The Slovenia Times

A Virtuoso of the Button Accordion



As they're played by bands throughout the country, particularly at weddings and festivals, it's hard to imagine that these distinctive sounds were only established fifty years ago. Lojze Slak, Slovenia's most popular button accordionist, and his ensemble have been one of the most influential and noteworthy figures in the development and popularization of this musical style and their fame extends far beyond the nation's borders. At the beginning of November, the Ansambel Lojzeta Slaka (Lojze Slak ensemble) celebrated its 40th anniversary. Even though the band have recorded more than forty albums, made innumerable public appearances and written more than four hundred songs, its leader, Lojze Slak, still thinks that the time with his ensemble has gone by too fast and thus he has no plans to retire from his musical mission. The band developed its own characteristic sound by introducing the button accordion, also known as the diatonic harmonica, and a variety of male voices. Lojze Slak's button accordion playing has inspired many other bands to adopt the style, including polka fans from all across the world, especially in the USA, where around 40 button box clubs have been formed. Due to their immense popularity in their homeland and in America, the ensemble have became icons, along with the Ansambel bratov Avsenik (the Avsenik Brothers ensemble), of Slovenian folk music, immediately recognizable by all Slovenian emigrants and other folk music fans in Germany, the USA, Canada and Australia. Part of the reason for the immense success of the Lojze Slak ensemble lies in the fact that they were innovative in the period when the national folk-music scene was still developing. Only ten years before, during the 1950's, the Avsenik Brothers ensemble had revolutionized this scene when they introduced the accordion, guitar and wind instruments - usually clarinets, baritone saxophones or trumpets and thereby brought a new structure to popular folk ensembles. The big names that followed over the next decade, such as Stirje kovaci (the Four Smiths), Beneski fantje (the Venetian Guys) and the Lojze Slak ensemble, all brought their own variations, however, the basic structure and sound survived and over the decades it has become the accepted standard. As the popularity of the music relies on the simplicity of its themes, melodies and rhythms, the patterns that were established then have changed very little since. Thus, it could be said, that those ensembles found their way into the hearts of the masses and forty years on, the Lojze Slak ensemble quite obviously still knows how to get there. How it came to be Almost every success story has its own modest beginnings. While the birth of the Lojze Slak ensemble officially dates back to 1964, its story begins much earlier than that. Lojze Slak began playing accordion at wedding celebrations when he was 15 years old. In the years that followed, he played at many weddings, usually alone but occasionally with a couple of other musicians under the name of Trio Lojze Slak. At the age of 25 he presented himself to a wider audience when, as a solo accordionist, he took part in a talent quest run by a Ljubljana-based radio station. His smooth charm and exceptional talent won over both the jury and the audience. He then formed 'the Slak Brothers ensemble' together with his brothers Matija, Stane and Tone. They soon became well known throughout Dolenjska, where they were based and mostly performed. The band broke up after the two eldest brothers were drafted into the army. However, Lojze continued playing and soon afterwards formed another band, with Niko Zlobko, who played both guitar and clarinet and bassist Ciril Babnik, who was replaced by Franci Sever two years later. Though they were successful in competitions and published an album in the early sixties, it wasn't until after they met a vocal quintet calling themselves Fantje s Praprotna (the Praprotno Boys) during a radio concert in 1964 that they became popular nationally. The magical harmony of the folk instrumentalists and the five singers soon proved to be a huge success and a new chapter in the history of national folk music began. In the decades that followed they had many hit songs such as V dolini tihi, Po dekle, Dezelica sonca in grozdja, Ej prijatelj, Visoko nad oblaki, etc., which have become evergreens. They also published more than forty albums, all of which went gold. Although some of the original members have now retired, the band keeps on playing. They have been the recipient of many awards, both foreign and domestic, among the most notable are the Slovenian honour the symbol of freedom, an American Music Academy award and lifetime achievement awards from Minnesota and Ohio. Yet, their biggest honour is probably in the enormous number of ensembles that try to emulate them, either in their structure or in their song arrangements.


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