Ever since the Polka and Cajun/Zydeco categories were eliminated from the Grammys, it’s been tougher for accordion-toting artists to bring home Grammy hardware. But that didn’t stop some of our favorites from breaking through at this year’s event.
Los Angeles’s La Santa Cecilia has been building a national following over the past couple years and won Best Latin Rock/Urban/Alternative Album last night for their major label debut, Treinta Días. If you haven’t heard their unique and lively fusion of rock, jazz, and latin rhythms—and the incredible voice of Marisol Hernandez—check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier was also honored posthumously with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. If you watched the prime-time show last night, you may have noticed that The Beatles received the same award. Pretty good company for the King of Zydeco, eh?
Over the years, Smithsonian Folkways — the Smithsonian Institution’s non-profit record label — has done an amazing job documenting and sharing the musical heritage of cultures around the world. The latest example is ¡Y Que Viva Venezuela! featuring an all-star group of Venezuelan musicians performing joropo oriental.
Joropo is a popular folk style found across Venezuela and Colombia; it’s a fast, string-driven music resembling the waltz, with both African and European influences. Joropo oriental is a flavor of joropo rooted in Venezuela’s eastern coast around the city of Cumaná. The bandola and bandolín are key instruments, often joined by cuatro, maracas, and caja. The button accordion isn’t always found in joropo oriental, but accordionist Mónico Márquez makes the most of its appearances in this collection.
Longtime readers may remember us writing about Renato Borghetti, the excellent accordionist from the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil. Today, we have a track from an artist who has influenced Borghetti heavily — fellow gaucho accordionist/composer Gilberto Monteiro. Monteiro isn’t as well known outside of Brazil as Borghetti, but his talents are no less impressive; it has been said he is of the few accordionists who impressed Astor Piazzolla.
Forget Guitar Hero. In Valledupar, Colombia — the birthplace of vallenato music — children dream of becoming accordion stars. And for many of those children, Andres “Turco” Gil’s accordion school is the perfect place to start their journey.
Gil has about 1,000 students, some as young as 3 years old, but most between the ages of 6 and 15. They attend his school for free, with tuition supported by donations, proceeds from concerts, and tuition from other students who come from around the world to study with Gil. Many have the opportunity to win prizes at Valledupar’s annual accordion festival, but according to Gil, the accordion plays a more important role to his students, most of whom live in poverty:
“A child who plays accordion or other instrument doesn’t pick up a gun… The music makes them noble, it changes their heart. They start to sing, they forget about their problems and they feel happy.”
This audio slideshow shows Gil’s school in action, including one of his star pupils, a 9 year old blind boy named Juan David Atencia.
Yesterday’s New York Times had a rave review for a recent performance by Chango Spasiuk, one of our favorite Argentine accordionists. Spasiuk is best known as an innovator of chamamé, a folk music from northeast Argentina which blends native Guarani, Creole and European traditions. But Spasiuk’s music goes beyond the traditional, incorporating rock, jazz and even avant-garde references. He’s drawn comparisons to his fellow countryman, the legendary Astor Piazzolla, and indeed, Spasiuk may well be doing for chamamé what Piazzolla did for tango.
For any merengue típico fans: here’s a fun video of La India Canela talking about the accordion during recording sessions in the Dominican Republic. Unlike big-band merengue, merengue típico centers on the accordion and relentless improvisation. And despite being a rare female accordionist (and bandleader), she has won the Dominican’s highest prize in the arts (the Casandra) twice and is nationally famous for her music. Born Lidia Maria Hernandez Lopez, she was nicknamed “La India Canela” (“Cinnamon Indian”) by a radio host who said it described her look and musical flavor.
If you want to hear more, be sure to check out her recent release on the Smithsonian Folkways label.
We’ve posted clips of forró — a style of dance music from Brazil — before, but never quite like this. Our pal Squeezyboy turned us on to an entire cottage industry of mashups that combine forró with modern pop songs. While you think everything might sound better with some accordion, they aren’t all winners; but we definitely share his love for this forró remix of the Gnarls Barkley hit “Crazy.” I’m not sure who’s behind this accordion mashup madness, but I dig it.
So far this month, we’ve focused entirely on the accordion; but today we turn to its expressive cousin, the bandoneon. And you can’t talk about the bandoneon without talking about Astor Piazzolla. Father of the nueva tango, Piazzolla revolutionized classic Argentine tango by incorporating elements of classical music and jazz, harmonies and dissonance, and new instrumentation (e.g. electric guitar, saxophone). This stirring performance of “Hora Cero” comes from the last performance of Piazzolla’s New Tango Sex-Tet.
Bouncy cumbias, a pumping accordion, Spanish lyrics… you would assume this music comes from somewhere south of the border. But no, Pistolera comes straight outta Brooklyn, combining Latin rhythms and instrumentation with indie-rock guitar and politically conscious lyrics. Which makes sense given the background of leader Sandra Lilia Velasquez, who grew up in San Diego listening to a combination of alternative rock and her mom’s cumbia records. They recently released their second album, En Este Camino, but this track comes from their excellent debut, Siempre Hay Salida.
Day #2 of our “25 Songs” accordion advent calendar takes us to the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil, near the Argentine border. There, we find the music of the gauchos, and of the incredible Brazilian accordionist Renato Borghetti. For more than twenty years, Borghetti has been adapting and modernizing the folk sounds of his native land, using the gaita-ponto (diatonic button accordion) as his tool of choice. This track comes from one of his earliest albums, Renato Borghetti, and was also included on the Planet Squeezebox compilation (sadly out of print).