Thursday, May 19, 2011

Extraordinary Accordionistas

Valledupar is famous as the birthplace of vallenato, an upbeat 
accordion-driven folk music that plays constantly in streets, shops, buses and 
restaurants across northern Colombia and has become popular across Latin America.

Magical, mysterious, mesmerizing, moving and more. From the first cry of the newborn
babe as heard by the mother to the ceremonial dirges for the departed, Music always
remains an unquestionable driving force in our lives. Some musicians make it their life's
chosen task and manage to make a living from it even as more people make a living selling
it nowadays than the musicians themselves.

Then there are some who play music solely for survival, like the raggedy urchins I watched
as a child in India. Playing for pennies, severely undernourished, publicly abused and
humiliated on a daily basis, their unfortunate situation broke my heart forever.

Many years later when I played in a Blues-Rock band, it was one of my secret desires to
get one of those waifs off the streets and train them to perform with me at all my high society
gigs. But I was just a struggling young adult myself at the time and my 'Pygmalion' dreams of
those days were never realized.....but neither have they faded. And so today, reading about
the Turco Gil Academy in Colombia immediately touched a nerve.

Thanks to the 20-plus years efforts of Accordion Maestro Turco Gil, the students at his
Academy have been able to turn away from a life of crime, drugs, homelessness and
exploitation and instead found themselves performing in talent contests where the
winners sometimes get to entertain world leaders like Bill Clinton and Hugo Chavez.

" Gil has about 1,000 students sharing 60 accordions, and he says that about 80
percent are refugees from violence or live in poverty. They attend the school for free,
supported by donations, earnings from concerts, and tuition from wealthier students who come
from as far away as Europe, Mexico and the United States to study with the accordion master. "
Read more at Smithsonian Mag

Many thanks to Gilbert Reyes Hohner US Accordion Product Manager for spreading
the word on  Facebook and Youtube among other places.