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Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

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Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?
Italian singer and showman Rosario Tindaro Fiorello, aka Fiorello, Bologna's Serbian coach, Sinisa Mihajlovic, and AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic perform during the San Remo 2021 music festival. (Photo by Marco RAVAGLI / AFP)

The Sanremo Music Festival has returned to unite Italy in song, comedy, and sometimes mockery. As the competition kicks off on Tuesday, February 6th, it will likely be the topic of conversation all week - here's why it remains significant more than 70 years after it began.


Italy's most famous song competition is back for another year at Theatre Ariston, which has been the venue for the festival since 1977.

The official title, Festival della canzone italiana di Sanremo, is held in the Ligurian seaside town of the same name and, this year 30 artists - a higher number than usual - will compete for the winning spot over five nights from February 6th-10th.

As it's been held continuously since 1951, Sanremo is now in its 74th year and takes the title of the longest-running national televised singing competition.


That makes Sanremo even older than the Eurovision song contest: it was in fact the inspiration for the famously cheesy European music competition.

Within Italy, the history, and therefore nostalgia, is just one reason why most of the country will be glued to their television screens all week.

READ ALSO: Sanremo: Ten things to know about Italy’s answer to Eurovision

The cultural event seems to whip up excitement among broadcasters, journalists and viewers alike, as social media channels are awash with promotions and jokes about the participants ahead of the contest.

At first glance however, the appeal of the show is not always that obvious to outsiders.

So just what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the 'love it' or 'hate it' camp?

It creates icons

This is where the Sanremo Music Festival differs from Eurovision: it is often a springboard to real fame and launches songs that stand the test of time.

It has led to the success of epochal songs such as the 1958 winning track 'Volare' (the real title is actually 'Nel blu dipinto di blu') by Domenico Modugno, 'Quando, quando, quando' by Tony Renis, 'Che sarà' by Ricchi e Poveri and 'Felicità' by Al Bano e Romina.

US singer Christina Aguilera duets with Italian singer Andrea Bocelli on the stage of the Ariston Theatre in Sanremo, during the 56th Italian music festival in 2006. AFP PHOTO/Tiziana Fabi

Singers such as Andrea Bocelli and Laura Pausini can thank this music competition for their careers too. 2021 winners Mäneskin, who went on to take the Eurovision trophy with the same song Zitti e Buoni, were also launched into the spotlight by Sanremo and returned as guests in 2022.

If you're new to Italy's most famous music festival and slightly non-plussed by it, rest assured that it is in fact globally renowned and pulls in the already rich and famous.

READ ALSO: Sanremo: Andrea Bocelli’s duet with son brings down the house

Previous big-name international acts include Stevie Wonder, Cher, Shirley Bassey, Robbie Williams and Queen.


The audience is involved

Some Italians will tell you they watch the event for the whole five days straight, others will profess they're not (but they really are).

This is one Italian tradition that gets everyone involved, which is now much more interactive thanks to the public online voting element.

Each act will perform their original song with the winner eventually selected by both a jury and the online vote.

After each of the 25 artists has performed their song twice, Friday is something of a break as international and Italian cover songs are performed.

Then, all the original songs are performed once more on Saturday, before the winner is announced.


It is almost laughably long-winded

How many times each act performs their song gives you a clue to how long each day drags on.

This aspect of the festival is light-heartedly mocked each year on social media, as posts and memes describe how dogs will need to take themselves on walks or how, thanks to the competition running until the small hours of the morning, you'll struggle to simply keep awake throughout.

The social media participation

In fact, the memes and social media gags are now just as anticipated as the event itself. Some viewers joke about the pain of watching the songs, but how it's all worth it for the jokes online

If you want to join in with the song and slating, broadcaster RAI1 will be screening the competition every evening on from 20.35, and it will be streamed on Rai Play throughout.


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