5. Creuza de mä

The attempts succeeded splendidly with Fabrizio De André and Mauro Pagani, who composed and produced together the album Creuza de mä released in 1984 (3). The chairman of Ricordi, when notified that the album’s songs were in the Genoese dialect, forecast sales for a thousand copies. Since then Creuza de mä has become one of the best loved and most sold records, not only by De André but of all Italian popular music. Musicians such as David Byrne claim it to be among their favorite, and it is inevitably quoted in World Music guides in the entry for Italy. But is the dialect of those songs really Genoese? Mauro Pagani remembers in an interview that ‘originally it should have been the record of a traveler, a sailor who returns home after many years and speaks a language that is a mixture of a thousand idioms – those that he had encountered in his wandering. With Fabrizio, the project was thus to write it in an invented language. What happened later was that, three quarters of the way into work, Fabrizio had the ingenious idea to make a record in Genoese (a language that already contains 1,000/1,200 words of Arabic origin).’ We cannot trace back Pagani’s sources or specify whether the words of Arabic origin are 1000 or 1200, or any other (less correct, one can assume) number. But the Genoese people who still speak their dialect find that the language in Creuza de mä is a generous and ingenious artifact, possibly a little less invented than the lingua franca that would have emerged from the original project.

The music, however, is faithful to the project. For years Mauro Pagani had been interested in what he defines as ‘illegitimate filiations … of ‘Turkish’ culture’ – at least this is how it is indicated in his interview – ‘in contact with autochthonous cultures, in the Slavic countries, in southern Italy as well as in North Africa’. Pagani is not an ethnomusicologist: he is a progressive rock musician (a protagonist in the PFM’s best years) with further experiences also with one of the most creative groups of the Italian folk-revival, Canzoniere del Lazio. His relationship with the ‘autochthonous cultures’ is not philological, and is in great part (although not exclusively) mediated by records. In Creuza de mä his instrumental contribution is as follows: oud, saz, bouzouki, mandolas and mandolins, violin and plectrum viola, a Roland keyboard, flutes and vocals. There is no precise information on how and when Pagani studied each of these instruments, besides the violin and flute that he had already played with great competence in the PFM. However, Pagani still utilizes various bouzoukis in concert, each with a different open tuning that does not correspond to the bouzouki tuning used in Greece

According to Pagani’s account, Fabrizio De André wanted to preserve the demo tape with the songs of the album that Pagani had composed on his own exactly as it was. Reworking it all according to the criteria of a definitive production, but leaving the original enthusiasm intact, actually cost much labor. It is not difficult to conclude that – in actual fact – the music of Creuza de mä must be attributed entirely to Mauro Pagani, and that it was born of that syncretic, very free work derived from Ottoman, Balkan, Greek, southern Italian and Maghrebin materials.

Fabrizio De André (left) and co-author and producer Mauro Pagani

Creuza de ma (mp3 file, 558 kb, 3.06 min)

From the musical point of view, then, Creuza de mä does not promise to be more that an honest, autobiographic suggestion of Pagani’s initial idea: a sailor who returns from distant harbors preserving an approximate memory of the sounds that he heard while traveling. But Fabrizio De André’s idea of singing in ‘his’ Genoese, and the mythic expectations of the Italian popular community as regards a Mediterranean music set free from known traditions, triggered the discourse at another level. Creuza de mä thus became, and still remains today in the ideology of Italian popular music, the paradigm of a completely ‘authentic’ Mediterranean, redeemed from both the holographic folklorisms of the past and the pedantry of the philologists. The extent to which this ideological formation adheres to the substance of De André and Pagani’s project is clear.


6.  Ideology and musical categories

The example of Creuza de mä and more generally the instance of the notion of Mediterranean-ness in Italian popular music suggest a few considerations on the formation of musical categories. A common sense conviction that is difficult to dismantle is that a category contains all the elements corresponding to a definition of the category itself, or some criterion of selection. The model of the categories would be, in substance, that of the taxa of natural sciences. Cognitive psychologists have long objected that categories are often constructed which refer to best examples, prototypes, or ‘family resemblances’ (4). Perhaps musical categories are no exception. But since they are chiefly cultural categories one must consider not only the agreement – constantly subjected to re-negotiation – within the community that agrees to recognize a given category, but also the dialectic function of the ideology, understood (see Eco 1975) as a hierarchy of codes. To stick to our topic, a definition of ‘Mediterranean-ness’ in music cannot only consider a series of elements, or parameters or on/off switches (from history and geographic provenance to the recurrence of stylistic devices, vocal and instrumental techniques, etc.). It must also acknowledge the intention of the musical community, or some of its components, to take all this into consideration, for whatever reason. The Mediterranean-ness of Bulgarian dances, tacitly claimed by Area and put into action by Pagani with a more sophisticated argument, cannot be ignored or treated in an arrogant intellectual fashion. One must resign oneself to the fact that, when dealing with cultural categories, we cannot talk of a privileged, objective and scientific point of view. Categories are the object and at the same time the engine of confrontation: everybody is involved while nobody can simply be an onlooker. In this sense, problematic identities or evidently contradictory or incomplete constructions (such as ‘punk’ or ‘Mediterranean music’) constitute an explicit invitation to attention, and also an invitation to handle common sense categories with more care.

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