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Chango Spasiuk at St Ethelburga's (review)

PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 11:59 am
by howard male
Chango Spasiuk at St Ethelburga's

On a stage no bigger than two table-tennis tables joined end to end, sat five chairs in a row. On those chairs were five musicians all dressed in black: two acoustic guitarists, a violinist, bandoneon player, and a man who brought to mind Jim White's 'If Jesus Drove a Motor Home' except in this case it was, 'If Jesus Played the Accordian.'

This was the Argentinean accordion master, Chango Spasiuk. As the evening progressed I couldn't get rid of this Jesus fixation. I wasn't just his physiognomy and the long sun-bleached hair and beard, but also how he would tilt his head to one side, close his eyes, and become lost in a sonic spiritual realm of his own making. Then he'd wake from his revelry at the end of a piece, and smile - half to himself and half to the audience - as if he couldn't quite believe the music which had just occurred. This may sound like immodesty, but because he is a very generous musician - constantly relating to, and bouncing off, his fellow musicians - it feels more like an acknowledgement of the very wonder of music itself, and its ability to transport the listener and the performer. Surely Jesus must have played some kind of musical instrument? It's not a difficult thing to imagine after you've seen Chango.

The band I think were pretty much the same as the core line-up as on his last album, 2004's Tarefero De Mis Pagos (Songs from the Red Land) but the perfect playing and the chemistry between the musicians brought that CD to life for me. Particular highlights being the delicate and lyrical 'Scenes of Life on the Border' in which the silences resonated as powerfully as the music around them. And the exquisite sung ballad 'El Boyero' (the Oxherd) which also showed off the delicate vocal talents of guitarist Sebastian Villalba.

This lovely, mostly instrumental, music which hints at tango in the occasional passage, is officially called chamamé, and it's the folk music of the Argentine North East, although Chango at one point went to great lengths (finding a translator in the audience to aid him) to explain that his music acknowledges no musical boundaries. And I certainly found it hard to pin down as his exquisitely arranged pieces as they floated from light into shade, and dared to embrace long, near silences before building to joyous, rich crescendos. At times it was almost as if the bellows of his glitter-encrusted accordion where the man's own lungs. His eyes would open as he became energised when the tempo picked up and they'd shut again as his instrument's breathing slowed.

The other star of the evening was St Ethelburga's itself - you really must check it out. Parts of the building date from the 15th Century though it was almost completely destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. You wouldn't know it - the restorers have done an extraordinary job and it is, as Wallee - who arranges the concerts and always lists them on this forum - so rightly says, an oasis of calm, in this noisy, money-centred part of the city.

It's also has excellent acoustics for this kind of semi-acoustic performance. Apparently, when Chango saw where he was to play, he wanted to do away with the mikes and amplification altogether. He was persuaded not to, but the volume and clarity of sound made you almost forget you were listening to an amplified concert. I'll be very surprised if I hear another band's natural sound delivered as perfectly as this again for a long while.

Hopefully other bands and world music promoters will soon catch on to the delights of this space, which feels both intimate and spacious at the same time, being quite narrow but high-ceilinged. Chango apparently had a spare evening in his itinerary and was certainly a happy man by the end of the set, as were his band and the enthusiastic audience who had him come back for two encores.

One final thing. Ian Anderson mentioned under another topic in this section of the forum, that it was about time Darbucka got itself some stage lights, now that that dark cave of a venue is going to be graced by an act as prestigious as Bassekou Kouyate and N'Goni Ba. Well, Wallee and his team have certainly got this sorted out at their equally modest-sized venue, even to the extent of lights been dipped, and colours changed, at appropriate moments. So maybe Jamie should point Ahmed in the direction of this review - perhaps if he thinks the competition is upping their game, he'll feel he needs to follow suit!

PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 7:25 pm
by wallee Mc Donnell
Further to that amazing review, Howard, has posted up about Saturday's gig with Chango Spasiuk at St Ethelburga's.
It was an amazing night.

It was very nice to read, in Howard's piece, the part where he said, one of the stars of the night or something like that, was St Ethelburga's itself.
It is a fabulous space. Such a surprise coming into it to up a side entrance from Bishopsgate and into this small garden, like stepping into another world. The venue itself is small, intimate. Howared was almost sitting on Chango's lap, that's how close one can be to the musicians there.

The idea for these gigs began with Simon Keys in 2005 (director of St Ethelburga's) and he invited me to put them on. I had very little experience but a feeling to do something well, the space deserved it. My/our first gig was in October 2005 with Kadialy Kouyate and Kike Pedersen. That was a magical beginning and we havn't stopped since.

Having volunteered with Cultural Co-operation for six months before that, I had met a number of artists on their books and was wondering if I would ever progress to putting them on at some stage. Artists like Mr Gee (spoken word), Tara Jaff (Kurdish harp player/singer), Tigran Alexsanyan (Armenian Duduk player), Guillermo Rosenthuler (Argentinian singer/guitarist). Names that immediatly come to mind.
We've had some wonderful nights here over the past 18months.

I was helping Nikki on the phones on Charlie's BBC London show one night, early in 2006 and Daby Balde was the live guest that night. After the show he was waiting for a cab to take to him to his hotel and we got chatting. I gave him my card and a few months later I got a call saying, we want to fit in another date on Daby's tour before WOMAD, could we do it. Yep! I said and the place was rocking that night.
Daby is booked to perform again here on July 5th, it should another lively night I expect.

The night he and his band performed here, is was a scorcher outside, even late into the evening and we had to open the main door to let in some air. There is a bus stop outside and people were standing there waiting for their bus. Once we open the door the music bust out onto the street. Naturally people started to pour in upon hearing Daby's catchy sounds and before you knew it they were all dancing even some on the street who couldn't get in.

But mostly it's an acoustic venue perfect for someone like Chango Spasiuk and his group of musicians. And Saturday's night was quite something. Howard said it all in his piece. I Chango he is an exceptional artist who has honed an amazing sound with this group of musicians around him. Hopefully he'll come back.
Katerina Pavlakis, who is organising his tour, e.mailed today to say they are on their way to Newcastle by van and she had read Howard piece on her laptop and was about to translate it to Chango and the band. I think they will enjoy it.

I didn't want to finish this piece without mentioning Reza/Arvin, on the sound with Simon Keys, who is a core part of the small team that make these events at St Ethelburga's very special I feel.

PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 10:56 pm
by Charlie
wallee Mc Donnell wrote:Further to that amazing review, Howard, has posted up about Saturday's gig with Chango Spasiuk at St Ethelburga's.
It was an amazing night.

I'm gutted that I missed it, having been looking forward to it for months, since Wallee first told me he had booked Chango for the 5th May.

No excuse, I simply forgot, having lost the habit of going out regularly, and having sort of tuned out of music on Saturday nights. When I realised, on Sunday monrning, how I wished for a machine that could rewind the clock.

What Wallee has achieved is very impressive, and I hope I can make up for misssing this magical night.

PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 11:48 pm
by tulsehill charlie
There's nothing I can really add to Howard's excellent review of the performance, except to endorse all that's been said about the venue, the sound & lighting, and Wallee's gentle and enthusiastic presence. I especially enjoyed the interaction between the guitarist and the bandoneonist. Soulful stuff. Catch them if you can.

PostPosted: Mon May 07, 2007 11:58 pm
by tulsehill charlie
just in case you were so inclined Charlie, Chango Spasiuk is at the Clocktower in Croydon this coming Friday (not too far from Clapham really).

020 8726 6000 www.croydon.gov.uk/clocktower

PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2007 9:48 am
by Charlie
tulsehill charlie wrote:just in case you were so inclined Charlie, Chango Spasiuk is at the Clocktower in Croydon this coming Friday (not too far from Clapham really).

Thanks for the pointer, Charlie, and normally I'd be delighted to be able to make up for my gaffe. But that night is also the date of the launch of the Mosaiques Film Festival at the French Institute, which has family involvement, so I want to be there...

PostPosted: Wed May 09, 2007 4:39 pm
by Des
Not a bad review Howard but not as good as mine of Chango at Bristol; )

PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2007 11:10 am
by howard male
Des wrote -

Not a bad review Howard but not as good as mine of Chango at Bristol; )


Blimey, you're right! I resign!

And I can see you very cunningly limited yourself to the 100 or so words I normally get to say all I want to say about albums in the Indie on Sunday - I'm sure you'll agree it helps to focus one's thoughts.

PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2007 6:11 pm
by wallee Mc Donnell
It is indeed, a beautiful review you wrote about Chango's gig in Bristol, Des.
And Katerina and I were purring over it.

But Howard added a lovely description about St Ethelburga's, even to the point of saying, St Ethelburga's was one of the stars of the evening. And that was an extra special touch. So! we had Chango and St Ethelburga's.

When the IRA blew it up, unintentionally, in 1993. Their bomb was aimed at one of the financial skyscrapers, little did they know, they set in motion a chain of events that led to this venue becoming a special space on the world music circuit and a new space for acoustic gigs in London, when there aren't a great many.
It was Howard's first visit and lucky for us, Chango was the artist enchanting the space with his unique sounds that night.