Uwe Steger’s MIDI Madness

Fellow accordion blogger Squeezyboy tipped us to this crazy video by German accordionist Uwe Steger showing off some of his extensions for the Roland V-Accordion. I’m usually not a fan of MIDI accordions, but I’ll admit his bizarre demo makes me want to try one. And don’t be fooled by the zaniness — Steger is an accomplished accordionist, taking second place at Roland’s 1st annual V-Accordion contest last year.

The Brooklyn Rebirth of Chicha

Chicha Libre: Sonido AmazonicoOlivier Conan didn’t go to Peru to find chicha; it found him. Conan was introduced to chicha — a style of Peruvian pop music derived from Colombian cumbias — by street vendors in Lima and was immediately hooked. Ignored by critics, art students, and the middle class, chicha was music for the poor and, as such, was largely ignored outside of Peru.

That is, until Conan returned to Brooklyn and formed Chicha Libre, whose debut album ¡Sonido Amazonico! was released today. The group plays a mixture of latin rhythms, surf music and psychedelic pop inspired by the chicha bands of the 1960s that borrowed sounds from rock and roll (electric guitars, organs) and combined them both with cumbia and traditional Amazonian music. In an interview, Conan describes how Chicha Libre pays homage to those progenitors:

“We imitated the sounds but took liberties. It has since evolved into a band with its own identity and borrowings from everywhere — in a way, it is faithful to the spirit of Chicha, which itself borrowed from all corners of the world. We’re just as syncretic and trying to be just as much fun.”

The band mixes covers of forgotten Chicha classics with French-tinged originals, re-interpretations of 70s pop classics as well as cumbia versions of pieces by Satie and Ravel. You can catch the six-piece group — which includes Joshua Camp (of One Ring Zero) on the Hohner Electravox — every Monday night in April at Olivier’s Brooklyn club, Barbès.

Quick Links: Videos Around the World

  • Weltmeister Accordion Factory
    In this excerpt from Steve Mobia’s accordion documentary, Behind the Bellows, our friend Kimric Smythe visits the Weltmeister factory in Germany and gets a fascinating look at accordion production.
  • Accordion All-Stars at NAA 2008 Convention
    Missed the National Accordion Association’s recent convention in Texas? Luckily for us, YouTube user limbery has uploaded several videos of the event, including this jam by the Accordion All-Star band.
  • Russian Skydiving Bayan Player
    How do you combine your love of skydiving with your love of the accordion? By doing both at once, of course! Or maybe this is an elite Russian commando unit that parachutes into hostile territories and subdues them with accordion music…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day; at the very least, I hope everyone gets to hear a little Irish music today. If you aren’t headed to one of the Irish-themed events on our calendar or in your area, here are a few Irish accordionists who can provide the soundtrack to your day:

  • Joe Burke
    Hailing from East Galway, Burke sparked a revival of interest in Irish accordion music in the early 1960s. Influenced by early players like Paddy O’Brien and Joe Cooley, Burke’s masterful playing, live performances, and charm have established him as a living legend of Irish music.
    Joe Burke: The Morning Mist mp3
  • Sharon Shannon
    Sharon is a traditional musician in the loosest sense of the word; her influences are all ‘traditional’ but from various parts of the globe. Incorporating Portuguese, French Canadian, and Scottish influences, her 1991 debut album is the best-selling traditional Irish music album ever.
    Sharon Shannon: Blackbird mp3
  • Joe Derrane
    Born in Boston to Irish immigrant parents, Joe Derrane recorded a series of 78rpm records in the late 1940s that stunned the Irish music world with their unique styling, power, and flawless technique. After a 40-year hiatus from the button box, Derrane is again wowing audiences and received an NEA National Heritage Fellow award in 2004.

Five Questions: Tom Torriglia

Tom TorrigliaWe’re launching a new feature today called “Five Questions” — a series of brief interviews with notable personalities in the accordion world.

Our first subject is San Francisco accordionist Tom Torriglia. Tom has been in the music business since the late 1960s and has been an incredible accordion promoter over the years. He was an original member of Those Darn Accordions, is responsible for making June “National Accordion Awareness Month,” and campaigned to make the accordion San Francisco’s official instrument. Today, you can catch him playing a variety of gigs around the Bay Area, often with his retro-Italiano band, Bella Ciao.

When and why did you start playing the accordion?

I started taking lessons in 1962 at Theodore’s (Pezzolo) House of Music on Union St. in San Francisco. This was at the famous “accordion house.” My teacher was Theodore Pezzolo and I was his last student. I studied there for about eight years. When I left, he gave me all his original hand-written sheets of music, which I still have.

Before starting with the accordion, I had taken a year of piano but that didn’t work out and then one day, an accordion player came to the house to rehearse with my father who played sax and clarinet, and I was very taken with the instrument — with all the buttons and bellows and such — and I asked my parents if I could give it a try. Also, I think I was fated to play the accordion because, as everyone knows, there has to be one accordion player in each Italian-American household. And since I was the youngest child…

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Squeezin’ at SXSW 2008

SXSW Music 2008The South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival kicked off in Austin today and, with hundreds of artists performing at over eighty venues, there are plenty of accordions in the mix. As we’ve done in previous years, here’s a quick look at some performers that may have flown under your radar:

There’ll also be a number of accordion-toting bands performing that we’ve covered here before, including DeVotchKa, Pistolera, Bowerbirds, Great Lakes Myth Society, The Felice Brothers and many others.

There are few places where you can hear so many excellent artists in one place, so if you’re anywhere near Austin this week — on your way to the National Accordion Association convention in Richardson, perhaps? — stop in, have a drink, and meet your new favorite band.

The Law Accordion to Hanson Bridgett

You wouldn’t think one of San Francisco’s oldest law firms would have much to do with accordions, but then along comes this quirky commercial for Hanson Bridgett that incorporates not one, but three accordion players. Blending polka, zydeco, and conjunto, the three accordionists featured are Tom Torriglia, Gerard Landry and Miguel Govea. I still have no idea how they relate to law, but I like it.

Going to the NAA Festival?

Next week, the National Accordion Association is holding its annual festival in Richardson, Texas. It sounds like a blast — three days of concerts, workshops, and hobnobbing with fellow accordionists. I’m especially envious of the “Accordion All-Stars” performance on Friday night featuring Carl Finch of Brave Combo, Ginny Mac, Danny Jerabek of Copper Box, and many more.

If there’s anyone attending the festival who’s interested in writing something about it for Let’s Polka, drop me a line and let me know. We’ll try to make it worth your while.

If you’re in the festival mood this weekend, you can still catch the tail end of a couple good ones. The American Accordion Musicological Society (say that three times fast) is having their annual bash in Pennsylvania, with a massed band performance and numerous workshops on Sunday. Meanwhile, down in San Antonio, family-run KEDA Radio Jalapeno’s weekend party concludes with performances by Eddie “Lalo” Torres, Ricky Naranjo, and many others.

The Adventures of the Felice Brothers

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz lately about the Felice Brothers, three brothers (and a traveling dice player named Christmas… seriously) from upstate New York who play rough and tumble American roots music. They started out busking in the NYC subway and touring in a “short” school bus, but now they’re wowing critics and drawing comparisons to Dylan, Springsteen, and the Band. Not too shabby for a band whose self-titled debut just came out today.

They may not live up the comparisons yet, but make no mistake, this is honest, hearty, gritty music. You can hear James Felice’s excellent accordion all over their new album; my favorite track is the shuffling “Frankie’s Gun”:

Les Blank and the Accordion

Les BlankDocumentary filmmaker Les Blank offers glimpses into the lives and music of passionate people on the periphery of American society. Over the past forty years, he’s covered a wide variety of ethnic cultures, from rural Louisiana French musicians to Mexican-Americans in border towns to polka nuts in the Midwest. And these aren’t stilted, Travel Channel-esque accounts; his films are warm and intimate, deftly capturing the context (food, faces, scenery) from which the music originates.

Given the subject matter, it’s no surprise his films are a treasure trove for accordion lovers. Several of his films focus on Cajun and Creole musicians in Louisiana, following legends like Bois Sec Ardoin (Dry Wood), Clifton Chenier (Hot Pepper), and the Savoys (Marc & Ann). His 1989 documentary, J’ai Été Au Bal / I Went to the Dance is considered the definitive film on the history of dance music in French Southwest Louisiana.

Chulas Fronteras was one of the first films to document traditional conjunto music, including rare footage of artists like Lydia Mendoza and Santiago Jimenez Sr. (The film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” enough to be included in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.) The clip below comes from his 1984 polka documentary, In Heaven There Is No Beer (1984); it features a colorful performance of “Who Stole the Kiszka?” by Walt Solek and his band.

You can easily lose an afternoon watching clips of Blank’s films on YouTube or at UC Berkeley’s Media Resource Center and — my apologies to your boss — I highly recommend it. Or you can order the full-length films directly from Les Blank’s website.