Dances with the guitar. Interviewed by Joonas Lepna

joonas lepna

Joonas Lepna on stage

The interview with me was originally published in Hiiu Leht in 2008.

By Joonas Lepna

I think many of us have seen several musicians jumping on a stage with the guitars but would you call that dancing? Or could you imagine anyone to dance to the soft sounds of the classical guitar? An extraordinary idea, isn’t it? Because most often the classical guitar is played as a concert instrument. But one should not forget the fact that this instrument and its relative lute have been played for dancing for centuries. Kristo Käo, the chairman of the Estonian Guitar Society will help us to get more into the dancing world of the guitar with his brand new CD „The Dance Album“. Let’s ask him a few questions to find out how can a quiet and lyrical instrument like the classical guitar be connected to the lively world of dancing.

Q: The expression „dance music“ can have different meanings today so could you tell us what should people actually expect from your album?

A: Well, the words „dance music“ can have different meanings only for those people who’s knowledge about music reaches a little bit beyond the electronic music. But even those to whom dance music means only something that they hear from a mainstream radio station or in a nightclub would become a little suspicious when they saw this disc – they probably would suspect that there must be some other kind of dance music, too, in the world. Nevertheless, my new CD is meant to touch the widest audience but at the same time it can be interesting for the experts, too. Sometimes professional musicians are somewhat embarrased to play just beautiful music, it seems too „ordinary“. The repertoire on my new album is put together of the absolute hits of classical guitar but I have a slightly different way of seeing the things here, one could say.

Q: Does the title „Dance Album“ just pretend to be funny or ironic or do you want to say that the classical music is an equal part of the music business and can therefore use the same titles and sales tricks that the pop music?

A: Both predictions are correct! I can just add that one of my favorite CD-s was recently „The Renaissance Album“ by the renown Swedish guitarist Göran Söllcher. But this hint of course isn’t as obvious as the title of the duo CD „Kiss on the Water“ that we recorded in 2007 with Jorma Puusaag. But really – if it’s a parade of hits, why not call it what it is!

Q: I believe that certain melodies must have certain seductive qualities to become a dance music but what is it, what attracted you to take up those old dance tunes when nobody even knows those dance steps anymore? Did you find anything special about this music?

A: Actually, early music is just a small part of this program. The CD begins with four dances that are originally composed for or played on the lute. And who would dare to say that this music sounds old? It is as contemporary as it can be. By the way, there are plenty of people in the world who are into the historical dances and the evergreen popularity of this music can be explained even scientifically: beautiful music that has a harmonic structure based on the overtone theory is always objectively pleasant for a human being. Most of the folk music meets those criterias and pop music as well. Music like this doesn’t need to be listened analytically, you even don’t have to know a thing about music – it works subconsciously!

The rest of the dances could be divided into two main sections: pieces that are affected by the Spanish flamenco and other folk traditions, and the Latin-American dances. Both cultures have a special place for the guitar and therefore this music really fits the instrument. If you see the tracklist of the CD, you’ll find 13 numbers but actually some dances are hidden in the others. Of the old European dances you can hear branle, saltarello, galliard, bourree and a gigue. The latter, of course, is still being danced today. Of Spanish dances there are folia and some derived forms of fandangos. Of the Latin-American music I have a maxixe (a totally forgotten dance from Rio de Janeiro!), a samba and a waltz and a gavotta, which do have a Latin flavour here but are actually European forms. Last but not least – Estonian dance music is represented by our oldest original dance called labajalg (flatfoot) that is at least 2000 years old dance form.

Q: If you would have to compare the social dances of the renaissance era to the contemporary dances then do you think that the old are better. I mean like the wine and violins are getting better with the time. Or do you think that after a couple of centuries people will remember only breakdance and hiphop?

A: I am sure that if you would do a little reasearch then you would find that the old and traditional dances are being danced much more in the world than the so called modern dances. Indeed, salsa,waltzes, tango, samba, flamenco etc are being danced from America to Japan. Those dance forms have a solid place in the culture and they won’t go nowhere. Now if to come to the wine and violins then we can summarize here that people tend to favor the traditions in culture. Avant-garde comes and goes and can be an avant-garde only once.

Q: What do you think about an idea to create a modern choreography to the old music? Would you agree to play it when a break-dancer would dance to the folia or fandanguillo?

By the way, on this album there is the famous „Leyenda“ by Albeniz that originally isn’t meant to be danced, but a renown Spanish step-dancer Guillem Alonso has created a choreography to this piece and I’ve also had a chance to play it live with him. That’s why I took it up in the first place. Nowadays I play it with the flamenco-dancer Maria Rääk who has her own steps so everything is possible. You just need to feel the style and have some taste when mixing those things.

Q: You are not playing alone on this album, there are other people, too. Not exactly drum and bass but what do they do and what does it add to your music?

A: In the dance music the rhytm is the most important thing and to stress the rhytm in some pieces I have added some percussion. And actually – it is the drum and bass! In the old dances I have Robert and Maria Staak from the early music group Rondellus playing percussion. In Spanish music I have a flamenco-dancer Anne Anderson playing castanets and clapping hands and in the samba my good colleague Jorma Puusaag uses his guitar as a percussion instrument. Finally, in the Estonian dance, an Estonian cellist Ardo Västrik helps me with the bass. But when I play this program live, then I have also the percussionist Riho Ridbeck from the Hortus Musicus and the dancer Maria Rääk on the stage.

Questions by Joonas Lepna, answers by Kristo Käo.
The interview was published in a local newspaper Hiiu Leht in Estonia in Apr. 2008
It is my own rough translation 🙂

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