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From WOMEX: Accordion Meditations with Danças Ocultas

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This is the first of a multi-part series from the World Music Expo 2010 that took place in Copenhagen, Denmark this year.

The accordion is one of the instruments, along with the bagpipe, that contains its own hand-pumped air supply. In the case of the accordion, the bellows can create and support very long lingering tones, or short, staccato passages. These mechanical "lungs" bring out a physical response in me. I find myself drawn into the breathing of these instruments. And while we think of most accordion music as upbeat, there are several bands (and musicians) who have used this breathing feature to create meditative music. Danças Ocultas is such a band.

I first heard them at the annual Accordion Festival in Torres Vedras, a small city just north of Lisbon. They were sharing the stage with Renato Borghetti, from southern Brazil and Martin Lubenov, from Bulgaria. Both of these masters are soloists who display high technical skill and velocity. By contrast, Danças Ocultas was very much a four man team, where no one player dominated the sound. When they played, there was an almost palpable relaxation in the audience, a settling back from the edge of the seat, into a sensuous, sonorous environment.

At WOMEX, the band produced the same reaction. But let's set the stage: As a delegate to the convention, you have been in a noisy convention center all day. You have a quick dinner and hurry over to the main concert hall where there are multiple showcases happening on three levels and several wings of the building. The main foyer is jam packed with people checking out two different stages, from which the bands and deejays are pumping out high-energy and high-decibel beats. Everywhere people are doing the quick schmooze before going to check on another act. You walk into the darkened main concert hall and suddenly, all that falls away, there are four men on stage, and they are creating a space where you can relax, breath and luxuriate in beautiful sounds.

From WOMEX: Accordion Meditations of Danças Ocultas from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Of course Danças Ocultas' compositions also display a playful side, but it is the darker, more mysterious places in their repertoire that appeal to me. I also have to admit that they are hard to capture on videotape; after all it's not all that interesting to look at a video of four men in chairs. So I took some artistic license with this piece, and hope you will find that it reflects the music in a way that a straightforward performance video could not.