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Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

The Sanremo Music Festival has returned to unite Italy in song, comedy and sometimes, mockery. As the competition kicks off on Tuesday, it will likely be the topic of conversation all week - here's why it remains significant to Italy 72 years after it began.

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.
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)

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 25 artists will compete for the winning spot over five nights from February 1st – 5th.

As it’s been held continuously since 1951, Sanremo takes the title of the longest-running national televised singing competition.

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

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

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.

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?

Here’s a deeper look into this curious Italian tradition.

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 andFelicità‘ by Al Bano e Romina.

US singer Christina Aguilera duets with Italian singer Andrea Bocelli on the stage of the Ariston Theatre in San Remo, 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. Last year’s 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 will return as guests in 2022.

READ ALSO: ‘Zitti e buoni’: The Italian vocab you need to understand Italy’s Eurovision winner

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. 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.

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

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.

As some point out, this could be more of an attraction for younger members of the audience. Any slip-up, such as that of the Italian singers Bugo and Morgan, who were supposed to perform the song ‘Sincero’ together in 2020, are ripe for getting ripped.

When it was almost two o’clock in the morning and it was their turn at last, Morgan went on stage alone and started to sing, changing the lyrics in an apparent attack on Bugo, who then left the stage even before he had the chance to sing a note. They were then disqualified from the competition.

To join in with the song and slating, broadcaster RAI1 will be screening the competition every evening from 20.35, and in streaming on Rai Play throughout.

The event is back to 100 percent capacity with the Covid ‘super green pass‘ after it being held behind closed doors to an empty theatre last year.

Member comments

  1. You forgot to include Eros Ramazzotti in your list of those who became famous being part of Sanremo. Eros competed in Sanremo 1984 through 1986 (three times). He came in first place in 1986 with his hit “Adesso tu”. But his international recognition and fame grew over the three years he was part of the competition.

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San Faustino: Why February 15th is ‘Singles’ Day’ in Italy

If you felt excluded or even mildly disgusted by the often over-the-top outpourings of love that come with Valentine's Day, you might be cheered to learn that in Italy, February 15th is a semi-official celebration of being single.

San Faustino: Why February 15th is 'Singles' Day' in Italy
February 15th is a celebration of being single in Italy. File photo: Pexels

February 14th is known as Valentine’s Day all over the world, and many believe the tradition has its roots in Italy.

But you may be more surprised to hear that the famously romantic country also celebrates singledom on February 15th.

The day after Valentine’s has been designated La Festa dei Single (Singles’ Day) or Festa di San Faustino (Feast of San Faustino); an occasion first thought up by lifestyle site La Vita da Single (Single Life) in 2001.

READ ALSO: Here’s how to talk about love, sex, and dating in Italian

While it started out as something of a joke, the annual celebration of single life has become increasingly popular and almost two thirds of single Italians do something to mark the Festa dei Single, according to a survey from consumer federation Federcoopesca-Confcooperative published in 2017.

Events marking the occasion take place in many of Italy’s big cities, ranging from sociable dinners for the happily single to speed-dating events for those looking for love.

But why San Faustino?

Not a lot is known about Faustino, who together with his brother Giovita was martyred in the second century, but the medieval knight has become the patron saint of single people.

The brothers, born into a wealthy family, became knights they converted to Christianity, preaching in their hometown of Brescia and across Lombardy.

When they refused to worship or make sacrifices to the pagan gods, local nobles got angry, and the emperor ordered the pair to be put to death.

Legend says that the emperor Hadrian tried to have them killed several times, but they survived, supposedly thanks to God’s protection. First, Faustino was given to lions, but they sat at his feet instead of devouring him – a miracle which inspired several spectators to convert to Christianity.

READ ALSO: Dear Juliet: The Verona women who answer thousands of letters of heartbreak

The brothers were then ordered to be burned at the stake, but the flames had no effect, and when they were cast out to sea on a boat, the vessel simply brought them back to shore. Eventually however, the brothers’ luck run out, and they were beheaded on February 15th.

As well as the proximity of this date to Valentine’s Day, there is another reason San Faustino is thought to look out for single people. As a priest, he is said to have acted as a bit of a matchmaker, helping young women find partners.

And what’s more, the name ‘Faustino’ comes from the Latin word for ‘luck’, so his death-date is thought to be a sign of hope for those looking for love.

“On San Faustino, we care for single people who have spent Valentine’s Day alone, by dedicating the following day to them,” the event’s creators wrote on the Vita da Single blog.

But the event has a serious side, with organizers explaining that as well as celebrating the positives of single life, it aims to “give a voice to the issues of living alone”.

So in addition to the aperitivos and dinners taking place across the country, organizers also hope to stimulate discussion over issues including higher living expenses for those living alone – a 64 percent increase, according to consumer organization Coldiretti – and the difficulties of raising children alone or adopting as a single person in Italy.