Flickr Find: Kids Accordion Band

1930s era kids accordion bandRock stars of tomorrow, uploaded by ’56 Mojo

As we’ve seen before, I have a soft spot for these old photos of kids accordion bands. (This one apparently dates from around 1935.) But while these bands seemed to be a dime a dozen in those days, I’d really like to see photos of modern-day kids accordion bands. Anybody know of one?

Kimmo Pohjonen is One Crazy Dude

Kimmo Pohjonen: Earth Machine MusicAs someone who comes from a long line of farmers, I’m no stranger to tractors and farm equipment. But I never thought of using their sounds in music, which is why I’m not a famous avant-garde musician like Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen. He toured four UK farms and recorded the sounds of tractors, milking machines, threshers, and more, so he could tweak, loop, and sample them with his MIDI accordion for his project, “Earth Machine Music.”

“When you amplify and equalise those sounds, and you have a great PA, you can suddenly hear music and rhythms. I’m sure people who come to the concerts will be surprised at what great sounds they have. These are kind of forgotten sounds. Everybody knows them, and everybody knows accordion sounds, too – but not like this.”

Next month, Pohjonen will revisit those farms for a series of concerts in which he’ll perform new music he has composed specifically for each venue. Local farmers will even “play along” with Pohjonen, firing up their tractors and machinery during the performance. There’s even a documentary film in the works. I wonder if it will spawn a whole new genre of agricultural accordionists…

Update: I found a YouTube clip of Pohjonen discussing the project, as well as a piece in the Telegraph.

On the Calendar: Kaminska and Crawfish

After spending the weekend adding concerts and festivals to our accordion events calendar, I’ll highlight two events going on this week. First, classical accordionist Lidia Kaminska performs Rimsky-Korsakov and Piazzolla with the Haddonfield Symphony in Camden, NJ. Yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer had a excellent profile of Lidia and her quest to rehabiliate the accordion’s image. “I don’t want people to think of accordion only as a polka or wedding instrument. I want people to have knowledge – that it is a serious classical instrument.”

Meanwhile, down on the Bayou, this weekend’s Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival features some of the biggest names in Cajun/Zydeco. Performers include Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, the Pine Leaf Boys, Geno Delafose, Keith Frank, and Corey Ledet, but the main attraction is the crawfish. There’ll be a crawfish cookoff, a crawfish eating contest, the crowning of the Crawfish Queen, and, of course, crawfish races. Please, no wagering.

Quick Links: MySpace Roundup

One of the benefits of having a MySpace page for Let’s Polka is it helps us keep tabs on tons of artists that might otherwise fly under our radar. Here’s are a few that have recently caught our ear:

  • Piñata Protest
    We’ve seen a few punk/polka bands, even some punk/zydeco, but San Antonio’s Piñata Protest is the first punk/Tejano band we’ve come across. An answer to the traditional Tejano music its members grew up hating, this is what would happen “if Ramon Ayala and Sid Vicious had a baby.”
  • Amber Lee and the Anomalies
    Accordionist Amber Lee Baker, accompanied by banjo and fiddle, sings of rodeo clowns and whaler’s wives while leading this charming acoustic group from Anna’s old stomping grounds (Santa Rosa, CA). Their debut CD, Estuaries, is due out next month.
  • Accordion Death Squad
    Armed with an excellent name, the Accordion Death Squad plays “gypsy music from Ratsylvania,” which is apparently near Charlottesville, Virginia. Swirling accordion and violin guaranteed to keep you dancing.

Are you in a band we need to hear? Add us on MySpace.

The Classy, Classical Accordion

Sunday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times had an interesting piece on the accordion’s role in classical music and film. It covers the instrument’s history and mechanics before focusing on classical accordionist Nick Ariondo, composer Samuel Zyman, and prolific soundtrack accordionist Frank Marocco. Ariondo explains what makes the accordion so expressive — and difficult to play:

“When you see the piano side of it, complete with white and black notes, you expect to see hammers, not valves. But this is a push-and-pull reed instrument. When you pull out on the accordion, you’re sucking air into it. It sounds like a harmonica. The bellows is like the bow on the violin. It’s very difficult to master.”

I detect a somewhat snooty tone in the article, particularly the emphasis that the “accordion is not just an instrument of the people.” Then again, maybe I’m just hurt because Frank Marocco’s comment — “most of the accordion players never took it much further… they learned to play a little polka, a little waltz, a march, and they’re satisfied” — hits a little too close to home.

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

A Mad and Faithful DeVotchKa

Devotchka, A Mad and Faithful TellingOf all the bands I’ve discovered while writing for Let’s Polka, DeVotchKa is quite possibly my favorite. We saw them at a club in San Francisco a couple years ago and were blown away — their unique brand of gypsy-mariachi rock was infectious and it’s hard to dislike any band that sports an accordionist/violinist, a drummer/trumpet player, a tuba player, and a wine-swigging lead singer. Two years later, after making a splash with their soundtrack to the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine, DeVotchKa does not disappoint with their new album, A Mad and Faithful Telling.

It’s easy to get caught up in the novelty of DeVotchKa’s sound — the cinematic swells, the mariachi horns, the tinkling glockenspiels — but don’t overlook the rich songs bubbling under that melting pot’s surface. “Transliterator” balances frenzy and restraint beautifully, the shuffling “Head Honcho” carries you away, and “Undone” is just achingly stunning.

We loved accordionist Tom Hagerman’s recent solo album, The Breakfast Playground, and — from his fierce violin on “Comrade Z” to his playful accordion on “Strizzalo” — he plays a huge role on this record. Other bands have helped put the accordion on the indie rock map in recent years, but few carry it as naturally or as well as DeVotchKa.

(Dave’s Accordion) School is In Session

If you live in L.A. and play the accordion, there’s a good chance you’ve been to Dave’s Accordion School. Located in Atwater Village, Dave’s has been offering accordion lessons and repairs since 1971. Run by Dave Caballero and his wife Veronika, the pair met years ago when Veronika wandered into the shop looking for accordion lessons. (Three children and three grandchildren later, I guess you could say the lessons went well.) Here’s a nice video profile of Dave’s Accordion School put together by a USC School of Journalism student.

La India Canela on NPR

La India Canela - Merengue Tipico From the Dominican RepublicThere was a great interview on NPR today with Dominican accordionist La India Canela. She has twice won the Cassandra award for her hit songs and is now releasing an album in the United States, Merengue Tipico from the Dominican Republic.

She had a tough start; her father didn’t want her to play the accordion, so she had to hide to practice. Then, after she was discovered, she had to convince him to let her play in the city. Overcoming the social stigma of the accordion being a man’s instrument was a challenge, but her love for the music was deep and she was determined to stick with it.

“Accordion is very profound, and you feel it probably from the moment you are in your mother’s womb.”

Now she’s one of The Dominican Republic’s most famous musicians. You can listen to the NPR interview as well as some clips of her playing here.

Be a Big Squeeze!

Texas Folklife has extended the deadline for its second annual Big Squeeze contest until next Friday, April 19. The contest is open to accordion players under 25 who will compete for a $500 prize and a day of recording time at the historic SugarHill Recording Studios in Houston. Four semi-finalists will be chosen to perform live on May 11 at Austin’s new Mexican American Cultural Center. Two finalists will then perform at the 19th annual Accordion Kings & Queens concert featuring Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws and La Tropa F.

Here’s a clip of last year’s winner, Juan Longoria, Jr.:

Keeping the “Happy Music” Alive

Chicago Public Radio had a great story today on the local Chicago bands and fans who are working hard to keep polka alive. The piece starts out at the weekly “Therapy Tuesday” dances held at Major Hall and goes on to include interviews with Eddie Blazonczyk Jr. of the Versatones, as well as “Dandy” Don and “Jolly” James of the Polkaholics. James talks about how playing in the punk-rock Polkaholics changed his mind about polka:

“I thought polka was kind of square. I thought old blue-haired ladies listen to it, and they do, and they rock, and they can dance my butt off, which I’ve learned.”

You can listen to the story — or read a full transcript — on the Chicago Public Radio website. There’s also an accompanying photo slideshow.

Older posts »