Kepa Junkera is a prodigious and prolific accordionist from the Basque region of Spain. Over the last few years, he has grown from a Basque folk music icon to an international star. Bilbao 00:00h, which was released in Europe in 1998, has proved to be his breakthough work.
Above and beyond his obvious skill, Junkera has two distinct strengths. First, he’s willing to take risks with his music. Bilbao 00:00h‘s 23 tunes incorporate rock, jazz and blues influences, as well as Basque folk Malagasy and other Spanish pop trends. Second, and more importantly, Junkera hasn’t forgotten where he’s from. No matter what genres or styles might find their way into his melting pot, Junkera retains the flavor of his Basque origins; unlike some international artists who pillage their native music like cooking spices, Junkera wields his trikitixa (a type of diatonic accordion) with appropriate reverence.
It’s difficult to describe Junkera’s work on the trikitixa, if only because there are few shared reference points for accordion playing. He’s nimble-fingered, and his melodies always seem light and airy, even on sultrier fare like disc two’s jazz-accented “Sodade”. His playing lacks the heavy, indelible brooding nature of accordion tango maestro Astor Piazzola, though the influence is audible.
For the listener with little or no world music experience, Bilbao 00:00h still holds many delights. It’s a joyous and evocative experience from beginning to end, mixing guitars, strings, horns, whistles and a wealth of percussion sources with Junkera’s trikitixa and the other accordions that support it. “Fali-Faly,” which opens disc two, is a particularly strong track, matching Junkera with a wealth of high-profile (relatively speaking) guest artists. Yes, that’s Bela Fleck on the banjo—he appears on two of Bilbao‘s songs—and Alasdair Fraser on the fiddle. “Fali-Faly” apparently means “joyful” in Malagasy, and you’ll be hard-pressed to disagree.
You’ll also enjoy the tiptoeing trikitixa melody, supported by horns and Jew’s harp, on “Arin Quebec,” and the uilleann pipe accompaniment to “Gesala” will hit you with a wave of nostalgia. And that’s just the tip of this lovely iceberg.
Until you’ve saved up the money for a vacation on the Continent, Bilbao 00:00h is unlikely to stray far from your CD player.
// Notes from the Road
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