Portuguese banjoist Andre Dal had been working for eight years on a solo banjo album, with an eye towards releasing it this year. Andre felt a certain sense of urgency as he has been suffering from a focal dystonia in his right hand, and wanted to capture his banjo music for posterity before it slips away… if it does.
We first became acquainted with Dal when his band, Stone Bones and Bad Spaghetti, was featured in our Bluegrass Beyond Borders column in 2018. They have been together for a dozen years now, pioneering the bluegrass sound in a country without much exposure to it, and with a proud and longstanding folk music culture of its own.
Andre tells us that the bluegrass scene in Portugal is essentially nothing. He hosts the nation’s sole recurring bluegrass jam, and is an aggressive and tireless promoter of the music, but with such a limited scene at home, he has the distinction of being the region’s primary artist. So much so that he calls his music Portugrass!
Given the paucity of professional players near his home, and the inability to travel in Europe over the past 12 months, much of the tracking for his album had to be done remotely. 16 different musicians from 10 countries participated on the project, something he might never have been able to accomplish otherwise.
We asked him to explain a bit about his background, and the upcoming record.
“I’ve been playing the 5-string banjo and bluegrass music for over 20 years. Over all these years, I’ve participated in many bluegrass festivals and concerts, where I was part of the audience, went to jams or played with my band, Stonebones & Bad Spaghetti. I’ve made many friends that I now consider my second family, my bluegrass family.
In 2010, I was diagnosed with focal dystonia and I was devastated. I learned that this disease can have a huge impact on my ability to play and I realized that other musicians stopped playing the banjo because of it. I started playing using other fingers and continued to practice and try not to give up.
Portugal is a country where bluegrass music is almost non-existent, and for years I have been trying to show the Portuguese public and musicians what bluegrass music is all about. Therefore, before the disease progressed too much, I decided to record an instrumental bluegrass album with some of my friends, who I have gotten to know, to present bluegrass music to Portugal.
The album was recorded individually across time and distance at each musician’s amateur home studios, except a couple of the musicians that recorded at other friend’s home studios. I assembled and edited all tracks. Jason Borisoff did the mixing and mastering and Hildebrando Soares did the art cover.
Beyond the Tagus River is the single and also the name of the album. My family comes from a rural part of south Portugal called Alentejo (wich literally means Beyond Tagus). I find a lot of similarities between this region of Portugal and the region where bluegrass music was born. People are country people, live from agriculture, and are very earth-related. Musically, even if musical styles of each region are very different, I can relate them together strongly. Beyond the Tagus River is, therefore, a bluegrass medium tempo tune with a very strong Alentejo feeling, as I see it.”
Here is a video he created for Beyond The Tagus River. Andre is supported by Meade Richter on fiddle, Olivier Uldry Guitarra on reso-guitar, Reuben Agnew on guitar, Jean-Michel Pache on mandolin, and Gil Pereira on bass.
Andre is accepting pre-orders for the album via the PPL crowdfunding site, and invites anyone interested in his music to check the campaign there, which runs through May 17.