Brighton Festival 2019Public booking opens: Fri 24 Feb, 9am

Belem: a lyrical melange of merriment & melancholy through interwoven folk, tango & classical traditions

Joe Fuller previews the pioneering spirit of the cello-accordion duo ahead of their Brighton Festival debut

The rhythmic momentum of Didier Laloy's accordion and Kathy Adam's cello in Belem should make for a rousing late night gig. The duo performed together in European folk band Panta Rhei, so this concert is of interest to those interested in world music, folk and tango as well as classical music fans, and the unique interplay of the two musicians should flourish in a live setting. I'll highlight some of the best moments from Belem's music below to explore the musical possibilities in this idiosyncratic fusion of poignant jollity.

The video below highlights the differences between the two musicians' styles. Kathy Adam is mostly classical focused in her recordings and performances, although she has also worked in theatre, dance and song. Adam often seems to provide the classical heart of the works, whereas Didier can come across as almost mischievous at times, the jester to Adam's bard. Personally, I like it when the two meet in a more plaintive mode, such as the ponderous playing around the three minute mark in this clip of Le puits, romaniste.


The melodic lines are closer to pop than classical in their occasional major resolutions, such as in album highlight Scampavita, the track which comes closest to traditional chamber music. The rhythms in their work are often folky however, conjuring images of storytelling, ales, jaunts, and energy to me, with a tinge of role playing video games fantasy about them too. There is also a tango lilt to proceedings that the more lithe in the audience might enjoy, and some parts even sound like sea shanties (such as parts of Le puits, romaniste) so there is certainly a wide spectrum of moods to absorb in the show. 



Belem should be praised for trying something new in the context of chamber music, which often focuses on string quartets. More attention is inevitably directed towards individual melodies and performing styles in chamber music, as opposed to the kaleidoscope of an orchestral concert, which can result in more moving, intimate concerts. One of my most memorable classical shows was Huw Wiggin's saxophone and James Sherlock's piano in a 2015 lunchtime Festival concert, when technically challenging pieces and virtuoso playing took my breath away. Belem's show therefore might be a good choice for classical fans who might want to hear different tones, moods and colours in a concert than what they might be used to.

Live reviews have been positive, noting that the audience has responded to melancholic elements, and the vocal quality of the cello playing. The terms poetic and tender have also been used, suggesting that years of playing together have ensured that Laloy and Adam know how to grab an audience's attention in a delicate, emotive way, which is an impressive achievement considering how loud the accordion can be. It's a novel proposition to explore the tender qualities of the accordion in fact, such as in the more downbeat track Valse Noire where Laloy provides a soft, mournful underpinning to Adam's pining cello, resulting in a brighter Max Richter-type drone around the 2 minute mark.

I wouldn't be surprised to find such a duo at a smaller, rowdier venue such as The Bee's Mouth or Komedia's Studio Bar, but the picturesque All Saints Church could emphasise the more poetic aspects of the duo's refreshing collaboration. The charismatic and energetic performers should find a receptive audience in the artful, bawdy eclecticism of a Brighton Festival crowd keen to hear something new.   

Belem performs on Fri 19 May at All Saints Church, Hove. Click for more info and tickets >