Why you should care

There ain’t no party like a trance tarantella party.

It began with a tarantula bite in medieval Italy. As venom coursed through victims’ bloodstreams, bodies twisted and jerked. This spastic dancing came to be known as a side effect of tarantism, a psychological illness that was believed to occur after someone was bitten by a spider. The convulsive dancing inspired a music genre, tarantella, that roughly four centuries later is seeing a revival.

But with a 21st-century twist. Kalàscima, one of Italy’s most popular tarantella bands, is making this psychedelic genre of Puglian music compelling and current. How? For one, giving performances reminiscent of a 1970s rock group, complete with jumping and head-banging. They’re also meshing traditional beats with modern electronic rhythms. The result is a driving, trancelike mix of the ancient and the now.

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Lead singer and instrumentalist Riccardo Laganà has personal ties to the music — he and tarantella were born in the same area: Salento, a coastal region in the heel of Italy’s boot. Laganà and his five bandmates have been informally performing their community’s trademark music, recognizable by its jerky rhythm and irregular beats, since they were young children. “Our grandparents made traditional music with technology from their age,” Laganà says. “They played chairs, they played bottles and keys. The approach is the same today, to make music with whatever you can.”

There’s always a big party when everyone sings and dances in dialect, even if they don’t understand.

Riccardo Laganà, lead singer of Kalàscima

While nobody in Kalàscima plays a piece of furniture, the band, which has been touring internationally since 2012, preserves the genre’s original tone and character by using traditional instruments, such as the tambourine, guitar and mandolin, as well as regional instruments like the tamboura, darbouka and the Calabrese double flute. Then they add electronic elements.

While Southern Italians have the most context for Kalàscima’s music, the band has performed in places like Miami and Tokyo. Their lyrics, which frequently are upstaged by the music’s driving riffs, are sung in Salentino dialect — a version of the Italian language that is not even completely understood throughout Italy. This does not deter fans, though. “There’s always a big party when everyone sings and dances in dialect, even if they don’t understand,” Laganà says. The band does play a handful of traditional tarantella songs, but the majority of their lyrics are original and speak of modern-day struggles and stories, such as emigration from one’s home.

The band is grateful their music has resonated with an international audience, but for Laganà, his greatest success comes from the fact that he can share aspects of his community with individuals who might not have encountered it otherwise. “For me [tarantella] really is everything,” he says. “It represents my land, my heritage, my family, my friends, my city, everything. It is my musical passport.”

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A man and a woman dancing the tarantella, in a drawing by Tony Francois de Bergue.

Source De Agostini / Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty

And tarantella serves as a musical passport for listeners as well. With each staccatoed tap from the tambourine or fluttering lilt from the flute, listeners can find themselves one step closer to a version of Italy that existed 400 years ago.

Kalàscima has released two albums. Here is their new song, “Ballamundi.”

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