ANTHEM FOR LIBERATION ACROSS A CENTURY
“Bella Ciao” became a new kind of anthem during the COVID-19 pandemic when people across hard-hit Italy sang
the song in unison as an act of solidarity while sheltering in place in the spring of 2020.
“Bella Ciao” is the kind of song that can be the soundtrack of someone’s life and they are never even aware of it. The old Italian folk song, which had its origins in the brutal work conditions of the mondine (pictured and described on this page) transformed into a song of resistance as Italians fought off the Italian Fascist Party. It later spread worldwide and has become representative of struggles everywhere.
It even found a new life during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic as a ballad of solidarity, a love song to one’s neighbors.
A still from Giuseppe De Santis’ film, Bitter Rice (1949)
The Revolutionary Origin of “Bella Ciao”
IAHSC Member Amy Bizzarri shares a version of the origin story for “Bella Ciao” in this brief article published by FolkWorld
A BIRTH IN THE FIELDS
“Bella Ciao” was originally sung as “Alla mattina appena alzata” by seasonal workers of paddy fields of rice, especially in Italy’s Po Valley from the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century with different lyrics. The work of monda (weeding) was widespread in northern Italy in that era. The work consisted of removing the weeds growing in rice fields that hindered the healthy growth of young rice plants. It took place during the flooding of the fields, from the end of April to the beginning of June every year, during which the delicate shoots needed to be protected, during the first stages of their development, from temperature differences between the day and the night. It consisted of two phases: transplanting the plants and pruning the weeds. The work of monda was an extremely tiring task, carried out mostly by women known as mondinas (rice-weeders) that came from the poorest social classes. The workers would spend their workdays with their bare feet in water up to their knees and their backs bent for many hours. The atrocious working conditions, long hours and very low pay led to constant dissatisfaction and led, at times to rebellious movements and riots in the early years of the twentieth century. The struggles against the supervising padroni were even harder with the abundance of clandestine workers ready to compromise even further the already low wages just to get work. Besides “Bella ciao”, similar songs by the mondina women included “Sciur padrun da li beli braghi bianchi” and “Se otto ore vi sembran poche”.
ASCOLTIAMO! (Let’s listen)
The Lives of “Bella Ciao”
Folk singer Giovanna Daffini’s recording of “Bella Ciao” could be considered the most “authentic”, because she worked in the rice fields as a child and sang the song as she labored with the women around her.
BELLA CIAO, A CENTURY LATER
Marc Ribot’s interpretation of “Bella Ciao” brings its themes into the 21st century.
“Bella Ciao” gained renewed popularity and interest as it serves as a central device in the popular Netflix series Money Heist. In this article by writer Hannah Shaw-Williams, the song’s history is connected to the show’s plot.
“Bella Ciao” became a new kind of anthem during the COVID-19 pandemic when people across hard-hit Italy sang the song in unison as an act of solidarity while sheltering in place in the spring of 2020.