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Thread: "italian" bowlbacks

  1. #1

    Default "italian" bowlbacks

    talking to a tuscan recently who was lamenting a tendency in most foreigners to think of the mandolin as a pan-italian instrument. on several occasions it has been pointed out to me in no uncertain terms that the bowlback mandolin came from naples - implying it has nothing to do with "us."

    italy is united only for the world cup and the eurovision contest - after that it's back to century old rivalries, mistrust and derision.

    that said, why do you think it is that the mandolin was never accepted cross culturally in the way that - say - the ukulele was?

    am i wrong in thinking that in germany, the bowlback is considered italian?

  2. #2

    Default Re: "italian" bowlbacks

    Having lived and worked in Italy for a while, I know what you mean by your social commentary. By way of personal cross-reference, when I once mentioned in passing to my Roman-born composition teacher that I played the mandolin, he gave me a look as if I had admitted to some socially reprehensible, unsavory habit, like betting money on dogfights, or walking the streets at night, wine-bottle in hand.

    Yet I'm also afraid that you are greatly overestimating the universality of the ukelele; in much (most?) of the world, it is virtually unheard of. The mandolin is believed to have its "dark side", with the condescending pasta, pizza e mandolino an elegant side-step to bringing up instead poverty, squalor, and organized crime— all the stereotypes visited upon l'Italia meridionale by outsiders, fellow-Italians and foreigners alike.

    I can only add that the notion of an allegedly pan-Hellenic bouzouki deserves an equally qualified approval: the darling child of repatriated, Levantine Greeks, it was never the ubiquitous instrument it is held to be by foreigners; in fact, it was virtually non-existent on most of the islands, i.e. where my family came from. In fact, the plucked instrument to be found most commonly there was... the mandolin ;-) Nothing to hold against the bouzouki, of course, but a closer look naturally reveals more detail and nuance.

    I'd say: enjoy them all! He who gets entirely too caught up in "us" vs "them" is simply narrow-minded, IMHO.

    Cheers,

    Victor
    It is not man who lives, but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

  3. #3
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: "italian" bowlbacks

    Quote Originally Posted by vkioulaphides View Post

    I can only add that the notion of an allegedly pan-Hellenic bouzouki deserves an equally qualified approval: the darling child of repatriated, Levantine Greeks, it was never the ubiquitous instrument it is held to be by foreigners; in fact, it was virtually non-existent on most of the islands, i.e. where my family came from. In fact, the plucked instrument to be found most commonly there was... the mandolin ;-) Nothing to hold against the bouzouki, of course, but a closer look naturally reveals more detail and nuance.
    Wow! Thats cool.

    Back in college my neighbor across the hall in the dormitory was from Athens, and was in the States here studying geotechincal engineering (earthquakes). Anyway, he told me he was disappointed to find that hardly anyone in America played banjo, he was expecting to be everywhere.

    He was delighted I played mandolin, but had not seen one that wasn't a bowlback.
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  4. #4
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: "italian" bowlbacks

    Interesting about the Tuscan comments, tho I was under the impression that each area of Italy has a mandolin of their own. I know of Genovese, Brescian, Lombard, Roman, and a few others but the Neapolitan won out as the most prominent.
    Jim

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  5. #5

    Default Re: "italian" bowlbacks

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Back in college my neighbor across the hall in the dormitory was from Athens, and was in the States here studying geotechincal engineering (earthquakes). Anyway, he told me he was disappointed to find that hardly anyone in America played banjo, he was expecting to be everywhere. He was delighted I played mandolin, but had not seen one that wasn't a bowlback.
    Of course— on all counts. First, it only makes sense that an Athenian would be studying earthquakes, since Europe's major (and nastiest) fault-line lies between Italy and Greece, down the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. We be shaky... (Say... does that qualifies us as honorary Californians?;-)

    Also true, that the all-American banjo would be expected to be more visible in the U.S. Finally —on another personal note— I never even knew of any mandolin that wasn't a bowlback until I started frequenting the Café, back in 2002 (if my personal profile is to be trusted). Please note that I am NOT voicing any disapproval or disrespect towards non-bowlback mandolins; I am only confessing to my own, prior ignorance.

    The Greek bouzouki gained presence, general acceptance, and therefore visibility post-WWII. In my own (and highly arguable) view of the matter, it is truly a "period instrument", since its finest repertoire, the rebetiko, hails from the 1930s-1950s era; much of what followed is gloss, paraphrase, and contrafactum. The mandolin, au contraire, is far more perennial IMHO, with several centuries already behind it, and —if I can help it— several more ahead of it. My $0.02, at least...

    Cheers,

    Victor
    It is not man who lives, but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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