Sea and You explains what Parlésia is. A journey into the secret language of Neapolitan musicians

SEA and YOU explains what Parlésia is. A journey into the secret language of Neapolitan musicians

Do you have musician friends in Naples? Have you heard expressions like Bacone, Facimmo addò va, Bagaria, and you don’t know what they mean? Then you might have wondered at least once what Parlésia is.

But what is Parlésia?
It’s history, culture, tradition. It’s the language of Neapolitan musicians within the Neapolitan language.

SEA and YOU was born out of the need to share the traditions and secrets of Fado, Flamenco, and classical Neapolitan songs. Transmitting the passion of musicians and spreading the three musical styles, as already done by Napulitanata, CajaGranadaFundación, and Ideal Fado, is the goal of the SEA and YOU Festival, which will land in Granada in a few days for its first stop (Click here for all the info). An ambitious project that will see the light thanks to the European Agenda for Music.

Today, SEA and YOU explains what Parlésia is, its origins, and why it’s so important for Neapolitan culture.
Get comfortable because we are about to embark on a journey rich in history and culture, exploring the secret language of Neapolitan musicians.

You Can’t Understand It Unless You Play. What Is Parlésia, and Why Is It Important?

Neapolitan music, especially classical Neapolitan songs, is one of the most iconic traditions in the world. Famous everywhere, spread to every corner of the Earth, Neapolitan songs are unmistakable in every note and aspect.
Its fame precedes it, and there is no person who hasn’t sung ‘O Sole mio or ‘O surdato ‘nnammurato at least once.
But there’s something that people might not know: Parlésia!

What is Parlésia?
Defining what Parlésia is can be both easy and difficult. In a simple way, we can say that Parlésia is a set of words used by Neapolitan musicians to avoid being understood by others.

But is this definition enough to understand what Parlésia really is? Certainly not. Let’s try to define what Parlésia truly is by delving into this magnificent and fascinating language.

The Origins of Parlésia

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of Parlésia. We know that it’s a secret language code used by Neapolitan musicians around the second half of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s, precisely during the golden era of classical Neapolitan Song, when some of the greatest Neapolitan songs were written, including Te voglio bene assaje by Raffaele Sacco, ‘O sole mio by Giovanni Capurro, and Funiculì funiculà by Giuseppe Turco.
Parlésia isn’t present in these songs, but it was the way of speaking for certain musicians known as posteggiatori, itinerant artists who performed on the streets. Like many professionals, they needed to communicate with their colleagues without being understood by their customers. Fishmongers had their own way of speaking, as did… the underworld figures.

Parlésia could be used to ask about things the client shouldn’t be aware of, to communicate changes in the repertoire being performed, to give warnings, or to indicate past events or events that might happen.

Given the richness of its terms, we shouldn’t confuse Parlésia with a disconnected set of words. Instead, we should recognize it as the secret language of Neapolitan musicians with its own grammar and vocabulary.

Communicating with Parlésia

Musicians often need to communicate with each other on stage. But how to do it without being understood? This is where Parlésia came in handy, especially during performances.

If musicians wanted to signal a colleague, they could use the name of the instrument being played. For instance, to call THE VIOLINIST, they might use the expression ‘o tagliero, for the ACCORDION player, they could use strillandë or špillantë, and for the MANDOLIN player, they might use the word ‘o trillandë.

It was common to talk, or gossip, about the boss, using the expression ‘o jammo, meaning the man. “The man who pays, ‘O JAMMË CA ŠPUNISCË E BBANË, O’ JAMMË C’A BBANÈSIA ‘O JAMMË R’A TAŠCA, could be used to convey “be quiet, the boss is coming” with a phrase like “addo va, sta appunenne `o jiamme d“a tashca”. Could you understand it? NO, but that’s the beauty of it.

Expressions that could also save jobs thanks to the mystery of words.

But it could also be a language used during leisure time, to speak ill of people who shouldn’t understand or to discuss physiological needs. In short, Parlésia was the official language of Neapolitan musicians.

Pino Daniele, Enzo Avitabile, and Parlésia

After understanding what Parlésia is and why it was so important for Neapolitan musicians, it makes sense to wonder if anyone still uses the secret language of Neapolitan musicians today. There are very few artists who know Parlésia. Among emerging Neapolitan artists and even those with a long history, there are no homages or phrases in their songs, except for two artists.

Pino Daniele is the one who made Parlésia a public, artistic language. In the song Tarumbò, the artist begins his song with the expression Che bellu jammone, used here to discredit a powerful figure (some have seen this song as a critique of the Church).

The artist Enzo Avitabile, with the song Bagano, wrote an entire ode to Parlésia. A song composed in 1999, included in the album O-issa, entirely using words incomprehensible to those not in the know, taken from Parlésia.

Napulitanata, Guardian of Ancient Parlésia

Napulitanata is one of the main supporters of Parlésia.
Napulitanata is the only concert hall for classical Neapolitan songs in Naples. Founded in 2017, it is now the primary point of reference for those who want to experience true Neapolitan music. Every year, it receives visitors from all over the world, and this year, it has decided to collaborate with CajaGranadaFundación and Ideal Fado to create SEA and YOU, the traditional song festival in Europe, and bring classical Neapolitan song to Europe.
Napulitanata aims to spread classical Neapolitan Song in Naples and around the world, along with their customs and secrets.
The nature of the hall itself resembles the venues where artists performed in the 19th and 20th centuries, with musicians very close to the audience.

Throughout its history as a promoter of classical Neapolitan songs, Napulitanata has not only carried out outreach projects (such as the photography exhibition on Pasolini and Lomax and the exhibition on Enrico Caruso) but has also created a series of merchandise to make more people embrace classical Neapolitan Song in a simple and effective way. Among these, the iconic T-shirts with Parlésia phrases stand out.

There’s one with the inscription Si’ proprio nu’ bacone, meaning a person who doesn’t know how to do their job, or D’è sta bagaria? to indicate something strange happening. Another T-shirt has the inscription Facimmo addò va, which translates to LET’S STOP.

It’s a way to pay homage to one of the most fascinating traditions of classical Neapolitan songs and to keep this ancient language of musicians alive in the modern world.

But keep following us to discover the secrets of classical Neapolitan songs, Fado, and Flamenco, and to attend SEA and YOU concerts!


By Davide Lancia