Alejo Durán – El legendario caballero del canto vallenato


Este post va para Carlos Mendoza — el joven inquieto de 51 años que está tratando de redefinir el sonido de la música chilena de Oaxaca desde el Valle Central de California — y para las cumbiamberas Marië y Julie, que cuentan un poquito de la historia de Carlos en el radiodocumental Squeezebox Stories (When are you writing a guest post for us?)

Pajarito by Alejo Durán

I’ve met several accordionists from all over the world (and Carlos is one of them) who, when they find out I am from Colombia, won’t stop raving about the virtuoso accordionists in vallenato. And yes, no doubt I agree, and I love listening to them, but I keep coming back to the down-home vallenateros who leave the fancy tricks aside, who keep it simple and honest and deep. Not many do that better than Alejo Durán.

Anything I try to write about Alejo Durán is outdone by a beautiful chronicle written by Alberto Salcedo in the book “Diez juglares en su patio”, where Alejo talks about his love for accordion, women, and his sombrero vueltiao, his  disinterest in alcohol and new vallenato, and his encounters with Gabriel García Márquez. (Muy recomendado este libro, si lo consiguen! El último libro de Salcedo también está buenísimo.) So maybe I’ll just let them talk, and hope my translation doesn’t get too much in the way:

Alejo: “When someone talks to me about fingering, it is as if they talk to a deaf man. I have nothing to do with fingering. I am an accordionist of style. […] I don’t crack my fingers trying to make the notes run fast, but I assure you that I have my style, and if you hear me from far away you will now that it is me who is playing. You’ll mix up the other accordion players. Not me.”

If you want style, check out his accordion work in this song, especially towards the end; I never heard anything quite like this.

Nazira by Alejo Durán

Alejo, father of 24 children, “all with the same one but with many different women” says “…I had to be in love to keep composing. Or heartbroken. Because, really, there are two topics to compose about: love and sorrow. Everything else is make-believe, and I don’t like to make things up. […] If some guy can get excited singing about lies, things that haven’t happened, let him do that. We, the old guys, prefer to sing about what happens to us.”

Cuerpo Cobarde by Alejo Durán

Salcedo: “Durán’s main merit is that he understood that the accordion has its voice, and it’s important to let it speak. Not like most of today’s interpreters, for whom the accordion is simply an instrument; as if it wasn’t an extension of our feelings.”

Durán: “My life, my trusted friend, and part of my soul is the accordion. I tell my secrets to him.”

Son Pesares by Alejo Durán



“Sogni Caraibici”, Nana Vasconcelos & Antonello Salis


Nana Vasconcelos is a Brazilian percussionist, who in the course of a very long and varied career has played with the likes of Gato Barbieri, Don Cherry, Jean-Luc Ponty and The Talking Heads. In the early 1980s, he collaborated with the Italian accordion player Antonello Salis, and made this record, “Lester”. Just the two of them, but really, they make such a big sound together, it doesn’t feel like anything is missing. This track, “Sogni Caraibici” (Caribbean Dreams) is my favorite. It has the feel of some of that great Balkan gypsy music (I’m thinking of the soundtracks to Emir Kusturica’s films), but with Vasconelos providing an upbeat tempo that makes everything take off. There are spots where his percussion sounds almost like a double bass. We’ve been featuring some great accordion playing at La Pelanga recently, and Salis is certainly a virtuoso in his own right, but the conversation between the two of them is what makes this track (and this album) special. Hope you enjoy.

Sogni Cariabici by Nana Vasconcelos/Antonello Solis

Sogni Cariabici


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“El Cascabel”, Steve Jordan


For this Cinco de Mayo, and in light of the disturbing developments in Arizona, I thought I’d post a little border music. Here’s El Parche, Steve “Esteban” Jordan, sometimes called “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion,” and thought by many to be the best accordion player in the world. This album, “The Return of El Parche” compiles tracks recorded from 1976-1984. There’s lots of great Steve Jordan stuff online, but I love in particular his take on this classic son jarocho song, with its dense minor chords and plaintive, romantic lyrics.


El Cascabel by Steve Jordan

El Cascabel


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