Last wheeze for Ac­cor­dion Noir? Let’s hope not


Wither Ac­cor­dion Noir, one of Western Canada’s most unique music fes­ti­vals?

Kath­eryn Petersen is sound­ing the alarm.

“This is a big year; it’s our 10th,” said Petersen. She’s artis­tic director for the Ac­cor­dion Noir Fes­ti­val So­ci­ety, the fes­ti­val’s pre­sen­ter.

“It’s a great achieve­ment. But it’s prob­a­bly the last time you’ll see the Ac­cor­dion Noir Fes­ti­val So­ci­ety pull off some­thing like this for many, many years.”

The prob­lem isn’t lack of in­ter­est, but that old arts-and-cul­ture de­mon, un­der­fund­ing. Petersen says that the fes­ti­val hasn’t been able to pro­cure devel­op­ment funding and be­lieves that it has “hit a wall.” Los­ing the fes­ti­val now would be a shame, es­pe­cially as it’s gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion overseas.

Last year, guests Ne­fer­titi in the Kitchen were so en­thralled by the fes­ti­val that they re­turned home to France sing­ing its praises. The artis­tic director of Le Grand Souf­flet (The Great Bel­lows) — the fes­ti­val in Rennes, France, that is the model for Ac­cor­dion Noir — has con­tacted Petersen about com­ing to check out the Van­cou­ver event. “So the word is out,” Petersen said. De­spite its shoe­string bud­get, the fes­ti­val has con­sis­tently man­aged to in­tro­duce Van­cou­ver au­di­ences to in­ter­na­tional acts. This year, guests in­clude Fin­nish solo artist An­tii Paala­nen and Rus­sian all-fe­male group Iva Nova. Both are mak­ing their North Amer­i­can de­buts at the fes­ti­val; nei­ther fit the tra­di­tional ac­cor­dion-play­ing im­age once so roundly mocked by SCTV’s polka kings, The Sh­menge Brothers (The Cab­bage Rolls and Cof­fee Polka). Paala­nen leans to­ward per­for­mance art in his shows and sets his ac­cor­dion-play­ing to mod­ern beats, and sings/snarls his songs; Iva Nova are even more mod­ern, even bor­der­line ravey.

While Ac­cor­dion Noir is an un­usual event for North Amer­ica, Paala­nen notes that, in Fin­land, ac­cor­dions and ac­cor­dion fes­ti­vals are much more com­mon.

“Es­pe­cially in Fin­land, we have lots of ac­cor­dion play­ers — there are maybe 10,000,” said Paala­nen, who has stud­ied music at the Si­belius Academy at the Univer­sity of Helsinki. “We also have many ac­cor­dion fes­ti­vals. Also in Cen­tral Europe, and the moun­tain area of Aus­tria, the ac­cor­dion is still very pop­u­lar. And in Rus­sia. I think the Fin­nish in­flu­ences come from Rus­sia more than from Western Europe.”

Be­sides Iva Nova and Paala­nen, this year’s fes­ti­val in­cludes an al­bum-re­lease show by lo­cal ac­cor­dion player/song­writer Ge­off Berner; a game of “Drink-o Bingo” hosted by Vic­to­ria’s Grayson Walker; a per­for­mance by Amer­i­can ac­cor­dion DJ Lykaire; and the reg­u­lar fes­ti­val-end­ing fea­ture Un­der­dog In­stru­ment Grudge Match. In it, play­ers team up in a comedic bat­tle for ac­cor­dion le­git­i­macy. As well, Mon­treal ac­cor­dion-fixer Me­ladona will help re­store bro­ken and dam­aged in­stru­ments.

“I think ac­cor­dion is hav­ing a re­nais­sance,” Petersen said, when asked how Van­cou­ver has been able to sup­port such a fes­ti­val for this long. “You’re see­ing more and more of it. It’s in the zeit­geist of young artists. It’s some­thing that, in North Amer­ica, rep­re­sents the voice of the un­der­dog.

“In Europe it doesn’t have quite the same punch, but it does have a very strong artis­tic life. My main fo­cus has been to bring those two forces to­gether — the voice of re­bel­lion and the artis­tic his­tory of the in­stru­ment.”

Fol­low­ing this year’s fes­ti­val, Petersen plans to step away from her role as artis­tic director, and pur­sue her own ac­cor­dion prac­tice. What­ever hap­pens with the fes­ti­val, though, fans will still al­ways have Ac­cor­dion Noir 2017.

Fin­nish mu­si­cian An­tii Paala­nen, who plays at the fes­ti­val on Sept. 8, sets his ac­cor­dion-play­ing to mod­ern beats and sings/snarls his songs.

Rus­sian group Iva Nova, that are mod­ern and bor­der­line ravey, plays the 10th an­nual Ac­cor­dion Noir Fes­ti­val on Sept. 8.

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