Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Portuguese banjo man Andre Dal
I don’t consider myself as a solo performer because first and foremost, Portugal is a country where bluegrass music is almost unknown, and it’s very hard to book gigs as a band, and even worse as a solo banjo performer,” says Andre Dal. “Having said that, I’m trying to find other ways to promote bluegrass music in Portugal.”
He’s obviously succeeding, even despite the fact he’s afflicted with Focal Hand Dystonia, a malady that affects his picking hand and which nearly forced him to give up playing the banjo, his instrument of choice. Nevertheless, he recently released his debut solo album, Beyond the Tagus River, utilizing an assist from fifteen guest musicians. He points with pride to the fact that the album has received airplay on several radio stations and reaped great reviews, including one from none other than Tony Trischka.
He says he’s also working hard to organize Portugal’s first ever bluegrass festival, although it had to be postponed to 2022 because of COVID.
In addition, he’s finalizing plans to host his own bluegrass radio show, which also marks a first for Portugal. He’s hoping the show will launch in October.
“I haven’t performed solo, unless you count a workshop I did at a banjo event in England,” he explains. “I just released my debut solo album on June 21, and it was mostly meant to show the Portuguese what bluegrass music is all about. The musicians are from ten different countries and as a result, it is extremely hard to get everyone together to play live.”
Dal, whose day job includes the prominent role he plays in the Portuguese band, Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti, says his main musical goal is all about trying to maintain a traditional bluegrass sound while also striving to include additional elements relating to swing and gypsy jazz.
Dal cites Tony Trischka, Scott Vestal, Jeff Scroggins, Ross Nickerson, Béla Fleck, Mike Munford, Bill Keith, and Earl Scruggs as chief banjo influences, and Tony Rice, Jake Workman, Chris Luquette, Sam Bush, Tristan Scroggins, Frank Solivan, Jeff Cardey, Michael Cleveland, Josh Swift, Jerry Douglas, Rob Ickes, and Olivier Uldry among the other musicians that have had a lingering impact on his playing.
“There are so many,” he insists.
In addition, he notes that he’s had the opportunity to jam with several of his heroes, among them, Bill Keith, Mike Munford, Jeff and Tristan Scroggins, Rob Ickes, and Chris Luquette. As part of his band, he’s taken part in some of Europe’s most prominent music festivals, including La Roche Bluegrass Festival and the European World of Bluegrass festival.
Happily then, for all the effort he’s invested in the sharing of his music, the results appear to be paying off. He’s especially pleased that the enthusiastic response that his solo album has received with folks back home. “After they listen, they find the music is just great,” he insists. “When they see the band play live, they really like it a lot.”
Up until now, Dal’ repertoire has consisted mostly of traditional bluegrass music, but he says he occasionally veers beyond the template by incorporating folk standards and music from his native country.
Andre says that his own interest in bluegrass was spawned from the soundtrack for the film Deliverance, and that after first learning guitar, he switched to banjo and began taking lessons in London in 1997. He continued to pursue his studies with Gerry Rolph, a seminal English bluegrass musician who had relocated to Portugal.
His career continued to progress when he became a member of the European Bluegrass Music Association, the only Portuguese player to do so. Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti was formed in 2009. Unfortunately, his physical ailment began hindering his ability to effectively play and perform, nearly forcing him to abandon his musical pursuits entirely. However after readjusting his technique, he actually invented a device that helped his fingers to function properly. While he hasn’t gotten back to the level of proficiency he once had, he continues to persevere while proffering his unwavering love of bluegrass.
“Bluegrass music is very inclusive and friendly, and people really get that,” he replies when asked why he believes bluegrass boasts such an enthusiastic international following…”You go for the music and stay for the friends. Hopefully, it will be famous someday in Portugal. I’m trying my best.”
His new album can be checked out online.