FolkWorld article by Christian Moll :

Dancing Accordeons

Danças Ocultas - exciting sounds from Portugal

I had the great pleasure to attend the Portugal special evening at the 2nd Tilburg (Netherlands) International Folk Festival in January 2001. Highlight of the evening for me was a band that was announced in the programme with the following line up: 4 Concertinas. Danças Ocultas are a very special band - their music is breathtaking, they play with lots of passion...

As I entered the hall to see Danças Ocultas, I saw that they are not a aband with four concertinas, but with four diatonic accordions. Artur Fernandes, leader of the band states "I don't know why, but in Portugal the diatonic accordion has the wrong name 'Concertina'!" As we now know why they are sometimes announced as four concertinas, we can go further to exploit more of their music.

Artur describes: " We make a new music to an old instrument. The diatonic accordion has some limitations, however, we try not to worry about the limitations, but we are using the capabilities. On the other hand, all of the family of accordions is associated with virtuous soloist players; we prefer to explore the expressive side of the instrument and therefore communicate through collective emotion." And collective emotion can be felt when you see them playing - their shows are so full of emotion. Their musical interaction is very strong.

"We play by heart, in order to privilegiate the collective emotion, trying to promote the visual contact displaying the four chairs in a half-circle in the center of the stage. Because of this, there is a kind of complicity that provokes a special empathy between the audiance and the musicians. To make this work we, like better playing in concert rooms and auditoriums..."

In the accordion quartett the four musicians have all their individual part. "As far as the instrument allows, we have now a more specified musical functions for each of the members. In early days of the band we have had a rotational role. Filipe Ricardo plays mostly the bass, Filipe Cal the harmony, Francisco Miguel the melodic counterpoint and I play melodic lines."

And not only in the way of arranging the material they have develloped during the time. In the beginning they played quite a lot of traditional music. On their first album ("Danças Ocultas", '96) you can find traditional music and tunes composed by Bitocas (their sound technician) and by Artur; on their second CD ("Ar", '98) you can find self composed material by all of the band members.

All of them first played music in folkloric dance music groups, later they all had classical music education (Sax, Cello and Composition). Artur started playing diatonic accordion following a family tradition, but he did not learn it the 'traditional way' - "I didn't learn playing this instrument hearing and seeing other players, as it is usual in my country, but instead I had classical musical education and studied it by music. Very early in my life, I started teaching music in '89. I decided to join and form the band "Dancas Ocultas" with my first three pupils."

"The band 'Danças Ocultas' started in '89 when giving collective lessons and playing transcriptions of classical partitions - Aida overture (Verdi), Air from the G string (Bach) - and other countries' folk music - Italy, Brazil... When I went to study classical composition, my university teacher advised me to compose for a diatonic accordion quartet. So I started composing to the band getting out of the instrument's folkloric tradition and tried to look for the natural wills of the instrument. In '93 Gabriel Gomes, Madredeus' accordionist heard our work and showed interest in producing our first album, what he did, we recorded it in '94 and it was published in '96 by EMI Portugal."

When they are playing in Portugal, this is more in the center and the south - in Artur's opinion this is because this regions are promoting more cultural events, and the North maybe has a more conservative attitude with the diatonic accordion. Dan&ccedol,as Ocultas have played since '97 in Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Morocco (tours and isolated concerts). "Most of our audiance is between 20 and 40, going to attend diverse cultural events and having a curiosity to see new things."

The band members have other projects besides this band. Artur: "Francisco Miguel goes on collaborating with folkloric dancing groups, Filipe Cal and Filipe Ricardo are members of "Tunas" (University bands) and I also play in another musical project called "4Portango" vocationeted to play Piazzolla Tangos with some Portuguese accent. We are frequently invited to play in concerts and make recordings. I myself compose music to theatre, dance and cinema and at the same time I develop a pedagogic activity shared between the teaching of the instrument and the teaching of composition."

The diatonic accordion (known in Portugal as concertina) was nearly disappearing some years ago. "At the time I started playing diatonic accordion it was just disappearing - not only in our region (Centre West), but also in the rest of the country. Nowadays, we are having a rebirth of this instrument and we can say that it is its strongest moment ever - both quantity and quality of players. But this movement, excluding "Dancas Ocultas" is circumscribed to a conservative attitude in the folkloric field."

In Portugal the roots related music scene is getting stronger - but (as in so many other countries) the media attention is missing at the moment. "The traditional Portuguese music is alive due to a musician generation that comes from the political intervention music of the 70's close to the traditional roots. These musicians used to play several musical styles (Jazz, Pop, and Rock among others), they joined bands and by the early 90's they revisited the Portuguese traditional music in a revival movement against the Anglo-Saxon dominant musical influence. It's in this context that new bands and voices appear like Madredeus, Dulce Pontes, Camane, Paulo Braganca, Gaiteiros de Lisboa, Frei Fado d'el Rei, Amelia Muge, among others. In this line, a lot of urban young people began to show interest in traditional instruments which were getting old fashioned (diatonic accordion, "gaita-de-fole (bagpipe), "Sanfona" (Hurdy-gurdy), "cavaquinho" a little chord instrument like the Hawaiian ukulele). But this recent movement hasn't had a better exposition due to the mercantilist options of the music editors and consequently of the mass media. The movement is increasing just with the opportunity of playing together in a few traditional dance and music festivals."

Still, hopfully the music scene gets stronger and we - as inhabitants of other parts of Europe (and the world) - are getting in future more often to exploit interesting music from Portugal. For example Danças Ocultas are well worth to see and hear. And if you are organising a folk music event - get in contact with them to present your audience one of the hottest accordion quartetts in the world...

Further infos/contact: e-mail Ana Paula @ O Acaso.

Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis, taken at Tilburg International Folk Festival in January 2001

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