April 25, Resistance and Bella Ciao. A Musical Journey

Australians and New Zealanders will be celebrating ANZAC Day today, a national holiday which commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars and conflicts, with a particular focus on the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25 1915. Coincidentally, April 25 is also significant in the Italian calendar as it marks the Festa Della Liberazione (Liberation Day), also known as Anniversario della Resistenza (Anniversary of the Resistance), an Italian national holiday. Italian Liberation Day commemorates the end of the Italian Civil War, the partisans who fought in the Resistance, and the end of Nazi occupation of the country during WW2. In most Italian cities, the day will include marches and parades. Most of the Partisans and Italian veterans of WW2 are now deceased: very few Italians would have first hand memories of that era.

 

One of the more accessible documents from the partigiani era of the 1940s is the well-known song, Bella Ciao, which has been adopted by resistance movements throughout the world since then. The original Partisan version is included here. Open this clip: you can find the lyrics in English and Italian at the end of this post.

Many Italian versions, including this modern rendition by the Modena City Ramblers, have appeared over the years, while international adaptations include punk, psychedelic and folk versions in many languages. A Kurdish version was revived after an ISIS attack in 2014, and the Anarchist movement has also appropriated the song. Popular folk songs are often derivative and evolutionary: the history of Bella¬†Ciao makes a fascinating study in itself. There are two threads to follow here. The original version of this song dates back to the 1850s: the first written version appeared in 1906 which was sung by women workers in the risaie, or rice paddies¬†of Northern Italy. The lyrics concern the harsh working conditions of the Mondine. The fascinating rice workers version can be heard here by Giovanna Daffini,¬†recorded in 1962.¬Ļ

The Mondine or Mondariso were female seasonal workers employed in Northern Italy’s rice fields, especially in Lombardia, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto. Their task was to remove weeds that could stunt the growth of rice plants. Working conditions were extremely hard, as the job was carried out by spending the whole day bent over, often bare-foot, with legs immersed in water; malaria was not uncommon, as mosquitoes were widespread. Moreover shifts were long and women were paid significantly less than men. For these reasons since early in the 20th century,¬†mondine started to organise themselves to fight for some basic rights, in particular to limit shifts to 8 hours a day.’

From Mondine di Bentivoglio¬†. “Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar”. The boss stands with his stick and we bend down to work. Line from the Mondine version of Bella Ciao.

The other thread concerns the euphony of the song itself. The much older women’s version, a slower folkloric piece, reflects the plight of the women rice field¬†weeders in¬†their struggle for better working conditions.¬†The 1940s partisan version became more masculine and heroic, despite the sombre sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Most of the modern versions sound Russian, revolutionary, or defiant. Slower versions suggest Yiddish as well as gypsy roots, which may indicate the melodic path of this song during the 19th century. I’ve selected two more versions¬†which reflect these latter impressions. They can be heard here¬†and here.

An Italian partisan in Florence, 14 August 1944. Signore Prigile, an Italian partisan in Florence. Tanner (Capt), War Office official photographer.This photograph TR 2282 is from the collections of the Imperial War Museums and is available for use, with recognition.

The partigiani make fitting heroes for Liberation Day: no one would deny that their struggle was courageous and honourable. However, one might question the level of mytholgising when it comes to patriotic days such as Liberation Day. The day was initiated by Alcide De Gasperi, the Prime Minister of Italy between 1945 to 1953. It could be seen as¬†a very astute political move to create¬†a national holiday centred around liberation.¬≤ It signified a break with Italy’s fascist past, an era spanning 25 years, as well as assisting the new Italian government establish a stable democracy.

Parallels may be drawn between the idealisation of the Italian Partisans and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers of World War 1. The stories and the images of those struggles are often used to boost a sense of national identity and patriotism in both countries.

Anzac soldier at sunset, Invergargill, New Zealand

Postscript. I must add this link from the popular Spanish series, Casa del Papel. A wonderful addition to the historical and musical narrative of this folk song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spCdFMnQ1Fk

 

See also my previous posts on April 25, Anzac Day.

Notes

¬Ļ Giovanna Daffini¬†(22 April 1914 ‚Äď 7 July 1969) was an Italian singer associated with the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano¬†movement. Born¬†in the province of Mantua,¬†she started associating with travelling musicians from an early age. During the rice-growing season she worked in the rice-growing districts of Novara and Vercelli where she¬†learnt the folk-songs that afterwards made her famous.¬†In 1962 she recorded the song “Alla mattina appena alzata”, a version of Bella Ciao, for the musicologists Gianni Bosio and Roberto Leydi.

² http://www.informatore.eu/articolo.php?title=il-25-aprile-da-pia-illusione-a-volgare-a-menzogna

In the 1960s, the tune, with new lyrics, became a revered song of the Lotta Femminista, the Italian Feminist struggle.

Lyrics.

Partisan Version in Italian and English

Una mattina mi son alzato
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi son svegliato
Eo ho trovato l’invasor

One morning I woke up
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
One morning I woke up
And I found the invader

O partigiano porta mi via
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
O partigiano porta mi via
Che mi sento di morir

Oh partisan, carry me away,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Oh partisan, carry me away,
For I feel I’m dying

E se io muoio da partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E se io muoio da partigiano
Tu mi devi seppellir

And if I die as a partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
And if I die as a partisan
You have to bury me

Mi seppellire lass√Ļ in montagna
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Mi seppellire lass√Ļ in montagna
Sotto l’ombra di un bel fiore

But bury me up in the mountain
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
But bury me up in the mountain
Under the shadow of a beautiful flower

E le genti che passeranno
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E le genti che passeranno
Mi diranno: “Che bel fior”

And the people who will pass by
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
And the people who will pass by
Will say to me: “what a beautiful flower”

√ą questo il fiore del partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
√ą questo il fiore del partigiano
Morto per la libertà

This is the flower of the partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
This is the flower of the partisan
Who died for freedom

Bella Ciao, Versione Delle Mondine. In Italiano
Alla mattina appena alzata, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao, ciao,ciao
Alla mattina appena alzata, In risaia mi tocca andar
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, Un dur lavoro mi tocca far
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar
O mamma mia o che tormento
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
O mamma mia o che tormento
Io t’invoco ogni doman
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
Lavoreremo in libertà.
Mondine Version in English.
In the morning, just arisen, Oh beautiful ciao……
In the morning, just arisen, In the rice field I’m going to go.
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos, oh bella ciao….
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos. I have hard work yo do.
The boss is standing with his stick, oh bella ciao….
The boss is standing with his stick and we bend down to work.
Oh my mother what torment, oh bella ciao….
Oh my mother, what torment, that I call you every day
But the day will come, o bella ciao..
But the day will come, when we will work in freedom.

A Saturday Perspective. Fave Beans and Protest.

I’m sitting at a small table in the dappled sunlight, shelling hundreds of broadbeans. Gentle music plays from behind the wire screen door, soft enough to barely enter my consciousness. There is a hint of movement on the verandah, a slight zephyr stirs the heads of the tall-growing lavender out along the fence line. This¬†continual podding, the gentle gouging out with index finger, is a meditative business.¬†Tiny beans fall from their white fur-lined¬†capsules: the pile of discarded pods growing larger as little grey-green gems fall into another basket. Is this the good life? Sitting quietly in the sun, performing an ancient, repetitive task that brings a few vibrant green meals to the table? Or is it the calm before the storm?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A basket of broadbeans and some time to reflect.

Repetitive tasks enable the overloaded brain to sort out the events, conversations and news of the week. To put things into perspective. To discard the useless husks from the good, life giving nuggets. As America, the land that once was great, or so we were led to believe by the myth makers, accepts the shocking reality of Trump’s election, the crude facts of this result spread throughout the globe. American voters have willingly and consciously elected a racist, a misogynist, a climate change denier, a LGBT hater, a narcissistic billionaire braggart with extremely dangerous views of the world and of America’s place in it. ¬†All this cheap talk about getting on with business as usual, and being positive seems a bit vacuous to me.

A nice task on a sunny morning
A nice task on a sunny morning. Two kilo of broadbeans, podded, steamed open and shelled, makes 350 grams. More beans wait for me in the garden below.

I’ve read enough and I’ve heard enough. I don’t believe we should sit back, wait and see, be nice to one another and be thankful that we don’t live in that country. I don’t believe that a navel gazing approach, a quiet meditation on the real things in life, the metaphorical shelling of fave beans, will get us very far. Time to join the revolution. Time, if you are a worker, to join a union and fight for the things you hold dear, time to pay subscription fees for our independent press so that the Murdochs and Trumps of this world won’t stamp out our ability to reason or to see events clearly. Time to join protest groups in the streets, to speak up loudly against racism and sexism when they occur closer to home, time to take action to reduce our own personal energy consumption while simultaneously pressuring our government to take climate change more seriously, especially here in Australia. Maintain your rage, speak out against injustice, inequality and hatred. And we can meditate and be nice to one another too.

All views are derivative and many of mine are too. These two articles inspired me this morning.