Bella Ciao

It’s time to sing, to sing our way through this time of sorrow, pain, and anger.  Time to stop listening to the talking heads on TV.  Time to stop posting on Facebook.  We need to sing together, to sing a song like Bella Ciao, a song originally sung by the Italians who fought against Mussolini.

I first heard Bella Ciao, when I was researching my blog post on Esther Bejarano, the 93 year-old Holocaust survivor who sings with the German rap group Microphone Mafia.  Even in this German rap version I found the song very moving.

Recently, I encountered Bella Ciao again in Spanish in the last episode of season 1 of the Netflix series Casa de Papel, when the two main organizers of a plot to seize the Spanish mint and print billions of Euros use this song of resistance they learned from their grandfathers to toast the night before they go into action.

In the United States we have many powerful songs of resistance, particularly from African-American, Latinx, worker, and anti-war struggles.  But in moments of crisis, we (aka, white males) seem to become paralyzed with cultural amnesia.  I always remember the demonstration that filled the campus green at UNC Chapel Hill after Kent State.  We needed a song, but all that our troubadour could come up with was “Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man.”  A few weeks ago a young woman led off a local event to celebrate one year of resistance with John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  Certainly more appropriate and thought-provoking than Tambourine Man, but nowhere near as rousing as the Rolling Stones’ “Salt of the Earth,” especially as sung by Judy Collins.

Still it would be difficult to get masses of people of people to join in “Salt of the Earth” the way they do Bella Ciao as seen in these clips from around the world.  In Italy, we feel the joy of the congregation singing Bella Ciao in church after Mass.

English versions of the song are sung by Anita Lane, who sings in the sombre mood of the original, reminding me of the old Irish rebel song “Wrap the Green Flag Round Me, Boys.”  And Chumbawamba, whose lyrics do not literally translate the Italian original, but do carry their fighting spirit into the 21st century.

The world is waking outside my window
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Drags my senses into the sunlight
For there are things that I must do
Wish me luck now, I have to leave you
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
With my friends now up to the city
We’re going to shake the Gates of Hell
And I will tell them – we will tell them
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
That our sunlight is not for franchise
And wish the bastards drop down dead
Next time you see me I may be smiling
Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
I’ll be in prison or on the TV
I’ll say, “the sunlight dragged me here!”

My vision of how I would like the world to sing today is the band Grup Yorum leading a crowd of thousands in Bella Ciao in Turkish in Istanbul.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Here’s more background on the origins of Bella Ciao from the last link in the blog, the Turkish version.
    istvan piroth
    Published on Jun 22, 2014
    The song “Bella ciao” was sung by the anti-fascist resistance movement active in Italy between 1943 and 1945. The author of the lyrics is unknown; the music and spirit of the song is based on a folk song sung by rice-weeders on the River Po basin in the early part of the 20th century — “Alla mattina appena alzata”. A version of this song was recorded for music researchers by Italian folk singer Giovanna Daffini in 1962.[1] Other similar versions of the antecedents of “Bella ciao” appeared over the years, indicating that “Alla mattina appena alzata” must have been composed in the latter half of the 19th century.[2] The earliest written version is dated 1906 and comes from near Vercelli, Piedmont.[3]Another interpretation of the melody has been given following the discovery in 2006 by Fausto Giovannardi of the CD “Klezmer — Yiddish swing music” including the melody “Dus Zekele Koilen” played in 1919 by Mishka Ziganoff.

    The sound of Bella Ciao clearly comes through in this link to the klezmer melody.

  2. Wow, I’d never heard this; thank you. You should have the poster now. Please keep it as a gift. Much love from your cousin Karen.

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