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Italy's Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino are bringing a signature slice of Europe to Australia

Performing at next month’s inaugural Taranta Festival, internationally acclaimed ensemble Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino are set to bring Australian audiences the traditional vibrancy of Salento music and dance with an explosive contemporary fusion. 

Image source: 
Francesco Torricelli

The ensemble’s director and violinist Mauri Durante explains Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s performance objective and style. “We play traditional music and dance from Salento, an area in the southeast of Italy,” he says. “This music is based on a dance style called pizzica. We interpret these traditions in a modern way, keeping alive the legacy but making it understandable for today as well.” 

For Durante and the rest of the ensemble, multi-instrumentalists Giulio Bianco, Emanuele Licci, Massimiliano Morabito, as well as Giancarlo Paglialunga, dancer Silvia Perrone, and vocalist Alessia Tondo, it is as important to show young people in Italy what their heritage is as it is to show Italian-Australians part of where they come from and their history.

“Especially nowadays with all this globalisation and communication being made easier,” says Durante. “In a way, we feel much more connected, at least visually.

“Anything that can make you feel unique, something that can represent you, gets to be part of your identity. That’s why the rediscovery of traditional music and dances, dialects, anything that can make you feel special, is getting important, in order to be different, to express your own identity, history, background.”

Durante is adamant that it isn’t Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino’s intention to draw any lines, more to create an awareness through music and dance of a country and a community’s origins, of their roots, in order to become ready to interact with people all over the world. 

Being from Italy, somewhere of such a varied and longstanding culture, ancient in fact, it’s of course a challenge for Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino to introduce and educate people to these traditions and ideals. 

“The challenge is to make people understand that our music, our band, our project, should be considered completely contemporary,” says Durante. “It’s true we are performing a style that comes from the past but still, we are speaking a language, a dialect, which at the same time is from people from our area but [also] people from everywhere.

“There are messages that go beyond the understanding of the words. The dance is a strong symbol – it puts on the same level, the same ground, your feet are touching the earth and you are making eye contact. There is no barrier, no social or race, even sex, any kind of barriers are killed when you’re dancing in front of each other. A dance can be a pretty strong symbol to connect with people.”

This pizzica style of music was also, Durante says, used as part of a therapy, used to cure, a tale from myth and legend that is yet another wonderful element to the traditions upheld by the ensemble. “There was a belief that when you get bitten by a spider you would fall down in a fit of illness – the only way to recover your health was by going through this ritual made of music, dance. Through that you could be cured again,” he explains.

“The bite of the spider was symbolic. It was the personification of a deep suffering that could come into you from the outside, sort of an evil sensation, but it could be a social or personal issue.

“Today, we believe this music and dance in these times that have changed can be a symbol to connect with each other – why not dance out our own demons?”

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino will perform at the Thornbury Theatre as part of Taranta Festival on Friday March 15. Grab your tickets via the festival website.