Archive | March, 2018

Sexteto Milonguero: Tango in the Present Moment

 by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Javier Di Ciriaco of Sexteto Milonguero, Buenos Aires tango musician

Javier Di Ciriaco, founder of Sexteto Milonguero

For those of us outside Buenos Aires (I live in San Francisco) tango is heard principally through the thousands of historic recordings made during the last 80 years. If this sea of music were to be believed, you’d think that these old arrangements were the only ones that exist. We dance to them over and over again.

But there is a thriving community of contemporary tango in Buenos Aires, peopled by actual living musicians, who are writing new tangos and re-arranging the old ones in innovative ways that literally re-shape the form. Stellar artists like Cristóbal Repetto, María Volonté, Daniel Melingo, Adriana Varela and Caracol are not only bringing tango to vibrant life again, but are expanding its territory in innumerable ways.

 Sexteto Milonguero, founded and fronted by singer Javier Di Ciriaco, is one of those groups. Just completing a U.S. tour, they appeared recently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Di Ciriaco is to the manner born. He has no formal training as a singer. Rather he describes growing up in Argentina in a musical family (his father was a singer), and those occasions of parillas (barbecues), backyard celebrations, weddings and other family gatherings during which music performance by attendees is de rigueur.

This is a common occurrence in Argentine celebrations no matter where in the country you may be. Di Ciriaco describes these events, and how as a child he too would be expected to participate. It was there that he picked up his formidable singing chops.

Highly original and inventive

The sextet is made up of a bandoneonista, two violinists, a pianist, a bassist and Di Ciriaco himself, who also lends his guitar to the musical mix. One thing that makes this band so special is that these are truly professional young musicians whose abilities run the gamut from very tight playing and authoritative knowledge of the music at hand to a sense of fun and humorous drive that makes the music highly unusual in its originality. This is not a combination heard much outside Buenos Aires. 

There was just one solo performance during the concert, and it was significant. The great tango “El día que me quieras” (“The Day You Love Me”) with music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera was recorded in 1934. It was Gardel who had previously transformed tango from a country and urban Buenos Aires street music into the concert stage and recording phenomenon that eventually resulted. His recording of this song was the highest point of his astonishing stage and film career. (He died in a plane crash on June 24, 1935, in Medellín, Colombia.)

Di Ciriaco took up his guitar and sang this song alone, without the band. As with so many of the sexteto’s numbers, this version of the song was immediately recognizable. But it was also so inventive that it gave the piece a much more hip modernity and soul than I have heard in all the previous recordings, with the exception of Gardel’s own. Di Ciriaco’s version was a surprise, and a wonder. 

For fine examples of Sexteto Milonguero’s rich arrangements and featured solos by its artists, look for their recordings on Amazon Music and Apple iTunes. You can also find them at http://www.sextetomilonguero.com.ar

Terence Clarke is co-founder and director of publishing at Astor & Lenox. His latest book is a story collection titled New York.

 

 

 

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The Gods of Tango, a novel by Carolina De Robertis

Book cover, The Gods of TangoReviewed by Terence Clarke, novelist, journalist and Alma del Tango board member.

Carolina De Robertis is a novelist living in the United States and writing primarily in English. She is of Uruguayan roots, however, and has written provocatively about characters whose entire consciousness derives from the land, the traditions and the politics of Uruguay and Argentina. Her latest novel is The Gods of Tango, published by Knopf.

In 1913, 17 year old Leda arrives by ship in Buenos Aires, from Italy, ostensibly to be greeted by her new husband Dante. Once on shore, she learns that Dante has been killed in a street battle between syndicalists and the police.

With only the clothes on her back and a single trunk containing her things, a little money, and the violin that her cherished father gave her, Leda moves into a conventillo named La Rete, in the poor wharf-side neighborhood of La Boca. Conventillos basically were tenements, some set up by the Argentine government, others privately run, to house the thousands of immigrants pouring into Buenos Aires during the first years of the twentieth century.

A polyglot of cultures

The conditions were uniformly terrible, with many people crowded into warrens of single rooms. The conventillo would often have a central patio with a source of water for cooking and washing, which would be the gathering place for the tenants. These sprawling edifices housed people from all over the world, and must have been a polyglot confusion of languages, cultures, manners of dress and, most principally for Leda’s purposes, music.

She hears her first tango in La Rete and is immediately smitten by it. She has never even imagined such rhythmic intensity, or such soulful intent and passion, in any of the music she has ever heard. She can play her father’s violin (although at first her efforts are insubstantial), and she determines to master the tango.

There is, however, a problem.

Tango in 1913 Buenos Aires is the domain of men, and men alone. The only women involved are those who work in the many boliche cafes and bordellos of Buenos Aires, and the duties of those women have little to do with music. The very idea of a woman playing tango is ridiculous to the men.

Leda comes to understand this quickly. Wrapping her breasts to diminish their presence, getting her hair cut in the style of a man, and dressing in her deceased husband’s clothes, Leda leaves the conventillo and takes to the Buenos Aires streets, now calling herself Dante, after her husband. She does so with violin in hand.

Leda remains so disguised for the rest of the novel, and she becomes remarkably well known as a musician. Working at first in the poorest of little boliches, she hones her talent until she becomes one of the best tango violinists on the Buenos Aires scene. But she does so as a man, and the disguise—and what it teaches her about the privileges that men enjoy that are forbidden to women—becomes the very vehicle for her rise to tango eminence.

The ways De Robertis presents the confusions that arise for Dante, her fellow musicians, and her lovers, is one of the real innovations of this novel. De Robertis writes with considerable passion and beauty about the kinds of sex that Leda finds and, of course, the kinds of love that she finds.

For anyone who cares about the origins of tango, this novel is a fine addition to the history of that soulful music in its Rio de La Plata birthplace. Find The Gods of Tango and Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Notorious Dream of Jesús Lázaro, at Amazon Smile. A portion of your purchase benefits Alma del Tango.

 

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