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‘Los Gauchos de Roldán’ Share Down-Home Dance Music Tradition From Rural Uruguay

February 8, 2012

Smithsonian Folkways records has a new album by Los Gauchos de Roldán, from Uruguay. Lovely view of musicians preserving and speaking for a folk tradition from the rural areas of a country that mixes the culture of Argentina and Brasil (and is, of course, its own thing).

Nice little documentary about Los Gauchos

Diatonic accordion and bandoneón together, interesting. Seems like the bandoneón is playing mostly chordal accompaniment, the diatonic accordion is melody on top, with guitar rhythm. Rich lively stuff. Very different from the arch-tangos Piazzolla fans will associate with the bandoneón.

The leader, Walter Roldán has a website, “Ocho Bajos,” which is an awesome name coming from an eight-bass accordion-player. Very cool.

I’m not sure how this relates with the Chamamé music of Chango Spasiuk and Luiz Carlos Borges from Argentina, or the gaucho accordion of Renato Borghetti from Brasil. I’d like to learn more about how all those traditions fit together.

We have an earlier Gauchos de Roldán record which we’ve played on the show. I hope we get to hear more.


From their fine press-release: (honest journalism, I won’t claim I wrote it myself, eh?)

Button accordionist and bandleader Walter Roldán hails from Tacuarembó, Uruguay, a melting pot of Spanish creoles, indigenous descendants, Afro-Uruguayans, Brazilians, and European immigrants. It’s also a center of rural northern Uruguayan traditional music, notable for the two-row button accordion and the bandoneón, a complex accordion-like instrument with a lush sound that is also a symbol of the urban Tango tradition.

In the mid-19th century, the popular European dance forms of the time—polka, mazurka, waltz and schottische—arrived in Uruguay and joined the Afro-Creole rhythms of habanera, maxixa and milonga to eventually take root in the countryside. The rhythms were then “reshaped in the style and way of thinking of the paisanos (rural people),” says Roldán. The rhythmically infectious result can be favorably compared to south Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole traditions played with a Tango sensibility.

“We were just a few that kept up the struggle for people not to forget that the two-row button accordion is part of our roots. The majority of our grandparents and their relatives met at dances where the two-row button accordion was played. Then they fell in love, and got married. That’s the way it was, and we keep up the fight,” states Roldán.

On the new album, Roldán pumps out time-honored polcas and chotis, Brazilian-tinged maxixas, and more on his button accordion. With songs inherited from Roldán’s father and grandmother, ‘Los Gauchos de Roldán’ also features bandoneón master Chichí Vidiella, guitarist Bernardo Sanguinetti and Ricardo Cunha on guitarrón (a classical guitar with a large, deep body and lower tuning). Renowned and formerly-exiled Uruguayan guitarist and singer Numa Moraes makes a guest appearance on multiple tracks.

Moraes says, “We were known for the soccer World Cup, and for the first time people are starting to talk about Uruguay in another way, and from a musical point of view I think that it will be very important…. It is a very small country, but it has a great variety of rhythms and colors in its music.”

In addition to countless performances in Uruguay, Los Gauchos de Roldán have been featured at the Chicago World Music Festival, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, TX.

A co-production with the Smithsonian Latino Center, showcases the diverse musical heritage of the 50 million Latinos living in the USA.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2013 7:51 pm

    Piazzolla is from ARGENTINA not Uruguay or Brazil. Plus these folk instruments are a completely different instrument to the BANDONEON that is used in the TANGO.

    • December 29, 2013 9:03 pm

      Yes, Piazzolla is Argentine (though I like that he spent time growing up on Brooklyn, which showed when I heard an interview). I believe these folks are playing bandoneón though (and diatonic accordion too as I recall), just in a different style than the more well-known tango. There are several different types of bandoneón with different button patterns, I’m not sure which types these folks are using. All of them are apparently getting rarer and less affordable and available in Argentina and elsewhere as collectors buy them up, and sadly, too often don’t play them.

      A wonderful film, The Sound of the Bandoneón (El Sonido del Bandoneón) details Argentine artists of both the urban tango style (with examples played in a big concert hall) with the country style more like this Uruguayan group Los Gauchos. Both were played on bandoneón, and the main comment the film made was the the country player deserved a better instrument to match his talent and his role as a torch-bearer for the rural style.

      I note that Tango is played in Uruguay too, we’ve played recordings by Rene Marino Rivero on our radio show that were more like Piazzolla’s bandoneón style.

      Note, there’s also the chemnitzer concertina branch of the family, just to confuse things further.

      • December 30, 2013 1:23 am

        Yes we have a chemnitzer concertina in our museum accordion collection. That’s all interesting! I see what you were getting at now, but ordinary readers wouldnt (I didnt) as you didnt leave any of those clues!

  2. December 31, 2013 2:37 pm

    I’m glad for the chance to clarify. I do recommend that Sound of the Bandoneon film. It was great. The bandoneon and accordion tradition from the “gaucho” region of the pampas, crossing over into Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, is quite interesting to me. I’d like to learn much more about how the players in various countries interact. More for future research.

    • December 31, 2013 4:47 pm

      I should have watched ALL the video! (Not concentrating end of year silly season!) I will try to watch the film you mention thanks. ………………………DO you have any information about the DIFFERENCE between the Chemnitzer COncertina and the Bandoneon. I try to look up on the internet but theres so much in info but not specific to comparing two instruments…………………………….. The Chemnitzer is locked up in the new museum cabinets with the precious accordions but if I was younger I would have learnt to play it (for Piazolla Tangos!!!!) ……………………………………. [Had New Years Eve party last night with my Brazilian friends plus Uruguayans Columbia Dutch AMerican Indian/Polynesian Maori and European New Zealanders! All close to home here in NEw Zealand! ANyway so many of them (especially the Uruguayans) asked if I had my accordion with me!! It is lovely that appreciate my attempts at playing to THEIR music!……… ……………….. …………… I was schooled as a classical accordionist but stopped playing for many years. These days I usually play Tangos and with their Brazilian dance music including electronic latino lounge. Plus I had studied up about Forro to play along to at their last dance party!]………………………. Here’s a pic of some of the museum instruments we have. Every year we have a concert. (Sorry it is a really bad image I had to take though little glass framed photo just now. Hope you can access the photo from this facebook link of mine!)

  3. December 31, 2013 5:04 pm

    Actually I should find you the link to the actual museum website of the man whose collection it is. Kevin Friedrich started learning the accordion from my parents then went all the way up to World Championship level. He now lives in New YOrk and was President now Ambassador for the CIA (COnfederation INternationale Des Accordionistes) ………………. A big part of his collection came from the estate of my old music teacher Graeme Romani in ENgland who I never actually met until many years later! (I learnt by Tapespondence!) Dad learnt off Matyas Sieber (GS MAthis) in England. (Mum was ENglish too but learnt violin at as a schoolkid at New YOrk’s Carnegie Hall. We all ended up as accordion teachers here in NZ!) ……………

  4. December 31, 2013 5:05 pm

    Sorry thats still not exactly right: Here’s the actual accordions!

  5. January 1, 2014 11:18 am

    Oh! I’ve looked at that collection online and been jealous. My own little group of interesting antiques has to fit in my studio apartment! I’m interested in more, but where will I sleep?

    If you come across any Maori accordion, I’d be curious to hear that. I don’t know if the instrument ever took off there. I’m impressed that you’d take up forro, but if you’ve got the chops for tango you’d be ready.

    As far as I’ve been able to figure, the biggest difference between bandoneon and chemnitzer seems to be the keyboard layout. German concertina makers “forked” the design in about 1850 and the two developed differently after that. Also, chemnitzers tend to have more decoration – you don’t see so many colours and rhinestones on a bandoneon, but some chemnitzers can be quite flashy.

    I’m no expert, and welcome correction from those who know more, but:

    I’ve heard that bandoneons are bigger, but I’ve never had two together to compare. They come with different numbers of buttons, so each kind may have different sizes. The tuning may well be quite different, don’t tango players tune their reeds very close? Al, chemnitzers tend to have more decoration – you don’t see as many colours and mother of pearl on bandoneons, but some chemnitzers can be quite flashy. I’ve never seen one weirder than this modernist vision:

    • January 2, 2014 10:42 am

      Very interesting reply thankyou! “Our” chemnitzer is pretty, not garish like that one you posted – though that metallic one would do me for my steampunk outings! We are superbly lucky that the local museum made a music wing specially for the accordions (because of the prevalence of accordions in our town back in the day – there were 3 accordion schools here in the one town in the 1960’s!……………Kevin Friedrich recently put together an exhibition of accordion history in NZ, and discovered stories of early exposure of the maori to accordion, where the ships captain plated it under his cape and the maori didnt know where the sounds were coming from……………. BUt no of course they didnt have any accordions in their early or recent cultural history (except maybe the odd one who took it up either with music lessons as a kid , or to sing along to in european style!) …….However recently Kevin Friedrich did commission 3 Kauri Accordions to be specially created in a bespoke accordion workshop in FInland. Made entirely out of the precious timber from the ancient NZ native kauri tree which would be very old. That is in the website of the accordion gems. HE played it at the annual concert at the museum. Of course they are the only ones in the world made of Kauri.

  6. January 2, 2014 10:46 am

    About the Forro – I didn’t get too complicated with my playing – more backing rhythm for playing with the music at the Brazilian dance party. SO I didn’t get into the fast tricky Forro tune playing, though it has similarities to the bit of Zydeco I learnt a little of a couple of years ago in another group I was with WHISKEY BUSINESS!

  7. January 2, 2014 10:47 am

    [Because music is a RISKY BUSINESS!!!]

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