician today, professionally, if it wasn’t for Instagram. It helped me keep music as my main passion and I used all my energy to make something of it.
“The scene for this kind of music – it’s very small and in my town, especially, it’s non-existent. I would’ve probably tried to move away to a bigger town where this kind of music is more appreciated and consumed by a larger audience. But, you know, you need resources to do that. So, if it wasn’t for Instagram, all of these opportunities wouldn’t have happened.
“But, at the same time, it’s a little challenging because people have a lot of expectations because they see you have a large following so they take for granted that you’ve played a thousand shows, or you already have a manager or an agent, and you’ve already made it. And always coming up with ideas for Instagram – it can put your mind into the habit that you’re playing one-minute sets. And then you always think you’re playing for Instagram and not for yourself.”
What are your next steps?
“I’m working with an agency for my United States tour with my band – for 2023. And I’m also working on taking the same tour to Brazil where I have a big following. People are really interested in this sound and I’d love to go there as well.
“But, in general, I’d love to play in the States because all the musicians that I grew up listening to are from there. And I’m working on a couple new songs for the future too.
“I’m just excited for it all.”
You can find Giacomo’s Instagram by searching @giacomoturra.