Style Observer

Salento aka “Little Jamaica”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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Rome, Milan, Venice and Florence are great destinations for good food, great wine, amazing fashion and a general atmosphere of romance. All reasons that ensure Italy, like Jamaica, remains a country many want to visit! Now Salento, Italy's south-coastal secret treasure, is gaining popularity as a tourist destination. The official Agenzia Regionale del Turismo promotes Salento as “a boarder(sic) land embraced by two seas, miles of coastline and where white sandy beaches give way to secret coves and cliffs”. All true, but when you speak to locals they refer to it as a “little Jamaica!” Allow me to present five surprising similarities between Salento and Jamaica:

Religion: Church, Culture Meet Rastafari

It should come as no surprise that Italy, the home of the Vatican and birthplace of Catholic religion, has more than a few churches do we, for that matter. It's the presence of Rastafari in Salento that's a bit unexpected. But it's hard to find a corner of the globe that this religion, which began in Jamaica, has not reached and Salento is no different! Thanks in large part to the Federazione Assemblee Rastafari Italia, and Facebook in large part, the informal community of Rastafari has kept the fire blazing very close to Rome! Danielle, a student at the University of Salento, states that she chose this faith “because the roots of the life is in Africa. Soul livity is Rastafari”.


Landscape: Beaches, Caves & Cliffs


Casalabate, Porto Cesareo, Otrantro, and Gallipoli are some of the many coastal towns with stunning beaches, caves and historic towers dotting the Ionic and Adriatic Seas bordering Salento. Unlike Jamaica, all of these beaches are widely accessible to the public and beach chairs and umbrellas are provided. However, it's at the Grotto de la Poesia (Caves of Poetry) in Roca, a 100-foot-wide sinkhole at the edge of the sea, that the Jamaican-Italian connection becomes clear. Here locals and tourists flock to engage in the age-old activity of cliff-diving. The 15-foot cliffs are less terrifying than our 35-foot Rick's Café version, but it's clear this pastime is a favourite (and may be part of the reason we can often find Italian tourists enjoying our west-end space!)

Language: Patois, Meet Salentino

Italians and Jamaicans share a general similarity in temperaments — we are a colourful people and hand gestures and other body language are often a big part of a conversation. In Jamaica, patois developed as an informal way of speaking and can often vary in style from parish to parish. Similarly, the various regions that comprise Italy have developed dialects which reflect their own unique historical and cultural compositions. In the Jamaica of Italy, Salentino is the dialect, and most informal conversations and popular local songs use this dialect. In fact, the use of Salentino is in part what aided the spread of reggae and dancehall music in Italy.


Music: From Calypso To Richie Stephens & The Ska Nation

Italy's connection to Jamaican music stretches as far back as pre-Independence. Check out 1957's Calypso Melody by Johnny Dorelli, the 1963 Mina classic Ollalla Gigi, and the odd Talimi Banana version by Exotic! However, the south Tarantella and Pizzica traditions are what really provided the basis for the connection to Jamaica's 'rootical' sounds. In the early '90s the Sud Sound System emerged out of Salento, and is now hailed as the pioneer of Italian “ragga” music. The group's songs are popular throughout Italy, but their lyrics are in Salentino and speak about social, political and economic issues in South Italy. The 15-year-old Casalabate Reggae Festival, Mama Nera reggae beach, and events at Torre Dell Orso, Mar de Plata and numerous beach bars along the coast all helped to cement the reggae scene. Since 2015 Salento has also been the headquarters of the Richie Stephens Ska Nation! The musical collaboration, which debuted in Jamaica at Sumfest 2017, features Stephens collaborating with a slate of Italian musicians. The Adriatic Records - Pot of Gold pairing will release Root of the Music, its second album and a tribute to ska (Jamaica's first international sound) with VP Records in August 2018.


Cannabis & Creative Industries

Jamaica is banking on the relatively new cannabis and creative industries to lift its economic performance, and so too is Salento! Their cannabis industry differs in structure from ours, mainly because only CBD products are available for sale. But shops like the Hempateria have been doing a brisk trade in product and paraphernalia for more than four years now. Castillo di Gallipoli was recently renovated by the Orione group, The Jewish Museum and a slate of walking tours have been designed to facilitate growing numbers of tourists in Salento; locally, we look forward to the completion of the Ward Theatre renovation and strengthening similar spaces and culture-based tour offerings islandwide.

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