The trio, originally hailing from Western Australia, Canberra and Tasmania, learned to play their brand of gypsy and tradition music from Roma musicians during their travels in Eastern Europe.
The band’s piano accordion player Sofia Chapman had a chat to Beat about all things accordion, how she started out and what made her pick one up in the first place.
“The accordion is so much more portable, it’s hard to lug a piano around. There’s something fun about playing the accordion, it’s right against your body and it’s buzzing away. And it keeps you fit.” she says.
“People also think it’s quite unusual to see a woman playing it but there are lots of women playing, it’s [more about] where to find them, and where to see them.”
With many strings to her bow, Chapman is also an accomplished playwright and composer. With a new show Todd in Venice opening at La Mama next February, Chapman easily finds a balance between her two loves. “Theatre is really satisfying, it brings art and music and writing together.
“That’s the thing, the stone that I upturn every few years with writing and directing plays, that’s pretty satisfying. And sometimes the other members of Vardos get roped into playing the music too, which is fun.”
Eastern European music wasn’t something Chapman fell into by accident, instead Vardos is a product of her lifelong love for the style. “I’ve always loved the Eastern European composers. The idea of gypsy dancers and Hungarian rhapsodies seemed so romantic and exotic and I always wanted to go there.”
The trio’s shared interest in honing their craft has taken them to Eastern Europe and beyond to learn from musicians from places including Hungary, Transylvania and Romania. “Kirri bought a double bass from a gypsy in Budapest. That was great but bringing it home on the train was a bit of a saga. We documented it in photos which was quite fun, getting on and off the trains and trams and things with Hungary in the background.” Chapman says.
While some of their tutorials were pre-arranged, in true gypsy style not everything went according to plan. “In Transylvania, it’s on a horse and cart or on a train in the middle of the night. [They’d] hang around for when the musicians come out for a cigarette and ask them ‘Can you teach?’
It’s no doubt that it’s this collective spontaneity that adds to the theatrics in their live shows. Violinist Alana Hunt is known as a bit of a livewire and the band love it. “She’s so hilarious the way she leaps around. She makes it look really easy, but she’s also very virtuosic on the violin so it’s very entertaining,” says Chapman.
With their new CD due for out next year, expect to see more of Vardos around. “It’s quite fun doing a range of gigs, we perform at weddings, we do festivals. The one we’re doing at the Coburg Night Market, because it’s a public free event, it’s really nice sometimes when people just wander through.
“Some people will know that we’re playing there, but some people won’t even be expecting music, and they get exposed to something they weren’t expecting.”
When you listen to any of their back catalogue, Vardos seem an energy-charged collection of traditional gypsy-folk music from consummate professionals (which they are), they have no interest in treading water.
The trio has every intention of further travel, and allowing themselves to be inspired by their surroundings. Africa and South America are among some of the international destinations on their gigging bucket list.
By Asha Collins