How Melbourne band Siesta Cartel are bringing together Australia’s Italian community

How Melbourne band Siesta Cartel are bringing together Australia’s Italian community

Siesta Cartel
Words by Augustus Welby

Adam Cursio formed Siesta Cartel in late 2018. The idea was simple; to reconnect with the traditional Italian music he grew up with.

His ambitions for the band, however, are grander in scale – to help reunite all Italians in Australia with their roots.

Siesta Cartel’s first gig was at the 2018 Carlton Italian Festa where they received immediate support from the city’s Italian community. They’ve gone on to play at the Australian Open, Crown’s Gradi Italian Festival and returned to Lygon St for this year’s Melbourne Italian Festa.

“I’ve always played in the Italian scene but never really this seriously,” says Cursio. “A lot of the old style gigs in social clubs and at weddings and stuff like that. But then we got together and revisited the same old songs, but we’re turning them on their heads a little bit, changing rhythms and tempos.”

Siesta Cartel are performing the next two Friday nights at Preston’s Oliva Social, an Italian-themed venue that hearkens back to European village social clubs. The aim is to offer something for all ages and bring people out of their nuclear family bubbles.

The Siesta Cartel repertoire includes Italian songs spanning from the 1800s to the 1960s.

“There’s a lot of Neapolitan songs, songs from Napoli in Italy,” says Cursio. “There’s a lot of songs from around Sicily, Calabria and generally the southern part of Italy, which is where most of the migrants here are from and that’s the music that we grew up with.

“My passion for music probably came from the Cuban stuff and salsa and all the Latin sounds. That’s what hooked me in music. We’re trying to bring that into the Italian genre, we’re trying to Latinise it, and if it’s a slower song it’s a bit more reggae.”

Their performances tend to start with acoustic guitar, accordion and mandolin. It gets louder as the show progresses with the addition of electric bass and a full rock drumkit. Siesta Cartel’s interest in updating traditional Italian music makes them outliers on Melbourne’s Italian music circuit.

“There’s some that are really sticking to the old school sound and being really folk [purists]. I don’t know that anyone is doing what we’re doing,” Cursio says.

As the children of immigrants, Cursio and co. recognise the significance of reconnecting with their family heritage. Music is a great vehicle for doing so.

“It’s something that I’ve always done, playing it at home, studying it,” he says. “That’s how I really got a good grasp of the language, listening to all this Italian music, singing in dialect. Every dialect is different. They all sound different and people comment, ‘how can you sing in so many dialects?’ And I’m lucky that my first language was English so I haven’t locked my tongue into a dialect.”

Cursio takes particular satisfaction from inspiring the next generation.

“When people show me videos of their kids playing accordions and tambourines at home, they look at us like we’re inspirational, but they really are the inspiration for me,” he says.

“When I see that it gives me a whole year of drive to want to go to Canada or go to America or record something so we can do that for more kids. Because that’s how I got hooked and it’s just the best thing because it opens up a whole world of language, culture, your heritage. Music is just a medium.”

Siesta Cartel haven’t written any originals yet, but it’s certainly on the cards. International travel is also a high priority.

“We’ve got aspirations to get to Canada first and if we can go to Canada and play for a crowd and they enjoy it, then we could go somewhere else too.”

You can see Siesta Cartel on Friday December 13 and Friday December 20 at Oliva Social, Preston. Check the venue’s Facebook for more info.