2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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Mandolin and Bazouki. A bit of a challenge for a guitarist?

I bought this Italian mandolin a couple of years ago from a friend who’d inherited it. I’ve only just got round to cleaning it up and restringing it.

It is a beautiful traditional bowl-back one made by Gennaro Maglioni in Naples. It looks like a pine top but not sure of the wood that has been used on  the back.

I’m also not sure how old it is but I would say at least 50 years old.

The attention to detail is fantastic. I love the way the fretboard ends in that swirl and if you look carefully at the detail just below it you can actually see someone playing a mandolin.

At the end of the neck there is a decorative feature and even on the back you find detailed engraving.

The tracery continues around the edge of the instrument binding.

It came in a rather battered shaped wooden case which I’ve not yet got round to repairing.

It has 4 pairs of strings tuned in unison 5th intervals the same as as a violin i.e. G – D – A – E from low to high.

It’s not that big but the round back makes it a challenge to hold. But perfect for serenading at a wedding feast!

The Bazouki is also a handful. This belongs to a Ukrainian friend of mine who asked me to tune it for him.

I think it still had the original strings so a good clean-up before restringing it was called for!

The body has a pine top but a fibre glass and wood rounded bowl-shaped back which makes it tricky to hold.

There is a fancy pattern sealed on the top of the instrument.

There are 6-string and 8-string variants. This is an 8 string Greek-style bazouki.

It’s tuned like the top four strings of a guitar except a whole note lower i.e. C – F – A – D from low to high.

This makes it easy for a guitarist to play familiar shapes.

The bottom two pairs of strings are tuned an octave apart and the top two pairs in unison.

So effectively this is the same tuning as a twelve-string guitar’s top four strings.

Is that where the idea of 12 string guitars came rom in the mid-sixties? Or was there a Mexican influence as well?

I’ve not tried getting my he’d around the violin tuning on the mandolin but the Bazouki turning is straight-forward and a bit easier than my ukele – although if you can transpose in your head it’s not a problem.

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Music that glorifies crime

I’m not talking about gangster rap music or other urban genres that are misogynistic but music that glorifies real crime and the criminals.

pop_singer_sing_microphone_500_wht_218The latest to do this are pop songs that praise the mafia in Naples, the notorious Camorra.

Aldo Gionta, a fugitive clan boss who fancies himself as a poet and who was recently arrested trying to get to Malta on false travel documents was known as the “Poet Boss”. Whilst on the run he penned a number of lyrics using Neapolitan dialect and romanticising the Camorra which thrives on drug trafficking, illegal industrial waste disposal, racketeering, prostitution and construction.

These neomelodici songs are performed by well-known Naples singers like  Tony Marciano (himself later arrested on drug charges). He had a hit with “Nun Ciamm Arennere” (We must not surrender) which  criticised turncoats who betrayed their fellow mobsters. Other songs such as “O Killer” (the Killer), “O Zio” (The Uncle, a euphemism for a mafia boss) and “Femmena d”Onore” (Woman of honour, about a woman who vows vengeance on an informer) give you a flavour of the genre.

The songs are popular with both the syndicate bosses and the foot-soldiers and attracted the interest of police and prosecutors who have arrested singers and producers on criminal charges. The singers typically are very tanned with slicked back hair and wearing ostentatious jewellery who sing in overdramatic style.

One of the first hits was “Nu Latitante“, which means “a fugitive”, and is an ode to life on the run and which was released in 1993 with a video of a criminal fleeing the police on a motorbike through the back streets of Naples.

Another singer Lisa Castaldi sang “My friend the Camorrista” describing a crime boss as a man full of good qualities; Nello Liberti sang “O Capocian” (The Boss) saying that he should be respected even when ordering a killing. And the Camorra have been responsible for a lot of killing, thousands it is claimed. Prosecutors tried but failed to convict the author on charges of inciting violence.

Investigators say the singers and the criminals come from the same crime-ridden districts of Naples and the songs idealise and romanticise their criminal exploits.

The neomelodici industry is worth over £200 million a year and is controlled entirely by the Camorra. Clan members write songs for singers to perform (hard to say no I’m guessing and one mobster sued a singer over copyright because he wasn’t credited for the lyrics). They also pay hefty fees to have singers perform at birthdays, weddings and christenings (reminds me of the Godfather film).

mariachi_guitar_player_1600_wht_12727And Italy is not the only country with this genre of music. Mexico has its own variety the narco-corrida or drug ballad.

This is a sub-genre of the Mexican norteño-corrido, a traditional folk music from northern Mexico and is heard on both sides of the US–Mexican border and uses a danceable, accordion-based polka as a rhythmic base.

The first corridos that focussed on drug smugglers have been dated to the 1930s although early corridos (non-narco) go back as far to the Mexican Revolution of 1910, telling the stories of revolutionary fighters.

Narcocorrido lyrics refer to particular events and include real dates and places. The lyrics tend to speak approvingly of illegal activities such as murder, torture, racketeering, extortion, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and sometimes political protest due to government corruption.

Former President of Mexico Vicente Fox proposed banning narcocorridos but former Mexican foreign secretary Jorge Castaneda has argued that “corridos are attempts by Mexican society to come to terms with the world around them…You cannot blame narcocorridos for drug violence. Drug violence is to blame for narcocorridos“.