Interview: Amaraterra (June 2016)

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Whichever label they choose, Amaraterra is indeed a multi-national band that reflects the ever changing multicultural city of London. A few days later, we caught up with Cassandre Balbar, the group’s bagpipe and recorders player, to look at pizzica and Amaraterra through the eyes of someone who came across this music not in the squares of the little towns in the province of Lecce, but in the concert venues of Paris.

Rhythm Passport: How did you become involved with Amaraterra?

Cassandre: I’m a classically trained recorder player. When I was 14 years old I got interested in traditional music and when I was 19 years old I started playing the bagpipe. I was 22-23 years old when I discovered the traditional and folk music scene in Paris. I was really into dancing at the time. One day a friend of mine invited me to do some tarantella/pizzica dancing. The band playing was called Télamuré. I fell in love with the music, I really liked the vitality of it. So I started to go quite often to their gigs.

I was studying at SOAS, University of London, when I met Alfredo. Amaraterra came to play on campus, it was around 2013, and I thought they were an incredible band. I was so happy I had found a pizzica band in London.

At the time I was playing the Galician bagpipe and I thought it would be compatible with the music of Amaraterra. Alfredo and I talked about it, he agreed but then nothing really happened. One day a South-American guitarist asked me to do a collaboration with him and a flute player, who turned out to be the flute player of Amaraterra! He then left the band and went back to Italy but recommended me to the group.

After only one rehearsal, I was on stage with Amaraterra. I learnt how to play pizzica pretty quickly. I had never played it before but I had listened to it so much that I had an understanding of it. The melodies were really simple to me and the improvisational style. I kind of knew it already. The dancing also helped a lot with learning the music. When the first gig was over I was like: ‘It was amazing, this is my band, I love this band!

Rhythm Passport: Amaraterra is however not the only band you are a member of. It seems you know a lot about many different folk traditions.

Cassandre: I have been playing professionally since I was 17. I played and still play in all kind of folk music bands from all over. I was in a Cèilidh band, I played Greek, Turkish, Persian music. At the moment I play in a band called Världens Band and I also have my own projects on the side. I am not an expert in all of them but I have definitely got an idea of how to play many different European and some non-European (for example, Senegalese) styles.

Rhythm Passport: What is your role and contribution in Amaraterra?

Cassandre: I play the Galician bagpipe and the recorders in Amaraterra. I started playing the bagpipe when I was 14, when I went to Spain to learn Spanish. I thought it would have blended organically with pizzica and when we tried play all together for the first time we really liked it and decided to keep it. I improvise all the time when I am on stage and hardly ever play the same thing.

I also help out with the management of the band, although Alfredo does most of it. I am a sort of a musician consultant for the band, because I have been in the business a few years now [13 years] and I know what it is like.

Rhythm Passport: What do you like about pizzica and Amaraterra?

Cassandre: I love the energy of pizzica. I might feel like I would rather not play one day but then I start and ‘boom’, it makes everything better. All the travelling, the money… it is really worth it. And the effect of Amaraterra on the audience is amazing too.

What I really like about the band is that it’s a real traditional band in the traditional kind of sense. No one, apart from two of us, are professional, classically trained musicians, and everybody has another profession. It is like the ‘village band’, where everybody does something else and then meet in the square and play. It is a raw kind of feeling. Amaraterra can create that because they don’t see gigs as a means to pay the rent. They play their hearts out. They are absolutely passionate about this music. I think it is one of the most beautiful things about Amaraterra and why I loved the band so much when I saw them the first time.

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