Bella Ciao, as sung by Giovanna Marini.

The CD (in an earlier cassette incarnation) was one of the first “world music” recordings I ever had – I recorded it on tape when I was about 10 years old, in Belgium. Recorded by Harmonia Mundi, the collection is called Chansons du peuple en Italie – it features a mixture of partigiani songs (the most famous being Bella Ciao; also Pellegrin che vien da Roma – in a version different from the one in Bertolucci’s Novecento), exile songs (one with a boat going to America but sinking in front of Genoa as leaving Italy, with the vescovo, the bishop, on the ship blessing everyone while they are drowning), harvest songs, and war songs.

The war songs (O Gorizia tu sei maledetta among them) – telling of the war against the Austrians, are songs of women to their (disappeared) men – full of longing and utter disgust.

And then, picaresque songs (Lu cacciaturi Gaetano from Abruzzo or El piscinin from Lombardy – in Milanese dialect – with its de tant che l’era piscinin), sung by the Gruppo Padano di Piadena.

Perhaps the most pervading quality of this record is the utter enjoyment the group, the singers seem to have poured in the recording – but even more so, how it truly avoids the worst of “popular Italian music” (with its horrid kitsch). This recording opened my eyes to the incredible richness lurking there in world music, when one manages to get away from the most commercial, the horrid glitz it is somehow (sadly) dressed in.

Enjoy the recordings (click on the links).