An ac­cor­dion player in Myan­mar? He can’t be­lieve it ei­ther

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse - RJ VOGT Rj.vogt@mm­

NOW I find my­self in Myan­mar, play­ing tango on the ac­cor­dion.”

This is an ad­mit­tedly strange place to find one­self in, but such is the case for Rodger French, a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian set to per­form along­side the Orches­tra for Myan­mar tonight at the Yan­gon Gallery.

Sched­uled to ac­com­pany the group for three com­po­si­tions by As­tor Pi­az­zolla – the fa­mous Ar­gen­tinian tango com­poser – French will also per­form a solo tango on his ac­cor­dion. The per­for­mance marks his third in Myan­mar, where he has played twice pre­vi­ously at the Amer­i­can Club and at an al­bum re­lease party for a record he pro­duced at Yan­gon’s Esus5 Record­ing & Jam­ming Stu­dio. You read that cor­rectly: French recorded Che Acordeon – Tan­gos from Buenos

Aires from the small stu­dio in Utopia Tower on the shores of Kan­daw­gyi Lake. The ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a Ken­tucky-born Amer­i­can man play­ing Latin Amer­i­can tan­gos in a Myan­mar record­ing stu­dio was, ac­cord­ing to French, a bit bizarre.

“The record­ing en­gi­neer spoke no English, and I speak al­most no Myan­mar,” he said, laugh­ing. “But when we needed to make ad­just­ments, he got it done.”

French is ac­cus­tomed to un­usual in­ter­na­tional sit­u­a­tions, hav­ing per­formed on five con­ti­nents over the last 30 years. What be­gan in Lousiville, Ken­tucky, with pri­vate lessons in 1954 led to a life­long pas­sion for the ac­cor­dion, which he says was a lot cooler back then, be­fore the rise of Elvis and the six-string gui­tar.

Over the years he picked up drums as well, mak­ing a liv­ing play­ing in bands, record­ing stu­dios and orches­tra pits. French even picked up pro­fes­sional jug­gling, per­form­ing what he calls a “new vaude­ville thing” at col­leges around the US dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2006, Rodger and his wife Anne John­son be­gan life as ex­pats due to her diplo­mat job in the US State De­part­ment. Their trav­els have taken them from Ghana to South Africa to Ar­gentina, and at ev­ery stop, French has found a niche for his ac­cor­dion.

Dur­ing their time in Buenos Aires, French man­aged to score some jam ses­sion with Rodolfo Mederos, the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned ban­deon­isto (play­ing the ac­cor­dion’s sis­ter in­stru­ment) who has been nom­i­nated for Latin Grammy Awards three times in the last 16 years.

It was Mederos – who per­formed with and even opened for Pi­az­zolla in 1960 – who trans­formed French’s un­der­stand­ing of the tango. “It was one of the great­est mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ences of my life,” French told The

Myan­mar Times. “He al­most com­pletely re­vamped my ap­proach. Ar­gen­tinian tango is so dra­matic ... It was less about tech­nique, and more about how to ap­proach the mu­sic more emo­tion­ally.”

Af­ter de­part­ing from Buenos Aires and ar­riv­ing in Yan­gon, French set to work on the al­bum in­spired by his ses­sions with Mederos. One month af­ter re­leas­ing the al­bum, he met Orches­tra for Myan­mar con­duc­ter Se­bas­tian See-Schieren­berg at a con­cert in the Strand Ho­tel Ball­room. They dis­cussed col­lab­o­rat­ing, which led to tonight’s per­for­mance.

French says he’s ex­cited to per­form, es­pe­cially for a Myan­mar au­di­ence that is of­ten un­fa­mil­iar with the ac­cor­dion. Though older gen­er­a­tions may re­mem­ber singer/ac­cor­dion­ist Ohm Kyaw, fa­mous dur­ing the junta years for songs such as “Yaung Pei Su”, younger Myan­mar peo­ple are of­ten fas­ci­nated by French’s in­stru­ment.

“You get their at­ten­tion right away,” he said. “The ac­cor­dion is not some­thing you see ev­ery day.”

“You get their at­ten­tion right away. The ac­cor­dion is not some­thing you see ev­ery day.” Rodger French, pro­fes­sional ac­cor­dion player

See-Schieren­berg says that the pro­gram was born from a de­sire to raise the stan­dard of string mu­sic in Myan­mar.

Guest mu­si­cians from Tai­wan trav­elled by way of Hong Kong to join the per­for­mance.

Se­bas­tian See-Schieren­berg con­ducts the Orches­tra for Myan­mar tonight at Yan­gon Gallery from 5-7pm.

Photo: Sup­plied

Rodger French takes a break from record­ing at Yan­gon’s Esus5 Record­ing & Jam­ming Stu­dio dur­ing a ses­sion in Novem­ber 2015.

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