Tarantella brings the community together

Good vibes filled the air during the second edition of the Segmento Tarantella Festival at Edwardes Lake Park in the Melbourne suburb of Reservoir and in its debut year in the regional Victorian town of Shepparton.

By Lucy Laurita

Melbourne is well-known for its multicultural charm, and this year’s edition of the Segmento Tarantella Festival at Edwardes Lake Park became a focal point for the community to revel in the timeless beats of traditional instruments performed with a contemporary twist. I was brimming with excitement to hear the sounds composed by the multi-talented international guests Antonio Grosso, Ciccio Nucera, Davis Muccari, Maddalena Grosso, Gabriele Gnawa Macri, along with Australian-based Rustica Project, Santa Taranta, and Salvatore Rossano. This line-up created an atmosphere reminiscent of the cultural tapestry that defines Melbourne.

In the spirit of cultural exchange, a special guest visiting Australia for the first time, Annalisa Insardá, Italian actress, author, and presenter, highlighted the lasting imprint the tarantella leaves on the hearts of those who come together to celebrate. “Wherever I find tarantella music around the world, I will go dance. It is the sound of my childhood, the joy of my childhood, and it is in my memory forever,” she said.

Ciccio Nucera, the King of Calabrese Tarantella, also visiting Australia for the first time, appreciated the intimacy of sharing the moment with Australians. He said, “This festival is beautiful, I love connecting and communicating with the audience, teaching them the music I was born with.” Musician Gabriele Gnawa Macri, a virtuoso of the lyre, who performed at last year’s Segmento Tarantella Festival, echoed their sentiments. “The warm embrace is not a normal experience around the world, every stage is different, but here it feels like home,” said Macri. The event offered Melbourne’s multicultural community a chance to come together, dance, and forge connections through the evocative rhythms created by the organetto, pipita and tamburo, to name a few of the tarantella’s time-honoured instruments.

Left to right: Maddalena Grosso, Antonio Grosso, Ciccio Nucera and Davis Muccari atJazzLab, Brunswick, Melbourne

With the success of last year’s festival in Reservoir, organizers decided to extend the event into regional Victoria, particularly in the Goulbourn Valley and Greater Shepparton area, where there was a substantial influx of Italian migrants from the 1950s through to the 1970s. The Shepparton Showgrounds played host to the festival a week prior to its repeat at Edwardes Lake Park. Visiting this magnificent part of regional Victoria, known as the “food bowl of Australia,” was not only a pleasure in itself, but for me, it also offered a trip down memory lane.

Of course, I was not the only one who came to the Shepparton event with familiar memories, so my perfect excuse to spark a conversation with complete strangers was to simply ask the question, “What brought you here today?” While chatting to several individuals who made the trip from Melbourne or the surrounding Goulburn River area, I felt there was a compelling need for more events such as the Segmento Tarantella Festival. A genuine desire to lift the community’s spirits was evident, especially given the area was significantly affected by the floods of 2022, which, tragically, damaged the historic Italian Social Club beyond repair.

Ashley, a 19-year-old gymnastics coach, believes the festival has given her and her three younger siblings hope that their Italian traditions won’t be lost. “I want to see my children and their children keep traditions going, the Tarantella Festival could be a great connector to engage youth,” said this young tarantella aficionado.

Italian and Greek musicians at the second edition of the Segmento Tarantella Festival, Reservoir, Melbourne.

Two wonderful ladies from the nearby town of Tatura (famous for Tatura butter), Nikki, 48, and Nickee, 55, also chimed in. Nikki and Nickee used to do Irish dancing as girls. They commented that the folk sounds of the tarantella are reminiscent of the tin whistle and piano accordion used in Celtic music. Nikki, sadly, suffers from Mysaemia Gravis, which limits her movement, and dancing is no longer possible.

“We were excited to see the Tarantella Festival come to Shepparton as I have an Italian family background, and Nikki loves being out in the community, enjoying food, music, and other cultural experiences. Connecting with the community through food and music is a source of great comfort when Nikki isn’t feeling so well,” explained her closest friend.

Husband and wife Richard and Kerri of Billabong Ranch, Echuca, about 70 kilometres from Shepparton, saw a sign for the festival while on the road the day before, which reminded them to come along. Richard’s dad immigrated from Tripoli in the 1950s and was housed at Bonegilla Migrant Centre upon arrival in Victoria. “We’d love to host the festival at the ranch, we need more of this sort of thing for the young generation. Music brings everyone together. We had to come buy tambourines for the grandkids.”

CalabriaSona quartet at the Melbourne Italian Festa

Eleven-year-old Alyssa also shared her love of tarantella music. She attended with a large group of family and friends of mixed ages, all from Shepparton and with Calabrian heritage. She was happy to experience the day alongside her nonni. “I love the music because it makes me feel good. I hope the festival continues to come back to Shepparton. It would be great to include some of our local talent to get more of our community involved,” she said.

Maggie, 52, a mother of two, a painter, and a translator of Italian to English, attended the festival last year at Edwardes Lake Park in Reservoir. She decided to make the two-hour trip to Shepparton to experience it again in another setting. “The festival is teaching us a different way of connecting. It’s very important to have a sense of the  and sensation that the music delivers,” she said. She is not of Italian heritage but feels privileged by her upbringing because her parents lovedItalian culture, and now she does too.

Setting aside the distance and, of course, the weather—a scorching 31 degrees at the Shepparton Showgrounds and an overcast day with the threat of rain at Edwardes Lake Park— the diverse attendees at both events emphasised the festival’s role in fostering a sense of unity, a sentiment shared by the musicians. The Segmento Tarantella Festival created not just lively festivities but shared experiences that transcended cultural boundaries.

Images provided by Lucy Laurita