CARBONARA is one of the biggest hits of the “Neue Deutsche Welle”: musically, it is inspired by reggae music. Reggae was enormously popularized throughout the 1970s and early 1980s by the success in Europe of Bob Marley and the Wailers. The lyrics offer a contemporary interpretation of the cultural historical German fascination for Italy.
Released in 1982, the song appeared on the debut album 85555 by the German band Spliff. It is credited to Reinhold Heil, singer and keyboard player of the band; the other members were Herwig Mitteregger on drums, Bernhard Potschka on guitar and Manfred Praeker on bass and vocals.
The German fascination for the “Belpaese” has a long and solid tradition within German popular songs, which goes back a long way in cultural history, at least to Goethe’s Mignon Lied. In addition, mass tourism as experienced in the 1950s and 1960s after the German economic boom, had brought the consolidation of certain narratives in connection with resorts (seaside, beach) and experiences (exotic food and drinks, sexual desire). The song is from the early 1980s, a period of economic crisis and inflation throughout Europe and therefore the link to cheap food and poverty opens up a new understanding of these narratives. In addition, the huge changes in mass tourism, with the development of more affordable and alternative forms of travelling, were also taken up by younger Germans. However, the song is mostly associated with a traditional understanding of Italy as a holiday resort and as an expression of a certain exoticism (here underlined by the use of a reggae arrangement).
The first verse of the song is entirely in Italian, although a very particular kind of Italian. In fact, it is nothing more than a patchwork of sentences that the average German listener is able to make sense of. “Paese dei Limoni” recalls a verse in Goethe’s “Mignon Lied” (“Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn?” / “Do you know the land where the lemon trees bloom?” from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, 1795–96), “brigate rosse” and “mafia” were well known from the news, “strada del sol” from maps and travel guides, and “con brio” from classical music. The rest of the verse continues with the same kind of word catalogues creating an exotic but nonetheless familiar textscape connected to the summer holidays. The refrain “una carbonara e una coca cola” refers to the food ordered in the restaurant and implies that it is the cheapest option, as the purse is always empty (“borsellino è vuoto totale”). The second verse instead mixes German and Italian in an imaginary talk with an Italian woman. Although only the sentences pronounced by the German (supposedly) male protagonist are given, there are references to linguistic barriers (“hab’ keine Ahnung ob du mich verstehst”) and to intoxication (“Ich bin schon lull und lall”). Nonetheless, the protagonist is ready to invite the “bella donna” to dinner consisting in, again, the food and drink celebrated in the refrain.
Musically, the song is a reggae tune played by bass, drums, guitars and keyboards. While the singer alone delivers the verses in a laconic way, the refrain is performed with harmonies.
The song has been remixed in various disco, techno and house versions, usually selected by DJs in holiday resorts frequented by German tourists all over southern Europe.
Vocals, Keyboard: Reinhold Heil
Vocals, Bass: Manfred Praeker
Vocals, Drums: Herwig Mitteregger
Guitar: Bernhard Potschka
Songwriting: Reinhold Heil
Length: 4:18 (Album/Single-Version)
- Spliff. “Carbonara”, Carbonara, 1982, CBS Schallplatten, CBSA 12- 2202, Germany (7″/Single).
- Spliff. “Carbonara”, 85555, 1982, CBS Schallplatten, CBS 85 555 , Germany (LP/Album).
- Spliff. “Carbonara”, Emergency Exit, 1982, Epic, BFE 38556, USA (LP/Album).
- Spliff. “Carbonara”, 85555, 1984, Columbia, COL CD 85555, Germany (CD/Album).
- Helms, Dietrich: “Was die Wellen dir zärtlich erzählen”. Anmerkungen zum Schlager als Quelle historischer Forschung. In: Populäre Musik im kulturwissenschaftlichen Diskurs (= Beiträge zur Popularmusikforschung 25/26). Karben: Coda 2000, 143-167.
- Artist homepage: http://www.e-team-europe.com/ [31.10.2011].
About the Author
All contributions by Giacomo Bottà
Giacomo Bottà: “Carbonara (Spliff)”. In: Songlexikon. Encyclopedia of Songs. Ed. by Michael Fischer, Fernand Hörner and Christofer Jost, http://www.songlexikon.de/songs/carbonara, 02/2010 [revised 10/2013].Print