Accordion Rappers, Unite!

When it comes to musical subgenres, are there any more neglected than accordion hip-hop? Lewis of the TDA Squeeze Blog linked to this week’s top entertainment picks from the Boston Globe, which highlights a show Friday in Cambridge featuring not one, but TWO acts with accordion-playing rappers. Seriously, what are the odds?

Called “polka’s antithesis” by the New York Times, Julz A (aka Julian Hintz) bills himself as “somewhere between Beck and The Beastie Boys with an accordion,” and the tracks from his solo EP, “Squeeze Rock”, definitely fit the comparison (see links below). While Julz A goes it alone, Ghorar Deem Express (which translates literally to “the horse?s egg” in Bengali, used to mean “nonsense”) is a ten-person combo whose music runs the gamut from rock to klezmer to funk to balkan folk, with plenty of stops in-between. Rachel Koppelman is their accordionist.

Check out some samples:

SXSW Accordion Wrapup

SXSW logoThe annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival just wrapped up in Austin and there were plenty of performances by talented, independent bands featuring accordions. Here are a few bands to check out (with MP3 samples):

  • Madagascar
    This Baltimore band incorporates the accordion, ukulele, and musical saw into hauntingly beautiful, mostly instrumental tunes. Their first album, “Forced March”, was released this last June.
    All That Spring You Could See Halley’s Comet
  • Very Be Careful
    VBC brings rollicking, make-you-dance Colombian vallenato rhythms to the masses, via Los Angeles. If you like cumbia, you’ll like these guys.
    El Camionero
  • The Theater Fire
    They tell stories about “drifters, hangmen, brothers, and lovers grappling with their own honor, trust, guilt and loss,” over music that combines country with mariachi, folk, and blues influences.
  • Noahlewis’ Mahlon Taits
    A unique, jazzy instrumental group from Tokyo, featuring some great musical saw playing. (The musical saw must be making a comeback… or maybe it never left.) Very mellow and ethereal.
    Street of Dreams

Gary Sredzienski’s Polka Party

“Who Needs the DJ?” is a great feature from today’s Pitchfork on the decline of community radio, and DJs in particular. It focuses on Gary Sredzienski, host of the popular Polka Party radio show on WUNH-FM 91.3 in New Hampshire. Gary’s been doing the show for nearly 20 years, in addition to performing solo and with his “Ethnic/Instrumental Rock & Xtreme Polka” band, The Serfs (definitely worth checking out!).

The piece covers the history of the show and Gary’s ongoing struggle to keep fans happy — whether they’re into traditional Polish music, Polish-American polkas, or something else entirely. And he’s no fan of current polka music:

“When he gets new polka albums in the mail, he throws them straight into the trash. ‘Today the accordion is just used to bellow-shake in a polka band, and it’s mostly two or three trumpets playing now. It’s turned into a brass form. And to me it sounds like a freakin’ invasion of a country.'”

Even if you’re beyond the reach of WUNH-FM’s antenna, you can still listen to The Polka Party on Saturday mornings from 9-11am EST via the WUNH website.

St. Patrick’s Day Irish Accordion Links

Leprechaun w/accordionTop o’ the morning to ya! While you’re busy drinking green beer and making naughty leprechaun jokes, don’t forget that the accordion has an important role to play today, too. It’s a key element of traditional Irish music (and I’m not just talking about U2). In that spirit, here are a few links to explore on this St. Patrick’s Day:

  • Han’s Irish Squeezebox Page and RamblingHouse are good places for an overview of Irish button box playing, including history and biographies of its most famous performers. Han’s site even includes fingerings and charts for a handful of tunes.
  • Will Zarwell’s’s Irish Accordion Discography is a fantastic resource, with links to audio samples, reviews, and even videos of numerous performers, including Joe Derrane, Andrew MacNamara, and Billy McComiskey.
  • Joe Cooley only recorded one album, but his unique style of melodeon playing has been hugely influential. You can buy a CD of his album or listen to clips online at Amazon (just try to ignore that they’ve mislabeled his album as being by Clannad!).

Obviously this is just a starting point — share your own favorite Irish accordion links in the comments.

San Francisco Main Squeeze Pageant

Tom Torriglia wanted us to spread the word about the 16th Annual San Francisco Accordion Festival — Saturday, June 4th from noon to 6pm at the Cannery (at Fisherman’s Wharf). It’s a fun, free event held to celebrate National Accordion Awareness Month, with numerous accordion-based bands performing and a raffle to raise money for Music in Schools Today.

One of the festival highlights is the Main Squeeze Pageant, where contestants are judged based on talent, costume, and the answer to the question “Why should you be San Francisco’s Main Squeeze?” Last year’s winner, Kielbasia, wowed the crowd with her spunky “Pierogi Polka.” To enter this year?s pageant, contact Tom and start working on your costume!

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Accordion Hero Post-Mortem

Following up on our Accordion Hero post, the game’s developers have written a post-mortem on its creation, entitled “A Tight Squeeze: The Making of Accordion Hero”. As you might expect, it’s filled with more Hasselhoff and umlaut jokes than the original parody, but it’s worth checking out just for the photo of their “prototype” accordion controller.

Circus Music Class in Oakland

Have you always wanted to run away and join the circus? If you’re in the SF Bay Area this weekend, you can take a step towards that dream with the circus music class offered at Smythe’s Accordion Center in Oakland. Accordionist Nada Lewis will be teaching the class, which starts at 10:45am on Saturday, costs $20, and is open to all musicians (not just accordions). There will be another session next weekend (March 25th) with different music, so you can build your repertoire for that Ringling Brothers audition.

State of the Polka 2006

As if our site alone isn’t enough to keep polka at the center of America’s collective consciousness, here’s a news story from the AP: “Enthusiasts Trying to Revive Polka”. The article begins with Art Altenburg’s desire to sell his Milwaukee concertina bar (“The Only Concertina Bar in the USA”) and then covers how polka fans from coast-to-coast are keeping the polka tradition alive.

Ray Zalokar, who runs and Ken Irwin of Rounder Records (home of Brave Combo and Jimmy Sturr), are both quoted and talk about promoting the polka to younger audiences.

“Irwin said the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou changed people’s attitudes about bluegrass. Polka needs something similar that shows the music and culture in a positive light, he said. ‘I think it is really infectious music… There is a great amount of talent out there. People, when exposed to it, seem to really enjoy it.'”

That got me thinking — isn’t it time for Hollywood to make a blockbuster polka/accordion movie? With the success of Ray and Walk the Line, America’s clearly hungry for a Frankie Yankovic biopic. Come on, Spielberg, give the Polka King his due!

Guy Klucevsek Interview

Following up on our Vancouver Squeezefest post, I found a new interview with Guy Klucevsek where he discusses his compositions, his work as part of the Accordion Tribe, and his upcoming performances this weekend at the big ‘Fest. He mentions why he thinks people are continually drawn to the accordion’s unique sound:

“I think it has sort of a connection with memory and nostalgia and melancholy… and, unfortunately, melancholy is something that never seems to go out of style. We always seem to have more and more occasions to be melancholy, the way the world is going.”

Vancouver Squeezefest, March 10-12

Vancouver Squeezefest posterLooking for accordion excitement in the Vancouver, British Columbia, area this weekend? Check out Vancouver Squeezefest, held this Friday through Sunday at Rime. Guy Klucevsek is headlining and will be playing a solo set each night; other perfomers include Amy Denio, David P. Smith, and the Jessica Lurie Ensemble.

Drop us a line if you go and we’ll post your review here next week. We’ll also appoint you as Let’s Polka’s Vancouver bureau chief.

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