Pizzica: the centuries-old Italian people music nonetheless whipping up a frenzy

When Antonio Castrignanò listens to pizzica, he hears rather more than tambourines and drums. “This music actually looks like a dream,” is how the musician and composer places it. “It provides dignity to the sacrifices my individuals made for their very own freedom, to not be inferior to anybody.”

It’s an emotion different natives of Salento would probably perceive. Birthed in village squares and olive groves, proper on the heel of the Italian boot, pizzica acted for hundreds of years because the area’s each day soundtrack, its frenzied dances solace for Castrignanò’s forebears as they beloved and labored and prayed.

These days, nonetheless, pizzica has transcended these peasant roots – and nowhere is that clearer than on the Notte della Taranta. Unfold over a number of weeks, and culminating in a mammoth present on 26 August for 200,000 individuals, this raucous celebration of pizzica is the largest pageant in Italy. On the identical time, the music has turn into identified far past Salento, its fevered rhythms widespread at weddings and trend exhibits, and wafting from halls throughout the peninsula. But amid the glamour, musicians like Castrignanò fear that the deep heritage of pizzica is being misplaced, at the same time as they attempt to steadiness the music’s outdated dream with a dwelling, fashionable Salento.

Pizzica has a protracted historical past. Probably associated to the ancient cult of Dionysus, by the 18th century it was being carried out for visiting dignitaries. Like different tarantelle, a household of associated south Italian dances, legend has it that dancing the pizzica might remedy girls bitten by tarantulas. That actually explains its trance-like depth, with violins, guitars, accordions and singers all charging alongside at 100 BPM, whereas dancers whirl alongside. No marvel Alessia Tondo, a vocalist within the well-known Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, characterises the pizzica as a “visceral rhythm”.

For all this power, nonetheless, conventional pizzica spoke poignantly to the peaks and troughs of rural life. Appropriately for a type as soon as utilized in courtship rituals, romantic craving is a recurring theme. In a single instance, a singer tells his love to not fear when confronted with stormy seas – the waves are however his tears. Reflecting the erstwhile hyperlinks between pizzica and Catholic festivals, non secular themes are frequent too. One tune, historically sung round Christmas, speaks of “the world altering instantly” when Christ gave his blessing. On the identical time, pizzica has additionally been a howl of peasant defiance in a area lengthy dominated by landlords. “Now that the solar goes down,” go the phrases to at least one track, “hurry up boss, I’m leaving!”

Postwar urbanisation, and the drift of households from fields to factories, ravaged this historical past. Castrignanò witnessed this shift himself, recalling how his working-class father largely spurned the countryside. However beginning within the Seventies, the winds would shift as soon as extra. Initially inspired by folklorists and lecturers, typically with a leftwing urge to reclaim rustic tradition, the tip of the century would see the beginning of a musical craze. Spurred on by these outdated infectious rhythms, and maybe wanting to revive what their dad and mom had misplaced, Nadia Inserra – a US-based educational and author on tarantella – says that claims youngsters would get collectively and drink a complete bottle of wine as they snapped footage and watched outdated timers carry out.

Since then, continues Inserra, the shape has gone totally mainstream. Many {couples}, together with these outdoors Salento, select pizzica for his or her wedding ceremony music. If you wish to strive the strikes your self, you will discover gigs throughout the nation, even in chilly northern cities like Turin and Milan. Manufacturers are climbing the pizzica coattails too. In 2020, to an internet viewers of 20m, Dior hosted a trend present within the baroque Salento metropolis of Lecce, with fashions striding down the catwalk to pizzica. Mass-market music has caught the bug as properly: over the previous couple of a long time, there’s been techno-pizzica, reggae-pizzica, and even pizzica for children.

Pizzica dancers in St Peter’s square, Rome.
Pizzica dancers in St Peter’s sq., Rome. {Photograph}: Alessia Giuliani/CPP/IPA/Shutterstock

How one can clarify this mania? Quiz its admirers and so they return to these galloping beats. “The music is basically appropriate for dancing,” says Vincenzo Santoro, one other pizzica professional and researcher, including that this equally explains the shape’s worldwide attraction. Truthful sufficient: now you can hear pizzica in London and Dubai. Past the cantering rhythm, nonetheless, you get the sensation that pizzica is now about greater than mere music. As Santoro says, it chimes with stereotypes of Salento as a pleasant, storied place, one “with fewer issues of organised crime … than Sicily or Calabria, and likewise northern Puglia”. And if Inserra suggests a patronising tinge right here – “we’ve a historical past of being orientalised and sensationalised” by northern Italians, she says – this hasn’t stopped many southerners from embracing the pattern themselves.

And if that is true throughout documentaries and vacationer campaigns, the head of up to date pizzica is unquestionably the Notte della Taranta, hosted since 1998 within the small Salento city of Melpignano. With thousands and thousands watching on TV at house, organisers proclaim it as one of many “most vital” occasions of well-liked tradition in Europe. Actually, friends like Fiorella Mannoia, a pop icon for the reason that Nineteen Eighties, give the proceedings an actual sheen, as do partnerships with the Ministry of Tradition and the European Union. However for Castrignanò, structuring the Notte round industrial tv, and together with acts which have little to do with pizzica, destroys the unstudied ardour that made the music particular. “It obliges them to ask pop singers who went to Sanremo,” he says, referring to the long-running music contest. “I don’t need to resemble Sanremo – in any other case I’d have gone there myself.”

Nor does criticism of recent pizzica solely contain commercialisation. On the Notte, for example, you’ll see men and women dancing sensually collectively, full with choreographed routines. As Inserra factors out, the historic conservatism of Catholic society precluded any touching, whereas individuals tended to spontaneously be taught dances as they went. For a pageant professing to help the “valorisation” of conventional music, such alterations are an excessive amount of for some. Way back to 2015, Sergio Blasi, the ex-mayor of Melpignano, resigned from his place on the pageant, claiming it was not serving to the “restoration and dissemination” of conventional Salentan tradition. Castrignanò, for his half, has gone the identical approach.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino in full flow.
Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino in full stream. {Photograph}: Raphael Salzedo/Alamy

These debates are hardly novel, after all, nor are they distinctive to pizzica; weighing outdated customs and new kinds, and even simply tracing the frontiers of folks as a style, is a battle from England to Canada. To be truthful, Salentan musicians are clearly alive to those tensions. As Alessia Tondo says, the very act of climbing on stage and singing right into a microphone “modifications the perform” of a method lengthy constructed round unselfconscious expression. “I, for instance, nonetheless stay in a household atmosphere the place we play and sing collectively after gatherings,” she provides. “Clearly, these emotions aren’t reproducible on a stage”.

But as these feedback indicate, Tondo isn’t towards modernity in precept. In her personal profession, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino has interwoven pizzica with Indian bhangra, and labored with a Justin Adams, a famous international guitarist. The purpose, she stresses, is to at all times steadiness experimentation with the “actual conventional music”.

A pageant sceptic he could also be, however Castrignanò shares an analogous philosophy. Channelling the subversive aura of outdated pizzica, one among his songs recounts the story of an exploited African farmworker within the Salento of at the moment. Elsewhere, Castrignanò describes the risk posed to the area’s olive groves by the Xylella micro organism. “Inexperienced and bitter oil,” goes the song’s haunting chorus, “it’s essential to maintain pricey.” It’s an injunction that might in all probability be utilized to pizzica itself, because the music spins and twirls however by no means falls down.

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