Monday Notes

Enzo Jannacci, Ma mi. The Tale of a Partisan

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Leggi in Italiano

[Monday Notes no. 128] Ma mi is a lyric by Giorgio Strehler set to music by Fiorenzo Carpi. First recorded on Ornella Vanoni’s debut album, the song is however much more suited to Enzo Jannacci, who made it his classic.

The lyrics of Ma mi are in Milanese dialect and tell of a partisan who endures forty days of interrogation in order not to betray his comrades. The heart of the song lies in the refrain, which is repeated several times and reads:

Ma mi, ma mi, ma mi,
quaranta dì, quaranta nott,
A San Vittur a ciapaa i bott,
dormì de can, pien de malann!…
Ma mi, ma mi, ma mi,
quaranta dì, quaranta nott,
sbattuu de su, sbattuu de giò:
mi sont de quei che parlen no!

But I, but I
Forty days, forty nights
In San Vittore taking a beating,
Sleeping like a dog, full of sickness…
But me, but me, but me
Forty days, forty nights
Beaten up, beaten down,
people like me don’t speak!

The lyrics of the song are dramatic, the music instead has a contradictory, at times almost cheerful character. The tempo is that of a waltz, Fiorenzo Carpi often uses popular music as inspiration for writing his songs.

The verse of Ma mi is in a minor mode and recounts the events: four friends who become partisans, the ambush in which they fall, the capture by the enemy, the interrogation.

Ma mì, parte [A]
Ma mì, part [A]

The refrain is instead in a major mode. Although it is the most dramatic part of the song, the major mode seems to emphasise the unique positive aspect of the story, the pride of having resisted and not having betrayed the comrades. This satisfaction is all contained in one phrase: ‘mi sont de quei che parlen no!‘.

Ma mì, parte [B]
Ma mì, part [B]

Although the memory of the war was still fresh, the Milan of the 1960s was a city on the upswing, out of that ferment came great artists like Enzo Jannacci, Giorgio Strehler, Ornella Vanoni.

Ornella Vanoni fu la prima a registrare Ma Mi di Giorgio Strehler
Ornella Vanoni

A song can help us remember a terrible time, this beautiful waltz makes us enjoy its notes and warns us not to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past.

Until next Monday!

Download the lead sheet of Ma mi

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