Accordionist brings his Argentine roots to French musette

by Mark Jarnes

Sitting in the same room with Argentine accordionist Raul Barboza, you start to notice that even the way he speaks is musical.

“It is a joy to be alive,” the 72-year-old says. “When I wake up in the morning I am always filled with a deep gratitude; my eyes are able to see and my ears are able to hear.”

The Japan Times caught up with Barboza while he was in Tokyo to prepare for his Japan tour, which takes place in early December.

Born in Buenos Aires, his career has spanned a whopping 60 years, and in that time he has reached virtuoso status in two very different musical styles — chamame and musette. He has won several accolades, including an award from Argentina’s Konex Foundation, which acknowledged him in 1985 as one of the five eminent representatives of Argentine popular music. His first album was recorded in 1950 and he has made more than 60 others since then.

Barboza is originally a master of chamame, a traditional form of Argentine folk music that incorporates accordion and Spanish guitar. The genre is relatively obscure even in his home country.

“It is the culture of the Guarani people,” Barboza explains, as his hand lightly strokes his accordion on the floor beside him. “It musically expresses their lives, and those of the birds and all the animals in the forests around them.”

Barboza’s latest endeavor, however, has him focusing his talents on musette — an accordian-centric French genre that has been compared with American blues and jazz, and which unites him with fellow accordion player, and friend, Daniel Colin. Their latest recording is titled “Recontre a Paris,” and sees the duo joined by chanson songstress Claire Elziere, guitarist Dominique Cravic and pianist Gregory Veux. They start their Japan visit in Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture, on Dec. 1, then skip quickly across the southern islands before heading north to Tokyo on Dec. 5.

Barboza has been living in Paris and playing musette for 23 years. He recalls the time when he first heard the traditional style of music played by his new French friends.

“I was taken by surprise. Musette was completely different from anything I’d heard before,” he says as he flips back his fine, silvery hair. “However, when I played (my music) back to them, they seemed just as surprised.”

Although he is surrounded by musette and other forms of French music in his new home, Barboza’s chamame roots hold firm.

“In Argentina we eat a lot of meat, but since I moved to France I have changed my diet,” he explains. “Through this and other changes in my everyday life — such as listening to and playing musette — the air I breathe has gradually taken a different flavor, and even the way I see things has come to change. But my soul remains the same.”

Barboza’s musical journeys have brought him to Japan a number of times in his career.

“Coming here is always special for me,” he says. “Through being together with my Japanese friends and coming across many individuals on my visits to Japan, I feel there are many similarities in the politeness and etiquette, and the way of living, between the Japanese people and the Guarani people.

“My wife tells me to be more organized,” Barboza laughs. “Perhaps there are still some things I can learn from Japan.”

Raul Barboza and Daniel Colin will play on Miyakojima Island on Dec. 1 ([098] 889-7047); Ishigaki Island on Dec. 2 ([098] 889-7047); in Naha on Dec. 3 ([098] 860-9555); and at Hakuju Hall in Tokyo on Dec. 5 ([0570] 00-3337). Prices vary between ¥2,500-¥6,000 for advanced tickets depending on the venue. For reservations and information, call the above numbers or visit www.raulbarboza.com.