Track taken from the new album of the same name.
By Blurt Staff
Bella Ciao is the fifth full-length album from Brooklyn’s Barbez, arriving this week via John Zorn’s Tzadik label. It was recorded and mixed by Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth, Zorn) at B.C. Studios in Brooklyn, NY with band founder Dan Kaufman producing. We’re pretty stoked that we have the first video to unveil for you right here at BLURT– the title track, in fact. You will enjoy.
There’s a fascinating backstory to the album as well, one that’s detailed enough to warrant republishing here in full. According to the band:
“Bella Ciao was influenced by the traditional music of Roman Jews, and inspired by the legacy of the Italian Resistance during World War II, which was inextricably interwoven with the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate Rome’s Jews.
“Despite the tragedy of the Holocaust and the pre-war merging of Italian Jewish liturgical traditions in Rome’s main synagogue, the beguiling melodies of Rome’s Jews survived. The city’s oldest continuous residents, Jews first immigrated to Rome more than two thousand years ago; their arrival predates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the diaspora that followed. Through the centuries, Roman Jews maintained an identity distinct from Sephardi and Ashkenazi cultures, and their music, too, remained singular and mysterious. This music was preserved in part by a visionary Italian ethnomusicologist named Leo Levi (the Alan Lomax of Italy) who recorded elderly Roman Jews singing these rites after the war. Other scholars, most notably, Elio Piattelli have transcribed these Roman Jewish melodies, but they have now largely disappeared from the living world.
“In the summer of 2009, Barbez bandleader and guitarist Dan Kaufman journeyed to Rome to learn more about this unique music. He heard dozens of Levi’s recordings, which are archived in the magnificent Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cicilia. While in Rome, Kaufman found himself walking one afternoon down a narrow, quiet street called Via Rasella. Toward the end of the street stands a bullet-ravaged building, where, on March 23, 1944, a small group of Italian partisans attacked a column of more than 150 S.S. officers with a homemade bomb and mortar shells. It was one of the largest and most daring partisan actions in all of German-occupied Europe. Thirty-three German troops were killed, and in one moment the myth of Nazi invulnerability in the occupied city was shattered. In response to the partisan attack, the Germans murdered 335 innocent Italian men and teenage boys, including more than 70 Roman Jews.
“Earlier, in July 1943, Benito Mussolini was overthrown in a coup; by early September the new Italian government had signed an armistice with the Allies, and the Germans responded by occupying Rome. They demanded 50 kilograms of gold from the city’s Jewish community, to be delivered in less than two days, or the community would face mass deportation. Somehow, the enormous amount of gold was found in time, but on October 16, 1943, the Gestapo deported more than a thousand Roman Jews to Auschwitz; only sixteen survived.
“Bella Ciao is an homage to the Roman Jews’ music Kaufman heard and to the memory of the Italian Resistance during World War II, symbolized by that bullet-ravaged building. This album’s title track, probably the most famous artifact of the Italian Resistance, is central to the album’s theme. The song’s lyrics were written during the war by an unknown author and have been translated into dozens of languages. “Bella Ciao” describes a partisan’s wish to fight—and die, if need be—so that others may one day be free. “Bury me up in the mountain, under the shadow of a beautiful flower,” the song goes. “And the people who will pass by will say to me, ‘What a beautiful flower.’ This is the flower of the partisan, who died for freedom.” “