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Student Co-Produces New Album
January 29, 2012
George Washington student José Curbelo helped produce an album of northern Uruguayan music for Smithsonian Folkways.
For George Washington student José Curbelo, co-producing a Smithsonian Folkways album was a chance to explore his heritage and shine a spotlight on what he feared was a dying tradition of music.
Mr. Curbelo, a senior studying international affairs at the Elliott School, helped see the album “Los Gauchos de Roldán: Button Accordion and Bandoneón Music from Northern Uruguay” to fruition. The album, officially released tomorrow but available here now, is the 34th in the Smithsonian Folkways Traditions series. The genre melds accordion and guitar and has been a tradition in the country since the late 1800s.
The 33-year-old undergraduate first became interested in the genre during a trip to Uruguay in 2001 to study with traditional accordion and guitar players. He soon determined his mission would be greater than that, however.
“I realized, man, these guys are dying out,” said Mr. Curbelo, a Northfield, Minn., native whose father hails from Uruguay.
So with a field recorder and 35mm camera, Mr. Curbelo began to document the musicians. He went off through the northern part of the country, simply “following the path of the music” through families and neighbors, searching for those traditional Uruguayan musicians who truly represented the rural dance music.
“What stuck out was how emotional people got about it,” said Mr. Curbelo. “It was the context, and the soundtrack of their lives, of their area, you know? And the importance that music and the accordion have in everything. You got married, there was an accordion. There was a dance Saturday night, there was an accordion.”
After a couple of years, Mr. Curbelo headed back to the States but didn’t leave the music behind. He founded Ocho Bajos Music and began booking tours in the U.S. and Canada for South American artists, including the group featured on the recent Smithsonian album.
Then in 2008, he came to GW to pursue a degree. He investigated the primary sources of Uruguayan music in the United States and studied documentary storytelling. He is currently an Elliott School Undergraduate Scholar researching the interaction between traditional music research and cultural diplomacy.
All the while he remembered his experience in Uruguay, incorporating it whenever possible into his GW experience. He was soon able to go back in a “home country” study abroad program. Having been in talks with folks at the Smithsonian, Mr. Curbelo coordinated the rest of the details for the new album during this trip. He raised money, brought the best of the best Uruguayan performers together, and helped see the album to its finish.
Uruguayans often say that, musically, they don’t have anything that’s their own, Mr. Curbelo said, but this tradition proves that isn’t the case.
A release event for the album is scheduled for Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Embassy of Uruguay in D.C.