Born in 1977 in Trieste, Italian singer Elisa Toffoli's first steps into the music world came through dance, but it was singing that captured her heart and brought out her natural talents. Elisa grew up enamored with music, spending hours of her childhood singing along with recordings by a wide diversity of artists such as Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitney Houston, Liza Minnelli, Otis Redding, and Madonna. Later, still not even in her teens, Elisa went from singing with recordings to taking guitar lessons so she could accompany herself and then began writing songs. At 14 she became a member of a blues and rock band called Seven Roads (the "Seven" came from the fact that there were seven members). Elisa graduated from Seven Roads into singing for cover bands to gain more experience and pay. When she was 16, she joined a big band, the Blue Swing Orchestra.
In 1994, Elisa, with the help of a family friend, finished her first demo. That demo made it to Sugar Records. A year later Elisa was in San Francisco, recording her first single for the well-known producer Corrado Rustici; the single carried two tracks, "Inside a Flower" and "So Delicate So Pure." In 1997, Elisa recorded her debut full-length album, Pipes & Flowers, which went double platinum. With a sound comparable to a mash-up of Alanis Morissette and Björk, a number of the tracks were made into music videos, including "A Feast for Me" and "Labyrinth." Elisa was named one of the best new artists for 1997 by the Italian Music Award Show. She also won the Premio Tenco Award in 1998 for best debut album.
In 2000, she completed her sophomore album, Asile's World -- it performed well on the charts, but she soon earned much more fame when she finished first at the 2001 Sanremo competition with the single "Luce (Tramonti a Nord Est)" which featured Italian lyrics co-written with Zucchero. The album Then Comes the Sun, released that same year, didn't include "Luce," but it did include one of her best-known singles, "Dancing." The song was later used by the television dance show So You Think You Can Dance. A self-titled English album was released in 2002 for international audiences, which helped expand her worldwide fan base.
2003's Lotus became her highest-charting album upon release. Recorded live, it featured new versions of her previous hits as well as several covers, including Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale." Her hard-rocking follow-up, the Glen Ballard-produced Pearl Days, debuted at number two in Italy when it was released in 2004, paving the way for her hits compilation Soundtrack '96-'06. Another collection, Caterpillar, was aimed at an international audience, led by the single "Stay." Elisa's sixth studio album, 2009's Heart, became her first number one hit in Italy; it featured the single "Ti Vorrei Sollevare" (featuring Giuliano Sangiorgi of Negramaro) as well as a cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" and a duet with Antony Hegarty on the song "Forgiveness." Within a year, Elisa had released another album, Ivy. An acoustic set, it included three new songs alongside reworkings of her previous hits -- much like 2003's Lotus -- and covers, including one of the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979."
L'Anima Vola, released in September 2013, was Elisa's first album to include songs sung exclusively in her native tongue. It charted for over 18 months, going double platinum on the Italian charts, and reeled off a string of singles, including the title track, "Ecco Che," "Un Filo di Seta Negli Abissi," and "Pagina Bianca." One of its most notable tracks wasn't even a single; "Ancora Qui" was recorded with Ennio Morricone for inclusion on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack for Django Unchained.
Three years later, Elisa returned with On, which topped the Italian album chart upon release. ~ Charlotte Dillon & Neil Z. Yeung