By Eric E. van Monckhoven

The music of Calabria is part of the Italian musical tradition. Like other regions of southern Italy, Calabria has a rich and diverse heritage of cultural traditions, including, for instance, the Calabrian Tarantella. Tarantella, pizzica pizzica, tammuriata are a large family of traditional dances. In some areas, they are associated with the ancient ritual against the bite of the tarantula, the poisonous spider. 

Nobody knows exactly the Calabrian Tarantella’s origin, but the dance was transmitted orally from the most ancient times – supposedly when Calabria was part of the Magna Grecia and the home of many Greek settlers. Calabria is still hosting today a strong Greek ethnic minority in the Reggio Calabria and Locride coastal areas.

Whether formally or informally, whenever there is an event, small or big, that brings together two or three seasoned musicians with tambourines and concertina, a crowd will invariably gather and begin to dance with the sort of precise and energy-saving movements that characterize the Calabrian Tarantella dance steps. As a passerby, you first hear the rhythmic pulses and accompanying jangle of the tambourine, then the bouncing, reedy tones squeezed out of the concertina. Upon turning the corner, you see the little crowd, swaying and tapping to a snappy folk tune. An impromptu assembly invites audience participation.

This video shows the tarantella “riggitana”, played, sung and danced by pilgrims devoted to the Madonna of the Mountain at the Sanctuary of Polsi di S. Luca (RC) on the feast days of 1 and 2 September.

A dance master (mastru d’abballu) is chosen and takes his position at the center of the circle composed by the assembly who is clapping hands. Then, he heads to the audience and chooses a partner, inviting her with a slight bow as a sign of respect. After some rounds, he invites other dancers to join in. The dance is strictly codified and limits physical contact. A dancing party can last long, with haunting and enthralling rhythms – also thanks to the abundance of wine. 

Musical instruments of Calabrian Tarantella are: zampogna (bagpipe), substituted often by organetto (concertina/button accordion), with tamburello (tambourine). Additional instruments are the Calabrian lira, the “chitarra battente” (strummed guitar), “Pipita” and “Fischiotta” (shepherd flutes), depending on the area. Rhythm is based on terzine (1-2-3) with time in 12/8 and sometimes in 6/8.

Interested in Calabrian Tarantella music and artists? Contact Calabria Sona in, a full service music agency dedicated to the promotion of music “Made In Calabria”.