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After a taxi ride pulsing with electric tango and with the likes of Daddy Yankee blasting reggaeton at about 400 decibels from passing cars, going to hear two brothers from Philadelphia playing guitar could have been an incongruous experience.
Instead, the gig – with people dancing between the tables, drinks flowing freely and a raucous mixture of foreigners and locals illustrated not only the welcome reception of outsiders in Buenos Aires but also the similarities between the two musical communities.Philadelphia Sessions
The Philadelphia Sessions, touring in South America for the first time this year, is a non-profit organisation created by brother and sister, Brandy and Bill Butler, based on the idea of sharing music and making inter-cultural connections with other musicians around the world.
Instead of simply handing out money, the team help musicians to fundraise and save money for travel and expenses – involving the whole neighbourhood with shows, food and events. This idea of the community is really at the heart of the project.
Ryan Tennis, 30, singer/songwriter and acoustic guitarist is the seventh musician to be sent abroad as an ambassador of Philly music and has joined his brother, Bronson, 26, who has lived here for a year playing music and running a successful open mic night in San Telmo. Having played a number of shows together in Buenos Aires with Bronson’s band last week, they’ll set out for Salta before heading back to the city for New Years Eve.
In a welcome counterbalance to pre-fabricated Pop Idol/reality TV-manufactured bands that are currently choking the Western markets, Philly music has to have substance: “People always say that the people in Philly are grumpy and that is kinda true but its’ more that what you see is what you get. If people think you’re being fake they’re not going to buy it – it’s got to be authentic,” says Ryan.
“For better or worse it’s less about image and more about the feel of the music,” says Bronson, who plays bass, talking about music back home from his flat on a blustery afternoon.
Philly Music Scene
Recently arrived and enjoying the 30 degree temperature rise, he describes the music scene back home for the unenlightened of us whose idea of Philadelphia music is based on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air: “There’s a lot of blue grass influence and soul – it’s a lot less bullshit and a lot more real than a lot of other cities. One the one hand it’s hard to make it big out of Philly but on the other there’s a community of people who really care about each other.
“Sometimes singer/songwriter music feels like it hasn’t got any balls – it’s too sensitive and doesn’t groove – one big thing is the Philly groove: if you aren’t getting people to nod their heads it’s not doing anything.
Tennis Brothers in Arms
Hearing them play and harmonise together you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d been practising together since infancy – in fact they say they were “jocks” until the end of university, more interested in wrestling and basketball than key signatures and pitch.
Both had lessons at various times but essentially taught themselves sporadically. As children they grew up singing with their siblings and say the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and the Beach Boys music that was played had an early effect of them. Since then influences like the Dave Mathews Band and Bob Marley have also come into play.Ryan says, “It was all stuff with heavy harmonies. Having a tight harmony is really important and it’s what we do best together.”
They have a real musical rapport, which Bronson attributes to more than being brothers and having naturally complimentary voices: “I know when he’s going to breathe, when he’s going to get loud and quiet – whether or not I even want to. We know each others’ voices inside out because you hear someone practising the same song like 46 times in an afternoon and can’t help it,” he says as their mother, Clara, who came to visit and support her sons, makes tea.
Buenos/Philly – Buena Onda
So how does the Philly groove tessellate with the music scene here in Argentina? Bronson says that in his experience Buenos Aires is incredibly receptive to new faces. He abandoned busking on the subte, finding the competition “kind of scary – there’s like a mafia or something that controls who plays”, and started playing gigs.
A year later his open mic night, which brings travellers and locals together to play music every Tuesday night is packed every week. The organic project has been a springboard for new bands and is an opportunity to jam and learn new tricks.
“What Ryan experienced in Philly and what I’ve found here is really the strength of the community and the comeraderie,” says Bronson.
“There are a lot of similarities between Buenos Aires and Philadelphia – what people pay attention to is what you bring and what you’re good at – you’re onda. They’re not worried about where you’re from,” he says.
“I told him and you aren’t going to make the kind of money that you’d make touring in Europe but I think what you can count on is a really involved audience. They’re going to be really into it and they’re not going to hold back on telling you how much they liked it, says Bronson.El Sol Gig
This definitely seems to be the case if last Friday’s gig at El Sol hostel, Recoleta, was a benchmark for how the rest of the Philadelphia Sessions tour is going to be received in Argentina.
On a small stage in a courtyard full of plants and fairy lights at the top of the building they played a mixture of their own songs and covers like Stir it Up, Waiting on the World/Sexual Healing, taking it in turns to back the other and accompanied at intervals by Bronson’s singer and the owner of the hostel.
A crowd that started sitting demurely at their tables sipping a cold beer and tapping their toes grew over the course of the evening until there was standing room only.
With Fernet and Quilmes flowing freely, the warm starry evening and banter with the audience it really was the sound of Philadelphia couched snugly in Buenos Aires’ music scene – bringing the laidback groove to the side streets of Recoleta and finding a place among the myriad sounds of the city.
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