Giovanni Nadiani

Inventing regional identity on local television music programs: the case of Romagna

1. Introduction

Last spring onorevole Umberto Bossi, Minister for the Reforms of the current centre-right Italian government and leader of the North-Italian populist Party Lega Nord, came to ForlX, one of the three most important cities in Romagna, being Ravenna and Rimini being the other two, to support the desire for autonomy of some local movements. The goal of these movements is to remove the hyphen which binds Emilia Romagna which has always been governed by left or center-left parties and thus create two distinct regions.

Bossi, speaking to the heart of many Romagnoli, said – as reported by the national TV news channels and the local newspapers: “It seems to me that the Romagnoli have a strong identity” [Il Resto del Carlino (edizione EmiliaRomagna) 2. 03. 03)].

But what does it mean? Does a region named Romagna actually exist? Is there a typical Romagnol culture and identity? Or do the Romagnoli have many identities as other populations do? And who or what contributes most to the creation of a particular stereotyped image of a Romagnol culture and identity?

In the following, after first providing some information on this Italian region, I’ll try to show how a typical music phenomenon of this territory can by means of popular watched TV programs contribute to spread popular-cultural stereotypes which might be experienced by the audience as features of its particular identities and which in the long run might have a subliminal influence upon them concerning an idea of autonomy.

2. The region “Romagna”

2.1. The invention of a geographical and linguistic identity

While Dante described Romagna as a large area, it is customary now to refer to a smaller one comprising the provinces of Ravenna, ForlX-Cesena and Rimini, while part of the province of Bologna in the west belongs to Emilia, part of the province Pesaro in the south is administratively part of the Marche region and part of the mountain area belongs to the province Florence and to the region Tuscany.

[SLIDES: Italy+Emilia-Romagna]

And in the case of the creation of an autonomous area called Romagna to which region would these parts belong?

The whole region is thus a trapezoid, with two parallel sides (the Sillaro and the Adriatic) and two converging sides (the Reno and the Apennines), 5193 sq. Km. in area, divided into two parts, mountain and plain, by the great ancient Aemilian Way and the modern highway alongside it, with a total population of over a million. The plain, as it is one of the most fertile parts of Italy, has been completely transformed in the last 30 years by an incredibly intensive farming, including a modern organic type, which support a considerable export-industry. Furthermore we have seen the rise of dense networks of small and medium-size factories as well, producing many kinds of goods.

We can now see at least a geographical reason why the region should have come to constitute a unit: on the southwest it is bounded by the watershed between Emilia and Tuscany, on the east by the sea. History has added her separative influence. First, the geographical division was also responsible in antiquity for the separation of Gauls from Etruscans, so that in the area where the Romagnol dialect was to arise there must have been a deep substratum of Gallic blood. Ravenna became Roman in 1991 B.C., and after being for centuries a port for of one of Rome’s fleets, ended by being a rival to Rome itself; for it was here that Honorius transferred the seat of the Western Empire in A.D. 404, and here that Emperor Justinian, when Belisarius and Narses had reconquered Italy from the Ostrogoths, set up in 554 the capital of an exarchate or vice-royality responsible for the administration of Italy. The area was therefore particularly linked with the name of Rome; and the next historical event in the country was to seal this link with the invention of the name RomBnia. And even if we had no direct evidence we might have deduce that the name was invented to describe the citizens of the Roman Empire in Italy. How the name became restricted to the smaller area is a disputed question, certainly an institutional and political area and a regional one have never coincided in Romagna. From the point of view of the political map Romagna didn’t have any clearly defined borders which were always imposed by central political powers. It was only during the Napoleonic rule of the late 18th century that a clear idea of Romagna as a geographical entity emerged. This central and traditional entity was then first codified in 1894 by the engineer Emilio Rosetti. He was the actual inventor of the current region.

[SLIDE: Rosetti]

From this time the population was able to identify the region Romagna. Now it was something that could be described, something that people could tell stories about, something that could be passed on to future generations. Rosetti’s mapping of the region contributed to the creation of a strong Romagnol geographical identity in quite a short time. This identification with this well-defined territory remains strong till this day. However the new Italian government decided after World War 2 to divide Italy into many regions Romagna was not recognized as an autonomous administrative region.

And might some Romagnoli be still proud of their dialect, which has produced in the last century a high regarded literature, there is no linguistic reason to see this dialect as an autonomous language.

The dialects of Italy fall into three groups: Northern, Central, and Southern. Of these the northern group is more distinctly different from the other two than they are from each other. The Northern group has under various influences grown up in three families: Ligurian, Gallo-italic, Ladin. Of these the Gallo-italic is the largest, accounting for two-thirds of the area, and roughly corresponding to the ancient seat of the Celts. Too large for uniformity, this subgroup further subdivides into Piemontese, Lombard and Emilian, it is to this Emilian group that Romagnol belongs.


3. Identity as narrative

Some populist movements in many European countries have tried to convey an idea of identity in response to some aspects of globalization and to an invasion of “foreigners” whom they perceive as undermining the integrity of their regions. These movements see this identity as part of a “genetic code”. However, in the last decades theoretical studies have stressed a quite different idea of identity. They prefer not to see it as something “given”, as something that is inherited or handed down from generation to generation but rather as a matter of negotiation and exchange. Something mobile, changeable that a person or society can construct for their own purposes. This idea of identity is based on the theory that idea is an invention.

For example, according to the anthropologist Remotti identity in itself does not exist but what does exist are different ways of organizing the concept of identity. Identity is in some ways always constructed, invented. Identity is artificial, false. It’s an act where some aspects of our person are revealed but the majority is hidden by a mask. However the construction of this fake is unavoidable because of our biological human condition which is always lacking. This deep need to construct an identity, this need to belong creates a bond based on specific cultural forms and assures you of an identity. That is the paradox: one depends, in a vital and intimate way, on what is actually a fake. Other scholars such as Hobsbawm, Gallisot, Wieselthier stress the idea that every identification is constructed within a system of relationships. That can be a family, a village, a city, a region or the sum of those systems. We identify ourselves with a network of different means of belonging or with the mythical belonging to any type of community. The identity of every one of us is variable, plural and multidimensional. Since identity is relationed and a dynamic phenomenon we should focus more on processes and strategies of identity than identity in itself. Habermas argues that the individual can construct a new identity integrating it with the old ones in order to organize oneself and one’s own interactions as a unique type.

We can summarize the shift from the old theories to the current trends in new theories as a dialogical turn. We can use following scheme to illustrate this turn.

“Old” theories

Current trends
Remaining the same

Identity defines a “being-this-way”
Something which belongs to the condition of “being”

Discovering of one’s self

Identity refers to processes of seeking, discovering and developing of one’s self

Plurality as a danger/threat

(because) identity need consistency, coherence and continuity

Plurality as an opportunity

Only the plurality of one’s experience can produce identity

Focus on the individual

Identity means “singularity”

Focus on the social construction

Identity and “otherness” are inextricably linked

Basical identity

Identity is based on interior and psychic processes which are not expressed but rather permain in you

Narrative identity

Identity is socially constructed. The medium of this construction is language. Identity achieves its structure through narrative 

The dialogical turn focuses on the importance of communication, i. e. firstly on the importance of language for the construction of meaning for the individuals. According to this point of view the dialogical form of the construction of selfhood, takes place basically by means of a narration, i. e. identity is conveyed through language and narrative structures. The narrative psychology for instance assumes that narrative is the first structuring scheme through which people can organise their relationship with themselves, with others and with the physical environment and can explain all that with meaning. Narrative identity may be defined as the unity of one man’s life as far as he perceives and articulates himself in narrations through which he expresses his own experiences.

Selfnarrations are not permanent but they form and they change themselves through continuing processes of negotiations. One can see them as linguistic means, which are constructed and used by individuals in order to support, carry on or to hinder actions. They are symbolic systems which are used to criticize justify and produce consistency.

Briefly also collective identities are formed by narrative, narrative being a constitutional element both of an ethnos and of a historically more or less blended community. This narrative has many ways to express itself such as literature, arts, history, music etc.

4. “Liscio” music as a form of narrative identity in Romagna

Among the ways in which collective narrative express itself in our country a particular kind of popular music with its sound and its songs has played an important role in identifying Romagna within and outside its fluid borders.

This kind of music called “liscio-music” was heavily influenced by popular forms of Viennese classical dances of the late 19th century like the waltz polka and mazurka. In the 20s of the last century this style of dance music substituted in people’s taste the original dances, similar to those found in other European countries. This style was called “liscio” because of the smooth movements, which contrasted with the older dances with more “jumping and skipping” movements. First professional small bands went around the region, and one in particular, Orchestra Casadei, became very famous. In the 50s and 60s their song “Romagna Mia”, with all its nostalgia and languishing homesickness, thanks to the Yugoslavian but Italian speaking station Radio Capodistria would become extremely popular in many Italian regions, and for Romagna a kind of anthem. Hundreds of other big or small bands also helped to spread a particular image of Romagna.


This image narrated through music and often the dialect for the song lyrics, in which at that time most Romagnoli could easy recognize themselves was made up of features always regarded as indicators of “typical” constitutional elements of a regional identity. These features were (and are): blind love for Romagna as a beautiful country, as a “true” Heimat which an own language; love for the extended family; Romagnoli as hard working people; openness towards foreignness; natural joy; a propensity to socialize, to dance, to have fun and to eat well (this one symbolized by a special red wine called “Sangiovese” and a flat bread called “piadina”) etc.

Increasing urbanization and modernization and the emergence of other forms of music contributed to this type of music being seen as old-fashioned by many young people. In the 70s this led to many band restyling themselves by adapting new musical forms to their original sound and trying to take advantage of the growth of private local and regional radio and TV stations. The marketing of the assumed peculiar features of identification, mentioned earlier, became a national business. In the last decade thanks local TV networks genuine regional pop-icons were eventually created.

5. Inventing regional identity on local music TV programs in Romagna

The most well known singers and musicians got their own TV-shows becoming presenters with a strong identifying function for the target audience.

In a very strategic synergy they have embodied as presenters the mentioned regional “values” emphasizing the local factors by singing in video clips, talking to the audience during their own shows, and last but not least, by acting in ads for local products, factories and companies. In this way they contribute to the incessant renewal of invented and commercialized features of a supposed regional culture and identity.

How does this work?

Over the last six month I recorded and analyzed three different shows which are broadcast by the TV-stations Videoregione, Erreuno TV Romagna and Teleromagna, daily 7 days a week.

Let’s take as an example a short look at some clips cut out from the programs “Romagna mia”, “Mezzogiorno in diretta” and “Scacciapensieri”. Unfortunately Auditel (the Italian office for audience research statistics) does not cover the three stations and we only have statistics provided by the TV-stations. The shows refer to the three very-well known band leaders who each have their own TV-program: Roberta, Renzo il Rosso (Red Renzo) and Luana Babini. Among them is Luana the ultimate regional pop-icon who you either really love or hate because of her make-up and behavior which are always over the top.


The first thing you notice watching this kind of program is the informal and very familiar way in which the presenters address the TV-audience. They use colloquial language and some expressions in dialect. Fans who regularly watch the show or who attend concerts by the presenters’ band and those who send in requests are addressed directly with their first name almost like old friends. The closeness to the TV-audience is reinforced by the fact that people can meet and speak to the presenters who frequently perform in dance halls and at an incredible number of festivals in cities, towns and villages throughout the region. These festivals are sometimes organized by political parties (an Italian phenomenon) but mostly they belong to the high developed “industry of the invention of tradition”, including historical pageants, celebration of typical agricultural products or aspects of rural life in the past. Because these festivals are so widespread and very popular and the participants include people from almost all-social classes and age groups means that almost anyone can in some way get in touch with the features mentioned earlier.

The complex and inextricable interconnections of self-promotion and self-marketing of the presenters and the spreading of certain identification “values” and the efforts to captivate the audience can be clearly seen in the work of Luana and Red Renzo.



In this clip we see Red Renzo addressing the audience and telling them how he prepares his barbecue. You need to bear in mind that in Romagna grilling meat is an integral feature at every party or whenever people gather together. During his speech images of a big shop, which sells meat, salami and sausage are shown. They also include the picture of a yoke used by farmers in the past, which like “piadina”-bread and Sangiovese wine a re “sold” as typical symbols of Romagna.

6. Conclusions: looking beyond the matter

To conclude I just want to suggest some questions or topics, that could be the starting point for further more detailed investigation.

Is this just a question of marketing and of innocent entertainment? Or in the long run does an every day entertainment help to create a particular feeling in the audience of belonging to a specific community sharing certain values? And to what extent might such a feeling influence the audience to support the ideas of populist and autonomist movements? Could this particular kind of narrative with its potential identification function affect their vote in a possible future referendum to separate administratively the three provinces of Romagna from the present region Emilia-Romagna?