The Dolomites: Alien accordion
The Dolomites play Japanese-tinged Romanian music. Gypsy oom-pah-pah
with a Japanese pop punch. Accordion and tuba meet taiko drums. The
Dolomites was founded by Stevhen Koji Iancu, who goes by Stefanko.
Stefanko has lived in Tokyo, Portland, Mexico, and New York. But the
place that defines him is outer space.
So your background is Japanese and Romanian, how did you end up blending gypsy and Japanese music traditions?
I blend traditional Japanese folk and enka melodies with gypsy, Balkan,
and other elements from many tribes and traditions around the globe. I
came to blend these traditions as I noticed parallels in the melodies
and chord progressions, as well as the root of the spirit and soul in
which these sounds derive. It seems that the gypsy traditions have more
of the fire element and the Japanese have more of a watery element so
it just came natural to mix the two together.
Did you grow up with Balkan music?
Yes, but actually Japanese music came first in my childhood. I heard
enka, Japanese folk songs, music by Koga Masao, Ichiro Fujiyama and
Misora Hibari. I also listened to Outer Space Police, the Power Ranger
theme songs from the 80s including Dynaman, Jaspion, Shaliban, and San
Vulcan. It wasn’t until middle school that I came across some obscure
gypsy accordion cassette tapes from Romania by Costel de La Bolitin. I
also found some records by Maria Tanase, a Romanian folk singer. Then I
got into brass bands from Zece Prajini, like Fanfare Ciocarlia, and the
balkanization spread from there.
You’ve lived all over, when people ask where you’re from which are the places that define you?
I define myself as being from outer space as we are all in and from
outer space. Other than that I don’t really believe that any place quite
defines me. Its more important to me to define the place that I am in,
where and whenever this is, and how I fit in to that place. I am
naturally drawn to Japanese and Romanian traditions because of family,
but I wouldn’t say they define me, nor does High Wycombe,
Champaign-Urbana, Portland, New York, Tokyo, Okinawa, Bucharest, San
Francisco or Los Angeles, which are places I have lived.
I just read that Japan is the biggest music market in the world
behind the U.S. How was it living in Japan and playing Balkan music
There were some challenges in the beginning but I ended up having some
of my best experiences in my career touring and playing all across
Japan. I was blessed to work with very solid musicians that picked up
material fast and precise. They also taught me a lot about Japanese
rhythms as well and were just great hard working people. I look forward
to going back to Japan and performing there again.
What elements of Japanese music seeped into the Dolomites sound?
The enka melodies, bits and pieces of the Outer Space Police Theme songs from the 80s, and traditional Japanese folk songs.
How was it touring with Gogol Bordello? What did you play and where did you go?
It was dramatic, entertaining, and educational. I played accordion, we toured the Midwest and the East Coast of the U.S.A.
Who are the Dolomites, currently?
The Dolomites core members are Stevhen Koji Iancu on accordion and
vocals, Natsumi Suzuki on keyboards and percussion. Natsumi also
performs Japanese tribal fusion belly dance. DJ Joro Boro has recently
been added to the mix incorporating electronic beats, samples and
sounds. Depending on the city we are in we have tuba or bass, drums or
percussion that join us in the line up.
What are the Dolomites up to next? Any touring this year, or a new record?
After the Symbiosis Festival we will do some west coast dates and in
between we will focus on a new EP called “Showa Love”, which focuses on
music from the Showa era in Japan (1926-1989). Elements of hip hop,
moombah, global and electronic beats are also being thrown into the mix
to create these original compositions. Touring shall resume in the fall
and winter in the US, Mexico and Japan.
I read that food tends to be a part of your live show, or it was, is that still the case?
The “Smell the Muzik” tours are a part of Dolomites history as we did
used to have certain songs about food and cooked up a dish on stage to
accompany the music. It was our way of stimulating the audience with a
sense of taste, smell and sound. Those days were pretty crazy!
What can we expect from a Dolomites show?
Nowadays our focus is more on creating a mystical, unforgettable
atmosphere that takes one on a journey through deeper theatrical realms
of spirit, culture, dance and sound. Given the proper time and place,
one should expect to be transported into an alien realm that has a new
sound with a mysterious feel of nostalgia. Something that one could not
Except maybe in outer space.