This article came out on Saturday 22 november on the AD Curaçao newspaper. An interview by writer and journalist Giselle Ecury with Carel Kraayenhof about his project Liberación (Carel Kraayenhof Ensemble).
Carel Kraayenhof’s dream: unification
Much has been written about him. Roughly 55 million people from all over the world watched him play the bandoneón at the wedding of our present royal couple. He has performed with the greatest on earth. But what strikes the most about him, is his modest and open look, his honest simplicity and peace of mind, as if everything amazes him and keeps amazing him. Carel Kraayenhof. A guarantee for a good conversation.
By Giselle Ecury
As soon as Alkmaar is behind you, you cross vast polders, where cows are still in the meadows and sheep graze. Mills spin a northwester away. Will there be rain? On a cloudy Monday morning I’m on my way to his home, following the instructions of his wife and manager, Thirza Lourens. The statement: “Behind every successful man stands a strong woman” for sure applies to her, although she certainly will deny that. And yet I will state that. Because she is always there, arranging everything in an adequate way and she does that with a smile. Besides that she is caring. “I will give you one hour. I want Carel to have some rest before his next interview. Is that OK for you?” This last sentence says it all. She has also stayed true to herself and is simply kind. How easy can life be? And so I stand, after a short ride, in the middle of the North-Holland’s Beemster. By many people only known due to its’ delicious cheese, but perhaps among some elder people also because of Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater; who by using 43 windmills managed to transform this polder into dry land in 1612. Since 1999 the Beemster is on the Unesco World Heritage list.
This completes the circle for the Dutch boy who became a first class world musician and who, lovingly, received from the country Argentina the official name ‘Tanguero’ . In 2005 he also received in the name of the Argentinian parliament, out of the hands of the tango-poet Horacio Ferrer, the country’s highest cultural decoration for his inexhaustible effort for the Argentinian tango world wide. Later he was also named as Officer in the Order of Oranje Nassau for his personal effort, vision and qualities with which our society provides from. In this way Kraayenhof and his Thirza not only search for connection, they also experience it. As if it should be that way. And that it is.
Actually, I know that for them it is not at all about decorations and praise. That is exactly why I want to mention it. Because it makes this great musician, who completely stayed true to himself and wants to keep it all close to his heart (and manages to do so) to come to a state of connection and interconnectedness, only more unique.
“If my bandoneon, in one way or another, could convince people to bring themselves to also play this instrument with pleasure, and maybe success, then I would know that my playing served a cause”. These were Carel’s words, after he told me about a special meeting on a tango-festival in the South of France. There a bearded Spanish speaking man left a group of friends and held Carel with tears in his eyes. He introduced himself as somebody who was able to work his way up to being a music teacher, thanks to a tango school in Buenos Aires helped by Kraayenhof. “And that’s why I am here now far away in the South of France. Who could ever have thought of that?”
These are heartwarming stories told by the man who now would like to unite refugees and immigrants, preferably also with the common Dutchman, so that new things can arise and our cultures can actually integrate. Halfway November there will be a unique cooperation between Refugee Work The Netherlands and the bandoneón player and his ensemble. “The different forms of art will help us in that matter: the drawing together, the writing of stories together, poetry. We should come forward more, make ourselves better known. The way it goes right now in the Netherlands …… It worries me”, he says. “There is much more than an economic system, in which we are urged to more and bigger. If we keep on going this way, the earth will soon be exhausted, there will be more dissatisfaction, the stream of refugees will increase immensely and not only be a problem for Lampedusa or for the fugitives themselves. The ethic morality should come first instead of always looking at the technical possibilities. Our hearts must begin to speak. Nowadays for instance, robots are being developed to help in the healthcare. Is this still ethical? I don’t think so. What appeals to me so much in Argentina? There people care for each other. With love. I saw that on Curaçao as well. That island has a big place in my heart. The island has something of the two worlds, in which I really feel at home. Although it start to sneak up on me that here I get more and more the feeling that I want to leave, because I miss the involvement that they have. What if you have suddenly must flee. Just think about it.
Kraayenhof, who from his eighth year learned to play the piano, feels for deprived children. His piano of those days has, in the meantime, introduced many other people to music. “An old instrument does not belong in a museum, to look at. An instrument should be played on.” And so, his piano is nowadays in Nijmegen, but will shortly be moved to Ter Apel, to an asylum for refugees.
Together with Lourens, Kraayenhof dedicates himself to the preservation of the bandoneon in Argentina. Too many instruments disappear there, because tourists take them as souvenirs. Together with local people they try to get as many instruments as possible back to Argentina. Also attention is given to training in maintenance and reparation of these instruments. This way unprivileged young people can learn a profession.
We talk about a project in Jujuy, a province in the northwest of Argentina, near the borders of Bolivia, Chili and the foothills of the Andes. Together with the Foundation Tango por los Chicos, started by a tango school in Engelen (near Den Bosch in The Netherlands), it became possible to gather bandoneóns, so that the children in Jujuy no longer have to play on cardboard instruments (this was also possible by holding a benefit concert during a salón evening).
“Do you know that it (the bandoneón) actually has its origins in Germany?”. Indeed Wikipedia tells me that the bandoneon was invented in 1854 in Germany and soon became a popular instrument in Italy as well. From there it probably ended up in Argentina via the season workers. There, the melancholic sound of the bandoneón fitted particularly the tango. In Germany the instrument disappeared during the Second World War. “Actually it is an immigrant” says Kraayenhof with a laugh. “And now that people know him, they learn more and more to appreciate him. So you see: music connects, speaks all languages, makes contact.” And not only that, it seems to have a healing effect on all our body cells. When I look at musicians, I always see (in spite of the concentration) the joy in creating something together, the interaction, eye contact.
I feel the sounds in my body and I can hardly sit still, whether it is a classical concert or the new album of Kraayenhof and his Sexteto Canyengue, with which he already performs about 25 years. Music always touches.
“It is great to perform for an audience that is so involved”, confirms Kraayenhof. “We experienced it on Curacao, now a year ago. There you can feel the love and pride for their own composers and musicians. To, there, play ‘Sabrosita’….” It is like listening for a moment to that piece, before Kraayenhof continues: “Or ‘Atardi Korsou ta Bunita’. That ‘softly singing’ from the audience. Then I feel the bond you have on such a moment. The solidarity. That is where we have to go world wide. That is a dream of mine, a deep desire. That we really leave the narrow minds behind and unify. Then nobody has to be lonesome or to flee.