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Since 1996, Le Grand Soufflet has taken spectators on an annual musical journey, gradually exploring the musical worlds united by a common thread: the accordion.
In previous years, Le Grand Soufflet has taken spectators to a variety of destinations: Swing in 2014, Mexico in 2013, Louisiana in 2012, the Americas in 2010, Romania and the Romany spirit in 2007 and Java in 2005.
In 2016, it's Argentina's turn to headline the festival with a host of artists invited to revisit the tango, and much more. "When we choose the theme, we look at all music genres," states Etienne Grandjean, artistic director of the festival. A festival that sets itself no limits, constantly pushing the boundaries, to create links between different music genres and countries.
"Today's music owes its vibrancy to migrants"
This year's festival, dedicated mainly to the tango, is an opportunity to explore the origins of this “extraordinary musical richness". A style of music “due to migratory flow" in every sense of the term. "Today's music owes its vibrancy to migrants," stresses the festival founder. And the theme of Argentina is the perfect opportunity to prove it.
The tango existed long before the bandoneon. The symbolic instrument of this nostalgic music originated in Germany before being "exported" around 1880 by English sailors who, as legend has it, exchanged it for a bottle of whisky on arriving in Buenos Aires.
A few years later, the tango would make the return journey across the Atlantic, when artists fleeing the Argentinian dictatorship settled in Europe. An entire culture was packed away in their suitcases, with the tango in tow. A "piano with braces", as the French like to call it, that travels and brings people together sums up the instrument perfectly
"Today's music owes its vibrancy to migrants"
Encounters with other musicians is precisely what gave Etienne Grandjean the idea to create a festival dedicated to the accordion in Ille-et-Vilaine. "The idea came to me through my experience as an accordion player, I was playing at various accordion festivals and I thought it was a real shame that there wasn't a major event for this instrument in Brittany, which is very popular in the region," explains the Le Grand Soufflet creator. "I wanted to invite accordion players, so I went to the cultural centre in Fougères and another dozen centres joined in for the first festival." With this first brainwave came the first Grand Soufflet festival! In 2015, it celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Another distinctive feature of Le Grand Soufflet is its "Bretillien" dimension, Bretillien describing people and things from the Ille-et-Vilaine département. Throughout the whole of Ille-et-Vilaine, cultural venues and libraries of all sizes invite guest artists and contribute to spreading the word about Le Grand Soufflet.
An instrument for forging links in the region
The festival then gained ground in other towns, and its ambition grew, with this instrument as the driving force in forging links all over the region. "There are so many different dimensions to Le Grand Soufflet," explains Etienne Grandjean. "From large concerts in halls or marquees, to more intimate shows in the villages and towns around Ille-et-Vilaine, there are so many different atmospheres." The festival also attaches great importance to exhibitions such as "The Accordion and travel mementos", musical conferences, documentary screenings, wandering accordionists, games with the Jaupitre association, palets tournaments, displays and radio shows at the "Village Thabor" which sees the gardens transformed into an open-air dance hall complete with marquee. In the Breton capital and other towns in the département, the festival also offers fringe events with Le Petit Soufflet and its free concerts in local bistros.
Beyond from the numerous events and activities taking place throughout the festival, the overriding idea is to bring people together around music, and this is what truly counts for the festival which receives, on average, over 12,000 spectators every October at 50 different venues in 30 towns.
Le Grand Soufflet is accumulating an array of big and small memories. The artistic director recalls the most memorable moments from the past 20 years. "I remember one extraordinary evening in Saint-Jean-du-Pavail, one of the smallest villages in the département. 180 of the village's 700 inhabitants attended the event. I also have wonderful memories of the Winston McAnnuf & Fixi concert in 2013 and Richard Galliano's performance in 2000 with the Basse-Normandie symphony orchestra."
Other big names have graced the stages of Le Grand Soufflet over the years each bringing their own musical colour: the Orchestre National de Barbès in 2015, Sanseverino, Titi Robin Trio, Pigalle, to name just a few. Every year, the festival also holds between 30 and 40 artistic training sessions.
Many of artists performing at this year's festival, held from 6 to 15 October 2016, explore the Argentinian theme. It's the very first year that so many concerts will have a direct link to the tango, in all its forms. From the avant-garde Tango Carbon to the revival of electro-tango from Otros Aires as well as the "outlandish diva of tango" Maria Dolores, all Argentinian rhythms are represented. The festival is also forging connections to other musical worlds by inviting the Mexican rapper Pato Machete for its opening night at the Thabor in Rennes. With Rennes Opera House and the Brittany Symphony Orchestra, the creation of Ombre de Venceslao will constitute one of this year's greatest cultural encounters related to the tango and the notion of migration and crossing cultures.
Mick Jagger's brother's got the blues
Finally, the festival is coming over to the "blues" side with Little Bob and the eagerly awaited arrival of Chris Jagger, journalist, musical photographer and bluesman, as well as little brother of the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, who organisers are hoping to see in the crowd.