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Accordionist visiting qathet will entertain with parody and pop

Retired accountant pursues his passion
SQUEEZE-BOX: Accordionist Henry Slama started studying the portable instrument from a young age and continues to pursue his passion playing for audiences in the Lower Mainland and Phoenix, Arizona. Slama is a guest musician at the upcoming third annual qathet Accordion Fest on May 10 and 11.

The accordion is a fairly new instrument in the grand scheme of humans playing musical contraptions. The portable and versatile wind instrument is thought to have originated in Germany in the early 19th century.

The accordion's popularity took off across Europe, especially the Balkans, and soon became synonymous with folk music traditions around the world. It didn't take long for the accordion to make it over to North America, influencing American folk music, as well as becoming popular in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Henry Slama, who lives in Burnaby, BC, became enticed by the accordion from a young age. He studied under world-renowned accordionist Leo Aquino in the 1970s and became accomplished with the instrument.

However, after playing in various venues in Vancouver for a few years, adult life soon took over, and it wasn't until his retirement as an accountant in 2021 that he picked up the accordion once again. He has been playing for audiences enthusiastically ever since.

Slama will play at qathet Accordion Fest, which takes place on May 10 and 11, for the third time. He plays a style called comedic parody, where he takes existing songs someone else has written and changes the words.

"I've done a tune on 'Margaritaville' by Jimmy Buffett and turned it into a drinking song, and I've taken things like the Beatles song 'Yesterday' and changed it into a golfing song," said Slama. "I basically make them fun and engaging for people."

Some of the attractive qualities of the accordion is its versatility and ability to engage an audience to dance, sing and have fun.

Slama will be playing during the Accordion Fest main concert on Friday (May 10) night at Powell River Academy of Music. The evening will also feature accordionist Kosta Bozhinov, guitarists Budge Schachte and Stephen Nikleva, bassist Boyd Norman and percussionist Terry Martyniuk. Accordion Fest organizers and musicians Karina Inkster and Walter Martella will also be on stage Friday evening.

“I'll be playing some classical accordion music that was written for accordions, many, many years ago,” said Slama, who plays two types of accordions: traditional acoustic with reeds and an electric one.

He said people can expect to hear the classic, familiar acoustic accordion on Friday night, but come Saturday, he plans to break out his electric version for the Accordion Cabaret performance at Forest Bisto and Lounge.

"I've been practicing and I'm all excited about that [performance at the cabaret]," said Slama. "I'm going to play some parody songs that will get the audience engaged."

He said the electronic accordion, which needs to be plugged into an amplifier, is completely different from the acoustic instrument.

"It looks like an accordion, but there are no reeds inside," he added. "The beauty of it [electric accordion] is that you can make it sound like any other instrument. For example, you can make it sound like a violin, a piano or a harmonica.”

Now retired, Slama and his wife spend four or five months in Phoenix, Arizona, where he plays festivals, weddings, seniors homes and around the city. Enjoyment, talent and fun is a good recipe to keep pursuing a passion, and that's why he keeps playing.

"It's something I learned a long time ago and I'm pretty good at it," he said. "I enjoy playing and it brings fun to people who are listening; it brings enjoyment."

The Accordion Fest Cabaret, which is the closing night, will also feature musicians Martin Hergt, Walter Martella, Karina Inkster and Bozhinov on accordions, Nikleva on guitar and Norman on upright bass.

Third annual qathet Accordion Fest events are held at the music academy located at 7280 Kemano Street, except for the Accordion Cabaret at the Forest Bistro. For information about tickets and by-donation events, go to accordionfest.

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