Bella Ciao Iraqi Version (بيلا تشاو- النسخة العراقية)

This song is our second in the series of translations of songs from “Arab Spring 2.0,” the wave of protests and revolutions that took place in the Arab world in 2019, and which are still unfolding today. In our first post in this series, we looked at a song from Sudan, “Sallim Mafatih al-Balad,” where an older protest song by Muhammad Wardi was revived for the current circumstances. Now in this recording from Iraq, we find another old protest song being adapted to the present day: “Bella Ciao.” In this case, however, the song has followed a much stranger route, from the paddy fields of 19th century Italy to the streets of the modern Middle East, with Netflix as the crucial intermediary.

“Bella Ciao,” which as its title would suggest, was originally sung in Italian, began as a song of protest among agricultural laborers in the rice fields in Italy in the late 19th century. Later on, the song was adopted by Italian partisans fighting against the fascist regime in World War II, which helped popularize it as a song of resistance against tyranny.

But the current popularity of “Bella Ciao” stems from its use in the Spanish-language Netflix series La Casa de Papel, which first aired in 2017. Although a TV series about a money heist might seem a dubious inspiration for political protest, the show’s themes of resistance, outsmarting the authorities, and hijacking national institutions to place them at the service of the underdog struck a chord among viewers. Pretty soon, the show’s iconic look of red overalls and Salvador Dali masks could be seen popping up in protests in Spain, Latin America and as far afield as the Middle East. And with this uniform came the show’s signature song, “Bella Ciao.”

In most cases, protestors have been content to sing “Bella Ciao” in its original Italian, but in several countries in the Middle East, local performers have recast the song with Arabic lyrics tailored to the local situation. Among these efforts,  the most polished production by far is the version by Iraq’s After the Darkness theater troupe. This Mosul-based group wanted to show their solidarity with the anti-government protests that broke out in Iraq in October 2019, and so mobilized their talents to help bring “Bella Ciao” to Iraq. Not only did they recast the song’s lyrics in Iraqi Arabic to express the grievances of Iraqis, they also produced a slick music video, complete with homemade Salvador Dali masks.

After the Darkness even found a way to adapt the song’s refrain “Bella Ciao” in Iraqi Arabic, by substituting the similar-sounding phrase “bilaya chara.” The word “chara,” which entered into Iraqi Arabic via the Persian word chareh (چاره), literally means “cure, remedy, solution,” with “bilaya chara” meaning “there’s no solution.”  So when each section of the song concludes its list of laments with the phrase “bilaya chara,” it is expressing the frustrations of a generation of Iraqis who see no clear solution for the country’s woes.

I haven’t realized my dreams

حلمي ما شفته

I left my studies

والدرس عفته

My situation is crap, with no solution

وضعيتي كفته بلاية چارة

They plundered my fair share

حصتي سلبوني

They made me forget my name

اسمي نسّوني

The tears of my eyes have no solution

دمعات عيوني بلاية چارة

My rights have been stolen

حقوقي مسلوبة

My situation’s stuck [1]

وضعيتي طوبة

I don’t even have a heating lamp, there’s no solution

ما عندي صوبة بلاية چارة

They have no job for me

تعيين مغلّس

My pockets are empty

والجيب مفلّس

So why should I study? There’s no solution

چا إلمن أدرس؟ بلاية چارة

They stole my daily bread

برزقي سلبوني

They stole my rights

حقي باگوني

I died, believe me, there’s no solution

متت صدقوني بلاية چارة

My brothers have left

إخواني راحوا

My women have broken out in screams

نسواني صاحوا

My children have fallen on hard times, there’s no solution

وأولادنا طاحوا بلاية چارة

My boss doesn’t say a word

مسؤولي ساكت

The situation is shady

والوضع خابط

The future no longer has a solution

مستقبل صار بلاية چارة

Show me a solution

والحل فهموني

They’re going to kill me

راح يعلسوني

I protest and speak out without a solution

أتظاهر واحجي بلاية چارة

I want a peaceful movement

سلمية رايد

And Hajj Zahed

والحج زاهد

They beat him while he was sitting, there’s no solution

ضربوه وگاعد ماكو چارة

My country is recovering

وطني يتعافى

We’re living and cleaning things up

نعيش ونتصافى

We’ll find a solution for everything that has happened

كل اللي صار نشوفله چارة

[1] The word طوبة literally means “ball,” as in a soccer ball for example, but in this context it refers to something that is always the same and never changing.