“Nostalgia in Traditional Music: Between Neapolitan ‘Pucundria’ and Portuguese ‘Saudade.'”
Can two languages be united by nostalgia in traditional music? According to us, yes!
This is the case with Neapolitan Pucundria and Portuguese Saudade. Such different terms, from different languages and origins, yet with very similar meanings. Almost two synonyms in Neapolitan and Portuguese, indicating a particular nostalgia in traditional Neapolitan and Portuguese music. A nostalgia that stems from loss, such as the loss of loved ones or love itself, but at the same time, it brings a strange happiness in remembering past moments.
As Leopardi would say, “E pur mi giova la ricordanza.”
Let’s explore how important nostalgia is in Neapolitan traditional music and Portuguese Fado.
Untranslatable Words in Languages Worldwide
In languages worldwide, there are untranslatable terms that express concepts, values, and poetic worldviews in just a few letters. Often, concepts expressed in a few characters are particularly significant for understanding the history of languages and the thinking of speakers. Pucundria and Saudade are part of this linguistic richness, both signifying the same thing: a deep nostalgia for a happy memory, yet also a strange happiness in reminiscing.
There are many other examples we could explore before delving into nostalgia in Neapolitan traditional music and Fado.
Japanese ‘Komorebi’: A Philosophical View of Nature
When we think of Japan, we immediately think of a profoundly poetic people, in harmony with nature and themselves. From this inner peace and the slow pace punctuated by reflection and rituals like tea preparation (a ritual that can last for hours!), words like Komorebi are born, signifying the light filtering through trees.
And in Spanish Flamenco?
There is a Spanish word that bears similarities to Saudade and Pucundria. It is Morriña, a sensation of melancholy, but it translates differently in Spanish culture. This is where Quejío comes into play, which can be defined as the ritual and sacred cry of Flamenco. A cathartic cry of pain that makes one feel better once the inner discomfort is expelled.
Pucundria in Naples: A Perfect Representation of Nostalgia in Traditional Music
Naples is a city that thrives on emotions, and its music is proof of that! This music is filled with a profound nostalgia, which leads classic Neapolitan song poets to write heart-wrenching verses. Like many words in Neapolitan, the origin could only be Greek. Hypochondrios, from which ipocondria in Italian and Pucundria in Neapolitan derive. A physical malaise that started in the side but eventually affected the mind, creating a constant feeling of unease. Pucundria builds upon this sensation and goes beyond it. It’s nostalgia for the memory of happy times long gone, yet it brings a strange serenity in the mere recollection. It’s a very particular way of singing, embracing the singer’s tone, the author’s words, and the musician’s melody. All-encompassing nostalgia born from an unrequited love or the memory of relatives left behind to emigrate. Indeed, the Neapolitan people have always traveled in search of fortune, but the memory of the city of Naples gave rise to a feeling of nostalgia for the distance.
Take a look at these magnificent verses from E.A. Mario in Santa Lucia luntana:
“They leave on the ships for very distant lands They sing on board: ‘I’m Neapolitan!’ They sing in their minds the gulf is already missing, and the moon, in the middle of the sea, shows a little of Naples to them.”
There are countless songs in the classic Neapolitan song repertoire that celebrate nostalgia in traditional music, like an unrequited love, as in Luna caprese by Augusto Cesareo and Luigi Ricciardi:
“I want to hold you with a breath. But it’s useless, it’s destiny, that this heart, sings only for those who say no.”
Pino Daniele and Appucundria
The great Pino Daniele, one of the most famous Neapolitan artists in the world, turned Pucundria into a true poetry in the form of music in the song Appucundria from 1980. Daniele’s Appucundria constituted a genuine cultural revolution, so beloved that it was included as an Italian neologism in the Treccani encyclopedia!
“Appocundria is bursting within me every minute I’m annoyed because passing by loudly you’ve messed up the bed appocundria of those who are satisfied and say they’re alone appocundria of no one…”
Portuguese Saudade: The Destiny of Nostalgia in Portuguese Traditional Music
The etymology of the word Saudade is Latin, from Solitūdo, meaning solitude. Thus, the concept of Saudade doesn’t stem from physical pain, but from the condition of solitude experienced by sailors during colonial times when they left behind loved ones and homes. To understand the soul of Portugal, one needs to comprehend the etymological origin of its traditional music genre. Fado, typical genre that can be heard in typical restaurants (we talked about it here!), has its roots in the Latin word Fatum, meaning destiny. It captures the poetic essence of a predestined fate for the protagonist of the song, often intertwined with the nostalgia resulting from the solitude described by the term Saudade.
It is destiny that separates two lovers in Portuguese songs.
It is destiny that made sailors depart, leaving behind family and loved ones.
If destiny wills it, they will be reunited, but until then, the feeling of Saudade prevails.
By Davide Lancia