There are nine towns around Otranto that form a small region called Grecia Salentina. In this area the dialect is called Grik and an ancient Greek landing here today would have little trouble understanding what the locals were saying.
One of these nine towns is Melpignano a little place of 2,000 inhabitants with a large church in the central square . It is a sleepy little town reliant on agriculture .
All that changes on August 23rd, this Saturday night. 150,000 people descend on the town to celebrate La Notte Della Taranta . 15 stages are erected in the town and 60 teams of musicians and dancers compete to be the best folk troupe playing the music of the Salento Region.
The Festival has only been going since 1998 when it was founded to try to rekindle the dances and songs that were disappearing from the region as people looked to modern music for entertainment.
To say it has been a success is an understatement. Some 400 foreign journalists will cover this years event coming from India, South America, South Africa and the USA.
A local Danish radio station is streaming the music live and its report said today that Melpignano was now the cornerstone of European folk culture that is in danger of dying out in most countries.
It is live on Radio 2 in Italy and live on Rai TV as well. In between the dance troupes there are foreign and Italian ” stars” to entertain. I have to admit I have never heard of any of the foreign names but I have heard of some of the Italians like Alessandro Mannarino a popular folk singer
Not my cup of tea but I’m sure the 150,000+ crowd will love him.
The concert starts at dusk and finishes as the sun rises up over Greece in the far distance.
My only concern must be that the town is slap bang in the middle of the xyella outbreak that has killed so far over 2.5 million olive trees. The region is committed to containing the disease in the Salento region and not allowing it to spread . Yet here we are with 150,000 people from all over the world sitting right in it. Will they stop and have photos taken by some of the old olive trees? Will they take sprigs home? Will an insect land in their car or truck and be transported north ? The left hand and the right hand don’t ever work together in Italy. There are too many departments, too many chiefs, too much self interest and too much corruption for anything to function as a single unit. But Europe whilst applauding the saving of a folk singing culture might not be too pleased if the xyella virus is spread due to to a folk festival.
I remember landing in Australia one year during the UK foot and mouth outbreak that led to the slaughter of loads of sheep. All Brits had to paddle through an antiseptic tray at the aircraft steps and then our bags and we ourselves were sprayed as well. The Aussies were taking no chances. Maybe the Italians could learn from that.