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Il Canto di Malavita: the folk music of organised crime

By IHCOYC in Culture
Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 01:39:51 AM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

PIAS Recordings, a German record company, has recently released a record called Il Canto di Malavita: La Musica della Mafia. I understand that this record has been available in Europe for several years now (except in Italy). It was released in the USA within the last month.

It offers a rather grim glimpse into the self-image of organised criminals in the southern Italian region of Calabria.

Unless you read the lyric sheet, or are fluent in a very nonstandard looking Southern Italian dialect, you probably would never figure the subjects of most of the rather bloody minded songs from the sound. The mournful tunes and the acoustic guitar, mandolin, and accordion sound give the aural impression of being pretty standard Italian folk music. The collection is the work of Mimmo Siclari, who recorded and collected these performances.

But armed with the lyric sheet, you will discover that these songs are largely concerned with bloodshed, the laments of prisoners, and the fearsome reputations of local crime families. Knowing what the words mean turns the mournful folk melodies into a more compelling experience.

Not surprisingly, the record has been controversial. The disc has not been released in its Italian homeland, apparently out of fears it may incite local animosity. In the USA, the Sons of Italy object to it for fear that it might reinforce stereotypes about Americans of Italian descent.

Many Americans love the Mafia, or at least the Mafia myth. They romanticise the notion of honour, the code of silence (omertà), and the self-reliance that comes from having no one in the legitimate society you can turn to. Of course, since this is music made to entertain members of the 'Ndrangheta (the Calabrian equivalent of the Mafia or the Camorra), it's going to be long on the myth and short on the substantially less noble reality.

There may be some substance to the romantic legend. The various homelands of the Mafia-style Italian organisations correspond roughly to the ancient outline of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. These regions were subject to backwards and bigoted rule by a succession of reactionary Bourbon kings in the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries, until Italy was united by Garibaldi and Cavour. Misrule in these territories did not make the official government popular, and made outlawry seem justified and attractive. Old style members of these organisations stuck to respectable crimes, and the code of honour was supposed to be as important as the profit motive. At least, this is suggested by the lyrics of these songs. This sadly seems no longer the case. A song on a second compilation, yet to be released in the USA, complains that the criminals' standards have declined.

Damn! When the criminals have been corrupted by the profit motive, we know we're really in trouble. Or else the reality never was quite so darkly romantic as the songs make it out to have been.


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Related Links
o PIAS Recordings
o Il Canto di Malavita
o Southern Italian dialect
o Mimmo Siclari
o lyric sheet
o controvers ial
o Mafia
o omert&agra ve;
o 'Ndranghet a
o Camorra
o Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
o Garibaldi
o Cavour
o criminals' standards have declined
o Also by IHCOYC

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Il Canto di Malavita: the folk music of organised crime | 18 comments (13 topical, 5 editorial, 1 hidden)
Mexico (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by Bad Harmony on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 04:59:40 PM EST

I heard the tail-end of a report on NPR that discussed a similar type of folk music in Mexico, substituting narco-trafficers for the Mafia. It is supposed to be quite popular in some parts of the country.

5440' or Fight!

Narco-corrido is the name of the music (none / 0) (#6)
by pyramid termite on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 05:24:50 PM EST

I'm not real familiar with it; musically, it's much like other popular Mexican and border music, lyrically, it gives accounts of various stories about drug dealers and occaisionally other newsworthy subjects, even 9/11. Interesting stuff and a bit more popular than the Italian music the article's talking about. It has fans and performers on both sides of the border.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
[ Parent ]
+1 Section (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by dr zeus on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 05:00:05 PM EST

It's hard to vote against the Mob.  I mean, the gentlemen who so selflessly offered their protection to the K5 community.  

You could have left off the last paragraph though, it doesn't fit the feel of the article.

*sigh* (2.60 / 5) (#5)
by Noam Chompsky on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 05:09:48 PM EST

Yeah, look, there is no mafia, OK?

Faster, liberalists, kill kill kill!

So (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by Bob Dog on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 05:29:25 PM EST

Look at american folk music.  It is full of murder and mayhem.  Why is this more naughty?

An excellent question (4.00 / 3) (#10)
by IHCOYC on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 08:38:05 PM EST

I'm not at all sure that it is. Most American music worth bothering about has something to do with the blues, though the resemblance at several removes may seem remote. Alan Lomax spent a great deal of time in prisons, collecting songs from the prisoners.

And the rest of it derives from Scots border ballads: a society where something very near to the criminal organisations of Italy flourished during the centuries when the land was divided between Scotland and England.

Samuel Johnson spake the truth about Americans, when he said, "Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for any thing we allow them short of hanging."

GraySkull is home to the anima, the all-knowing woman who gives power to the otherwise ineffectual man. -- Jeff Coleman
[ Parent ]

Explanation of rating, in case you're curious (none / 0) (#14)
by carbon on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 01:34:08 AM EST

I'm having a hard time rating your comment. On the one hand, it's informative and linkful. On the other hand, it's America-bashing. Not that I'm particularly fond of the country, or in fact any country in particular at all, but any sort of bashing is usually grounds for a 1 or 2 from me...

I think I'll just rate it a three.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
I am one. . . (none / 0) (#15)
by IHCOYC on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 07:46:08 AM EST

I am a US citizen. I cheerfully confess that there is some truth in Johnson's statement. Americans, at least such that came voluntarily or semi-voluntarily, indeed represent a population composed of England's criminals, paupers, religious fanatics, and the rest of Europe's vagrants.

Not exactly the best gene pool from which to launch a country. My father's father came here to avoid being drafted into WWI, a fact that swells me with pride. I suspect that this unpromising genepool has something to do with the appeal of Mafia mythology in US pop culture.

GraySkull is home to the anima, the all-knowing woman who gives power to the otherwise ineffectual man. -- Jeff Coleman
[ Parent ]

That's silly (none / 0) (#17)
by carbon on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 08:53:14 PM EST

First of all, this is in terms of criminals as seen by the British government a few centuries ago. That doesn't neccessarily include only cut-throat murderers; how about political activits with views that the power structure didn't like? *Cough*Galileo*Hack*Cough*.

And anyways, America isn't entirely of British descent, you know. Even the early colonists were composed of loads of different Europeans (not to mention the slaves), and of course there was also the relatively recent immigration rush with Ellis Island and such.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
look at any folk music (none / 0) (#16)
by shrubbery on Fri Sep 06, 2002 at 12:24:51 PM EST

Patrotic/folk music of all countries have themes of war, violence, "our side" winning, etc etc.

[ Parent ]
Robin Hood? (none / 0) (#9)
by SocratesGhost on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 06:13:13 PM EST

Paul Revere was a traitor. William Tell was, too. One person's villain can sometimes be another person's hero, it seems.

I drank what?

clandestine-orbiting music (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by KiTaSuMbA on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 11:09:28 PM EST

While I do realise the "collective" value of the CD (fsck! I live in Italy, I'll have to get it online), such music is never absent from any society. Sure it usually is "underground" stuff, not released in official discs and all (perhaps a demo or a bootleg or two max) but would you be surprised if I told you that once I watched on the local TV at Naples a video clip of the song "O' CapoClan" ("the Boss of the Gang")? Camorra is still very strong at Naples and what's even more alarming is that it still maintains a rather positive image on the lower class of the population.

Romanticising killers and criminals is not a nice thing; even for the "old ones." If they were concerned about their rulers they should start a rebellion, not being scumbags. But unfortunately southern italy is full of individualism... the rebellion sounded nice but the profit better.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!

Great! (none / 0) (#18)
by epepke on Sat Sep 07, 2002 at 10:36:29 AM EST

Now maybe GTA 4 will have a decent soundtrack.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

Il Canto di Malavita: the folk music of organised crime | 18 comments (13 topical, 5 editorial, 1 hidden)
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