His playing is everchanging and full twists like an imaginary landscape. No wonder, the chamamé accordion style is a “mestizo music”, rooted both in European polkas and Guaraní Indians culture. When Spasiuk played at Womex in 2001, many people wondered: “This music makes me dance, but also opens the gates of imagination. I never thought you can do this with an accordion!” This hard to define spirit is fully captured on Spasiuk’s last CD, Tarefero de mis pagos, produced by Ben Mandelson. I talked to Chango at the BBC World Music Awards Ceremony in Gateshead in January 2005, where he performed as a winner in the Newcomers category.
Chamamé is often explained as meeting of two cultures: Indian and European. Is it really as simple as that?
First I have to say that Guaraní have their own music, different from chamamé. The chamamé development took several centuries. First the Spanish Jesuit monks came to the area now called Misiones in the North East of Argentina. During the 1600’s, they were teaching European music and religion to Guaraní. And the final step was taken by the immigrants from Europe who took their accordions with them.
When the Jesuit monks imposed Catholic religion on the Guaraní Indians, did some conglomerate faith like Candomblé in Brazil developed in Argentina?
They tried to impose, but with no success. The Jesuits were surprised to find people of that advanced and sophisticated spiritual world in the jungle. The only people who took up Catholic religion were the Creoles of partly European descent. The Jesuits taught Indians to build violins and other instruments. They became musically highly accomplished, but when the Jesuits left, some of them went back to the jungle. And some became music teachers.
Contrary to Brasilian forro or the Celtic reels and jigs, chamamé is not just a dance music?
Even if chamamé was music for dance at the village square, there is also another level. In chamamé you find mystery, higher power, things from the other side. That goes along with the Jesuit music, who played baroque composers for the Indians.
Books by Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez and other South American writers are often referred to as Magic Realism. When I’ve heard Chango Spasiuk for the first time, my impression was: This music is transcending the traditional musical cliches in the same way, as Cortázar transcends the stereotypes in literature.
That’s a nice thing to hear – thank you. There are several levels in what I do: I try to make chamamé, as well as the daily life of people living there better known, but I do also express my own feelings, my inner world. I’m not trying to do any fabrication, and if someone finds truth in my music, I appreciate that. And I don’t think I’m something important in the history of chamamé. That’s the way it is: Chamamé is using me, and I’m using chamamé…
Was there a Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters of chamamé?
Of course. 5 people helped to develop the music, living between 1930’s and 1980’s. All of them were playing button accordions and/or bandoneon: Transito Cocomarola, Isaco Abitbol bandoneon, Tarragó Ros, Ernesto Montiel, Blas Martinez Riera. Their work was recorded, not written down. This is very different from tango, when compositions are written in notation. As a result of this, there is not any strict definition of chamamé.
When talking about chamamé, most Europeans would think of Raúl Barboza. How would you classify him?
Barboza is my friend. But these 5 people mentioned were the classics, Barboza was born later. He left Argentina and transmitted chamamé in Europe.
Where did you ancestors come to Argentina from?
My grandparents were from Ukraine, I still know a few words in that language. The biggest migration wave started in 1897 from the Ukraine region close to the Polish border. In early 20th century Russians, Basks, Volga Germans, and other immigrants came to Argentina and all of them brought their music with them.
On your last album, there’s one special song, Starosta, very Slavic, related to polkas, but with some changes in the rhythm. How did that develop?
My father was a carpenter, but he was playing violin. People were playing these polkas inaccurately, they were changing the structure on the run. Imagine somebody who walks on foot to a neighbor village in the time of a wedding. When he gets close, he hides behind a tree so nobody bothers him, and stays there listening. All night, and then he hears a song he really likes, he learns it by heart, goes back home, grabs his instrument, and plays what he remembers. The song goes through transformation.