FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

Melodeon Music with many languages

Riccardo Tesi & Banditaliana - one of the greatest Italian bands

Riccardo Tesi, photo by The Mollis"When I started, people admitting that they played the diatonic accordion were very much like mars men or UFOs. Nobody knew the instrument: 'What do you play? Diatonic Accordion??? What is that?' This was normal, nobody knew anything about it." Things have changed quite a lot since then, back in 1978. And Riccardo Tesi has had his share in reviving the accordion in Italian folk music. Today he is one of the outstanding melodeon players in the Italian folk scene. With his new band Banditaliana, he is creating innovative and rather superb music crossing borders especially towards Jazz. Michael Moll met the sympathetic Italian in the far North, at the Falun Folkmusik Festival.

1978 was the year when Riccardo came for the first time across a musician playing the diatonic accordion. He did not know then that it would change his life radically. With his 24 years, he directly fell in love with the instrument and said 'This is my instrument'. Soon he stopped to study, to dedicate all of his time to learn and play the accordion.
Before that he had not been in touch with traditional Italian music - he started with traditional music only when starting the diatonic accordion. He had used to listen to Rock, Jazz, Songwriter, and he played "very badly" guitar.

"When I started, it was very difficult to find documents and records; nobody played this instrument in Tuscany, the region where I come from. So I had to move to the South of Italy, to Sardinia, to see and learn from the traditional players. This has been my school; I just learned by ear. And little by little I tried to become more and more a musician, and less an accordion player." He started to compose his own music and developed his very own style.

Riccardo Tesi, & Banditaliana photo by The MollisSo the roots of Riccardo's accordion style are more in Southern Italy. Yet today he does not play much traditional music. "I started a long time ago with traditional music because it is the vocabulary of my instrument. But I was not born as traditional musician. If I want to be honest, I don't play traditional music, I just do my music. Because I compose, and when you compose it is not traditional. I use all what I learned about traditional music to compose, similarly like Bella Bartoc, he used traditional ideas to compose classical music. I try to do it in the same way." He adds with a laugh: "Surely we won't have the same result."

"This is my way: To do new music, music of today, but with a lot of memory. At the same time, I use all the ideas of music that I learnt: about Jazz, about Song, etc." For Riccardo, this kind of fusion of different music styles is typical for today; it is difficult to find a very pure style. His recipe for a successful fusion is "to do it in a personal way, and not just marmalade. You need to have a strong idea of what you want."

Maurizio Geri, photo by The MollisParallely to Riccardo's early ventures on the accordion, the folk music movement started to grow up. For Riccardo - and for the reputation of the diatonic accordion - it has been rather important that he was invited to play with Jazz musicians as well as well known Italian songwriters with a large audience. Even the late Fabrizio De André asked him to play on his album. "It means that there is a very strong interest to this sound, so it is a big chance for us, because we can have a large public."
Riccardo thinks that these collaborations have had a rather big impact on the accordion: "Now the diatonic accordion is an instrument, just a little bit strange, but most people know that it is an instrument, this is a big result."

Riccardo thinks that with these collaborations with well-known songwriters "our music stops to be too much folk, too much ghetto, so it can speak to other kind of people." He thinks that you have to adapt with your music to the modern society: "A century ago it was OK to play a twenty minute long ballad, but now you have to speak very shortly, the timing is completely different. If you are musician who does not want to play archaeologic music but music of today, you have to think about it. In Jazz, Myles Davis also started to play very short tunes, which was very clever. But it is not only for being clever and selling more. It is just that the language is changing. You have to stay in your time."

Since rather recently Riccardo Tesi has his own band showcasing wonderfully his music ideas, yet bringing in plenty of new ideas from the talented band member. Banditaliana is actually the first time that Riccardo plays with musicians from his home region Tuscany. Before he used to play a lot with international musicians, "with people very far from me, musically and geographically." He still likes to do that, but he felt that he needed now a band project where you have plenty of time to experiment together, a band with members from the same region, so that practising is easy.

Riccardo Tesi, photo by The MollisFor Banditaliana he found highly talented and imaginative musicians, bringing a wonderful choice of instruments together. Maurizio Geri is the sensitive and distinctive singer and guitarist otf the band, having both a knowledge of Folk and Jazz music (he used to play Django Reinhard's guitar style). The percussion player Ettore Bonafè from Florence has an ethnic approach to the music: He studied Tabla in India, he knows rhythms from Africa, and has also played Jazz. Finally, Saxophone player Claudio Carboni comes from an Italian dance music style corresponding to the French Musette, so he has a very staccato phrasing on the sax. All these musical backgrounds are in Banditaliana successfully melted. The material is to a big extent composed by Riccardo Tesi, along to some traditionals and songs from comtemporary songwriters.

"Everything we play we try to play in our way, with our sensibility, in our musical world."

Banditaliana play in very different contexts, mainly on Jazz Festivals and Folk & World Festivals, but also beyond that. "I am happy about it, because I think there is only good music and bad music. I am happy to open our music to young people. Now when we play our audience is very broad - from teenagers to older people. I am happy about it because I like to speak many languages, making only one music."


One of Riccardo Tesi's recent CDs was reviewed in FolkWorld No. 17. The latest CD is still awaited by FolkWorld's review panel.
The label of Riccardo is Felmay. Contact to Riccardo by e-mail is

Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis, taken at the Falun Folkmusik Festival

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