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Musette maestro

by Chiho Iuchi

French accordionist Daniel Colin will perform a Paris Musette Christmas concert in Tokyo on Dec. 24. Paris Musette is a style of French accordion music that has been integral to downtown Paris for many generations. Italian immigrants who settled in large numbers in Paris in the 19th century brought accordions with them, and they played their music, mixed mainly with the rhythms of the waltz and polka, at cafes, bars and dance halls, especially around the Bastille on the right bank of the Seine. The music became very popular in the early 20th century, and it featured in classic French films such as “Sous les Toits de Paris” (1930) and “Sous le Ciel de Paris” (1951).

Born in 1941 in Besancon, in the northeast of France, Colin learned the piano as a small child, and he still practices it every day. He was dubbed “a man of iron fingers” by the late accordion master Jo Privat and also earned the nickname “turbo” because of his talent for playing fast passages.

His first encounter with the accordion came at the age of 9. “Back then, I lived with my uncle, who was a musician,” he says. “Every day, I was excited to listen to the performances of his band.”

At the age of 16, Colin became a full-time accordionist in dance halls in his home town. “When I started my career, accordion music was already declining. But I often listened to the older generations, who told me the stories of the golden age in the hot district around Bastille, which was frequented by delinquents and prostitutes. In the dance hall, accordionists played one piece per one coin. To tell the truth, Musette was not a well-mannered music,” he laughs.

Paris Musette’s popularity declined sharply with the explosion of 60s pop (yeye in French). Colin sometimes had to rely on playing the piano or bandoneon with orchestras of other genres. But recently, influenced by the world music boom in the 1990s, Paris Musette seems to be coming back.

“Accordion is a perfect instrument,” says Colin. “My favorite music is the slow waltz, which flourished in the 1900s, the nostalgic ages before many rhythms entered France. It reminds me of the good old days in Paris.”

Also influenced by American jazz accordionists, such as Art Van Damme and Tommy Gumina, Colin plays a wide range of music. He has just released two CDs in Japan: “French Cafe Music — Paris Musette 2″ and “Paris Musette 3.”

For this performance, Colin will be joined by guitarist/composer Dominique Cravic, and Clare Elziere, a chanson singer who has been praised by renowned chanteuse Juliette Greco. These two musicians appear on “Paris Musette 2.”

The performance takes place at Club Quattro in Shibuya, Dec. 24, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The venue is a 7-min. walk from Shibuya Station. Tickets are ¥4,725 (standing) and ¥5,250 (seated) in advance; call the venue on (03) 3477-8750 to book.