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Tears for Orlando Paiva

Argentine tango Dancer Orlando Paivaby Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

In 1995, Orlando Paiva was visiting the United States and stopped at Nora Olivera’s Sunday afternoon class and practica in Berkeley. These were very special sessions. Nora is noted for her exceptional teaching, especially in the way that she never molly-coddles the students. She tells you the truth about how you’re doing, and if you’re having trouble, she always offers a way to resolve the problem.

I had been studying tango for about a year, so I got quite a few justified suggestions from Nora, and I can still recall almost the exact words she used for many of them. Precision, exactitude and follow-through are the prime elements in Nora’s advice, and those who understand that her deep love of tango is what drives her realize how valuable those elements are.

She introduced Orlando to the class. At the time he was about sixty years old. He was very slim and gray-haired, and dressed in tan slacks, a navy-blue blazer, white shirt and tie. Not a demonstrative man in conversation, yet he exuded a kind of kindness that won over the students immediately. Nora later told me that he had a serious heart condition at the time yet he persisted with his tango no matter what.

She asked him to perform for us. I don’t remember to which tango he danced, but it was slow and extremely elegant, with the nonetheless acerb bite that makes tango music often so revealing of deep emotion. He took his partner into his arms and began dancing.

You could see immediately the care with which he pursued the dance. He walked very slowly, and I remember how he would let his trailing foot follow along, pointed back, the toe at an outward angle that underscored the grace with which he was moving. Straight-backed, immersed in the music, and very formal, he made his partner look beautiful because she too was so involved in the way he was dancing. You could feel her intensity, and part of that, I’m sure, was enabled by Orlando’s caring escort of her around the floor.

He performed none of the gymnastic irrelevancies that so often appear in the work of today’s show dancers. No kicks. No lifts. No impossibly fast tripping about. This man was a tanguero, and you could tell that by how respectful he was of his partner and of the music. He moved very slowly, and every step was a marvel.

The students loved it and responded with much shouting applause. I turned to Nora, my own noisy clapping appreciative of what I had just seen. But what I saw now astonished me. Nora, who knew Orlando well, was awash in tears. I cannot recall another occasion when I have seen her so taken by what she has witnessed. Later, I asked Nora if Orlando’s heart condition were one of the reasons for his dancing so carefully and slowly. She responded that, no, this is the way Orlando has always danced. “He is a great master, you see,” she said. That was all the explanation I needed.

This video gives you a good sense of what Orlando Paiva could do. The quality of the video is not good, for which, apologies. But please note how beautifully his partner Cristina Benavidez follows him. She is wonderful herself, of course. But Orlando gives her the opportunity to dance in so contemplative a way that her performance reveals her very heart. Watch with what attention the audience watches them. The response of the audience at the end will give you a good idea of what you’ve just seen.

Orlando Paiva died on November 28, 2006.

Read about Debbie and John’s friendship with Orlando

Terence Clarke’s latest non-fiction book An Arena of Truth was recently featured on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

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Dancing with Orlando

Debbie Goodwin with tango master Orlando PaivaHow Debbie & John came to know, study and dance with the Maestro

by Lanny Udell, writer, content strategist and Alma del Tango board member

While Orlando Paiva may not be a household name, to the tango cognoscenti he is highly revered for his elegant and graceful, and very personal style of tango 

Debbie and John had the pleasure of studying and dancing with him going back to the late ’90s when Debbie also assisted in his classes and served as his translator. In fact, she partnered him when he was training Robert Duvall and his wife, Luciana Pedraza, for the movie Assassination Tango.

Here’s how it all began:

Back in the day, Fairfax residents Al and Barbara Garvey were passionate about tango and wanted to build the Bay Area tango community, which was small at the time. They started a newsletter for tangueros so everyone could know where and when the milongas were being held, and when visiting professores were coming to town. Their effort grew into the Bay Area Tango Association.

Orlando was living in Los Angeles at the time, and when he arrived in San Francisco needing a partner, the Garveys called Debbie, who also speaks Spanish.
But even before that, Debbie and John had taken workshops and studied with Orlando privately.

“What impressed me about Orlando,” says John, “was that he was very deliberate in his movements, he did everything with precision. By profession he was a machinist, and that translated into his dancing. His movements were precise…always the same…the embrace, posture, foot placements.”

And he was a stickler about followers’ feet, says Debbie who learned her beautiful foot technique from him.

You can see other influences of Orlando’s style in their dancing, such as going to the cross in cross system, with the elegant way the leader holds his left leg back. And the level changes during the Basic.

Orlando’s Signature figures

Orlando taught tango for more than 45 years, creating at least 160 exclusive figures, and he gave each one a name.

Tango dancers Debbie Goodwin & John Campbell in El Puente, the bridge pose

John & Debbie in El Puente, it only looks like a volcada

El Puente, or bridge pose…“It looks like a volcada, but the way you get into it is the opposite,” says John. “You enter it from a left turn. The leader invites the follower to step around him until, gradually, you get the lean.”
Salida del Gato … “His version of walking to the cross which also took the couple from a close embrace into an open embrace,” explains Debbie. “he moved like a panther, so his name, Salida de Gato, Entrance of the Cat, was fitting.”
Giro Común translated it means “common turn” … but it wasn’t so common the way he did it, says Debbie, “it was so beautiful!”

When Orlando was coaching Debbie and John on how to teach tango his advice was, “you can’t fix everything…find the thing they need the most help with.” Sound advice from the maestro.

Later, Orlando returned to his hometown of Rosario, Argentina where he had a home, studio and workshop. He continued to teach there for the rest of his days. One of his sons followed in his footsteps and later in life changed his name to Orlando Jr.

Read Terry Clarke’s article, Tears for Orlando

More from Debbie & John’s photo album:

Alma del Tango daner Debbie Goodwin practices with Maestro Orlando Paiva

Debbie & Orlando

Tangueros John Campbell, Al Garvey, Orlando Paiva

L to R: John Campbell, Al Garvey, Orlando Paiva

Debbie Goodwin teaches with Orlando Paiva

Debbie assists Orlando in class

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Los Filippini: Style, Elegance, Kindness.

Tango dancers Lito and Lidia Filippini

Tango dancers Lito and Lidia Filippini

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

Beatrice Bowles and I were visiting Buenos Aires in 2006, and were told about the club Viejo correo at Avenida Díaz Vélez 4820. Diaz Vélez is an interminably long thoroughfare, and on this particular night, we worried as very heavy rain coursed from above. Our taxi driver had to lean well forward over the steering wheel in order to be sure that his view of the road was clear. What was not obscured by the downpour on his windshield was blurred by the hurrying of his old, ragged wipers across the glass.

We got to the club, though, and were greeted by a couple of men at the door, armed with large umbrellas. They escorted us in, and we immediately noted the black and white tiled dance floor, gleaming smooth, that was surrounded by tables-for-four at which many dancers were sitting. What made the place immediately special for us was that the dancers were well-dressed. This is not something you normally see in Buenos Aires milongas. That city is infected with the same nuevo-homeless style of fashion, most prominently among men, that you see in almost every other American or European city these days. Levis, T-shirts, no verve, etc. At the Viejo correo, every man had on a suit and a tie. The women were all dressed with a preference for real elegance.

The Viejo correo is a local place, visited mostly by neighborhood dancers who seem to know each other well and, we found, are exceedingly friendly. They were surprised that a couple such as we could even find the place, and they watched carefully as we danced. They seemed equally surprised that we could essay the tango with at least some panache. Many of the other dancers wished to talk with us, and when they found we also had Spanish, our evening filled with conversation.

Many of the men offered the cabeceo to Beatrice, and always thanked me when they escorted her back to our table, for not being offended by their taking her from me. It was clear to them that she could dance, and I was not about to intervene with her opportunity to be on the floor with authentic milongueros porteños. The entire experience, for both of us, was unique.

There was a further surprise
One of the renowned couples in tango at the time were Lito and Lidia Filippini, and we learned that they were going to arrive at the Viejo correo, to dance that evening. “Not to perform,” one of the men assured us. “They come here all the time, just to dance, like the rest of us.”

When the Filippinis arrived, they were greeted by almost everybody as they passed through the tables to their own, which had been reserved for them. They were an older couple, dressed just so, as were all the others in the room. And indeed they did not perform. Beatrice and I watched as they joined others on the floor. Their dancing was in no way flashy or overtly gymnastic. They too were real milongueros and danced with care and elegance spiced by the usual Argentine porteño intensity.

Beatrice and I danced a tanda, and we sensed we were being watched by the Filippinis. This can be an unnerving experience for dancers who are not professionals themselves. After dancing, we sat down at our table and, heads held in reserved silence, calmed our nerves with a few sips of malbec. After more tandas, we saw that the Filippinis were leaving, and as they approached our table, I nodded to Lito. To our astonishment, he and Lidia struck up a conversation with us. Where were we from? Were we enjoying Buenos Aires? Where else were we dancing? And then they told us that they thought we were dancing well. It had been a pleasure for them to watch, they said. I reached out a hand to Lito, which he shook with enthusiasm, and we both thanked them. It was then that I noticed that the others in the club were watching the conversation. It was clear that they approved, too.

The evening, of course, astonished both Bea and me.

As you’ll see from this video the Filippinis dance in an older style free of the balletic macho fireworks that so often mar contemporary tango.

Compás. Elegancia. Verdaderos milongueros.

For another adventure from that evening at the Viejo correo, see my piece “Big Nose in Buenos Aires.” 

 

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Noche de Tango…An intimate, Buenos Aires-style evening at Alma del Tango

 

by Lanny Udell

Tango vocalist/dance teacher Mira Barakat and guitarist Scott O'Day at Noche de Tango

“It was a lovely intimate evening anchored by Mira’s startlingly passionate singing” – Douglas

When Debbie Goodwin approached Mira Barakat with the idea of presenting a “tango cabaret” at Alma del Tango, Mira was intrigued. “I had been working with guitarist Scott O’Day for several years, and the idea of teaching musicality came out of our partnership,” she says. Thus, the concept for a musicality workshop followed by dancing to live music was born.

Mira and Scott wanted it to be an intimate evening, where dancers would feel relaxed and comfortable. In the workshop guests learned about musicality from the point of view of a musician and a vocalist/dance teacher.

“Most classes are technical, about structures and steps,” says Mira. “Musicality can be more subtle. We wanted to inspire dancers to listen to the music and feel how it affects our bodies. Dancers can move intuitively when they know what to listen for.”

“I enjoyed learning about tango music “models” and their names. Mira and Scott concisely demonstrated how to embody these models in our dancing. I look forward to seeing how I can incorporate this aspect of musicality in my tango!”  -Kyra

The Salon

In Argentina, Mira explains, there are many restaurants with a small dance floor where you can eat, drink, socialize and dance. That’s the feeling she wanted to convey on this special evening. “A tango Saturday night out, slightly different from a milonga.”

Scott and Mira played for dancing, with DJ’d music between sets. Guests chatted at cabaret-style tables, munched on delicious empanadas from The Wooden Table Cafe, along with other snacks and sampled a variety of wines.

“It was a lovely intimate evening anchored by Mira’s startlingly passionate singing and Scott’s fluid accompaniment on guitar.  Good food and wine to boot.  I look forward to another such splendid affair.” – Douglas

 

The event was wonderful in a number of respects.  First, the workshop topic, namely, musicality.  This is something that even though it is right in our faces, or rather, our ears, tends to slip under the radar.  It is important, and the event helped address it.  Second, live music.  This is always nice, and in this case, was particularly touching.  Third, the opportunity to dance, in the workshop, during the live performance, and with the recorded music.  And the dance seemed in a more intimate, cafe-type setting.  And hey, the food was good!” Matt

Mira’s Album Release

The party was also a celebration of Mira’s first album release, “Mira Barakat Tangos.” It was recorded in Buenos Aires, with “two amazing guitarists,” Juan Villarreal and Patricio Crom, assisted by the well-known singer and artistic coach, Ariel Varnerin. Rather than produce a physical CD, they decided to offer it as an online release only. The collection of 11 songs is available for streaming and purchase at mirabarakat.bandcamp.com.

What’s Next?

If you missed the February 1st Noche de Tango, no worries. Another such evening will take place on June 6, at Alma del Tango.  Watch for the announcement.

Mira will soon be heading to Buenos Aires for her tango immersion program, BA. Tango Evolution, where students learn and train with professional dancers as partners. Learn more at batangoevolution.com.

 

 

 

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My Love, Let Us Stay Here

Terence Clarke, writer, tango

Terence Clarke

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango board member

One of my very favorite tangos is “Quedémonos aquí,” with music by Héctor Stamponi and lyrics by Homero Espósito. It has been recorded by most of the major singers of tango since it was first written.

The lyrics form a single suggestion from one lover to another, that they remain where they are at the moment…presumably in bed…rather than getting up and returning to the irresolute tango life of forgetfulness, alcohol’s hopelessness, and all those things that have drained them of blood itself in the fruitless lives they’ve been living.

 

“Amor, la vida se nos va,
quedémonos aquí, ya es hora de llegar!
¡Amor, quedémonos aquí!
¿Por qué sin compasión rodar?
¡Amor, la flor se ha vuelto a abrir
y hay gusto a soledad, quedémonos aquí!
Nuestro cansancio es un poema sin final
que aquí podemos terminar.
¡Abre tu vida sin ventanas!
¡Mira lo linda que está el rio!
Se despierta la mañana y tengo gana
De juntarte un ramillete de rocio.”

“My love, life is passing us by.
Let us stay here. Right now has the hour arrived.
Love, let us stay here!
Why fall pitilessly to pieces?
Love, the flowers are just now blooming
and there is such pleasure in solitude. Let us stay here!
Our weariness is an endless poem
to which here we can bring an end.
Open a life that has no windows!
Look how beautiful the river is!
The morning awakes and I would
bring you a bouquet of morning dew.”

The lovers are caught in a debate with themselves over the state of their souls. Do we continue this irresolute tango life (the bars, the boliches, the lies we tell each other, and the foolish search of the bottom of the glass) or do we turn to the soothing beauties of nature, the soul-healing qualities of sunlight and clear, rippling waters, of flowers and the delicacy of the morning dew? The choice is clear. But in the midst of the exhaustion that our wasted life has brought to us, can we make that choice?

As you can see, this tango is not light reading. Big questions are at its core, and the music that carries these lyrics is some of the saddest I’ve ever heard. The irony for me is that this entire tango and its plea for freedom from self-doubt is made up of the tango life itself that the lovers are questioning.

As such, it is eminently danceable. A remarkable example is a recent performance by Ariadna Naveira and Fernando Sanchez, to “Quedémonos aquí.” Often these days the videos of tango are filled with excessive hurry, big-time gymnastics, and way over-dramatic gesture. Not in this one. When Fernando and Ariadna are finished dancing, there is a demonstrable silence before the applause comes. I believe this is so because the audience is stunned by the beauty of what they’ve just seen. 

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be available in bookstores and on Amazon after April 15.

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Tango…and “The Two Popes”

Scene from the movie "The Two Popes" starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Prycxe ns, and

Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Bergoglio in “The Two Popes”

by Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

I would not usually think of Argentine tango in terms of the Roman Catholic papacy. But with the Netflix release of the new film, The Two Popes, the relationship is made clear, at least in the life of one of its two main characters.

A fictionalization of the relationship between Joseph Ratzinger, a German cardinal who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and his successor Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentine Jesuit who was made Pope Francis I in 2013, the film is a tour de force effort by its two main actors.

Ratzinger is played by Anthony Hopkins with his usual detailed depth of gesture, speech and feeling, while another accomplished British actor, Jonathan Pryce, plays Bergoglio in what looks to me to be a spot-on accurate look at Bergoglio’s personality. They become involved in a long personal struggle over the future of the Catholic Church during a time when that organization, as it still is now, was under justified fire for its inability to address long-term, self-inflicted problems. This “debate” is the reason to see the film, and it is riveting.

But, there is a second plot in which a young Bergoglio makes his decision to become a priest, and the seasoned Jesuit Bergoglio is made to deal some years later with “The Dirty War.” This struggle resulted in the disappearance and murder of 30,000 Argentine citizens at the hands of that country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.

Bergoglio, the young bon vivant and tanguero

As a young man, Bergoglio is something of a Buenos Aires bon vivant who is an ardent tanguero. He is in love with a woman, also a tanguera, and they attend a Buenos Aires milonga that will be familiar to anyone who has visited the famous dance halls in that city. At the same time, he is struggling to understand whether his calling to the priesthood is legitimate. That would, of course, require that he give up his relationship with the young woman, whom he was thinking of marrying.

To her great disappointment, he does enter the Jesuit order, but not before we get to see the lovely ambiance of tango and its dancing (even by Bergoglio and his girlfriend themselves) during that remarkable time. Incidentally, young Bergoglio is played by the superb Juan Minujin, a noted Argentine stage and film actor who is as porteño-looking a man as you can get.)

Just because he becomes pope does not mean that Cardinal Bergoglio loses his love of tango. Late in the film, he and Ratzinger have achieved a kind of rapprochement in their different views of what The Church should be. Ratzinger has always believed that The Church should not compromise any of its doctrines. Bergoglio is portrayed as a far more liberal force who has a realistic view of the feelings and behaviors of hundreds of millions of actual Catholics. The Church has refused to deal realistically with these behaviors, and he is the one person who can understand and bring about the changes needed.

A papal cabeceo

The two men don’t necessarily agree at the end of the film, but there is profound respect between them. In a remarkable scene, after Ratzinger has stepped down as pope and Bergoglio has taken over the office, Bergoglio visits the former pope. As he is leaving, he asks Ratzinger if he knows anything about tango. Of course, Ratzinger does not, and Bergoglio proceeds to give him a quick lesson in the tango basic. They fumble. They don’t do well. Ratzinger is embarrassed. Bergoglio is amused. But it is the moment of actual friendship with which the story comes to its end.

This moment, too, is not to be missed.

Regarding the historical accuracy of the film, there are numerous moments in it that mis-portray to a degree the relationship between the two men. You can read about these in detail here. But the film tells a gripping story about opposing political ideals that clash memorably. The movie is directed by the Brazilian Fernando Meirelles, who co-directed the terrifying City of God. 

The Two Popes is a stunner. Take it for what it is worth to you on any level. At the very least, you’ll enjoy the tango. 

Terence Clarke’s novel, When Clara Was Twelve, which takes place in Paris, will be published on April 15.

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“La Divina” María Volonté

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist, Alma del Tango Board member

Tango singer Maria Volonte with her guitarThe next time María Volonté comes to the Bay Area, drop everything and go see her in concert. You’ll hear intense tango, sung with Buenos Aires porteño charm and streetwise knowledge, delivered with grace and deeply felt passion. Some songs written by others; originals by María herself. And there’s more. María is an accomplished jazz singer as well, and you’ll see that she can carry her own in any North American or European jazz venue.

María Volonté was born in Ituzaingó, a city in the Buenos Aires province, about twenty miles from downtown Buenos Aires. 

“I lived with my parents and my five sisters in a large, bright house. My father worked as a project draftsman and painted watercolors in an exquisite way. But above all he was a great showman who had been frustrated. He had spent the greatest portion of his youth acting, reciting and singing in cinemas, theaters and cabarets. But as soon as he got married, his first wife made him know…clearly…that vaudeville and the delights of conjugal life were not compatible. After that, he devoted himself to transferring all his fascination for the world of the stage to his daughters.”

Of greatest importance to Maria’s father was music. “We used to sing and listen to tango, folk music, bolero, flamenco, jazz, opera, musical comedy, French and Italian songs, Portuguese fado….”

How a tape recorder awakened her to the passion of singing

When María was five, her father brought home a new invention, a home tape recorder, and one of the first things he did was to ask María to sing for him. It was an ancient Neapolitan song “Catari (Cuore ingrato)”. Listening to herself for the first time, she wept, and she remembers the moment to this day. “There was so much secret pain in that melody, so much generous love! That day I discovered, unknowingly, that singing is to allow oneself to be pierced by passion.”

María’s father bought her first guitar when she was ten. “Something within me changed forever.” As she progressed through secondary school and beyond, she sang with friends, all kinds of music. “We used to sing folk tunes or rock songs written by Argentines. And thereafter in the 1970s we would mix the Argentine songbook with music by people from other countries…the Chilean Violeta Parra, Paco Ibáñez from Spain, el cubano Nicolás Guillén, another Spaniard Joan Manuel Serrat…. It was wine and song into the wee small hours of the morning, and it was shaping my courage and warming my voice.”

María Volonté singing in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires.

María Volonté singing in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires.

Married in the early 1980s, María and her husband lived in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. A subterranean folk culture was thriving in the city during those years, and she was an active part of it, paying her early dues as so many musicians must, wherever she could. “I sang outdoors at the Plaza Dorrego. I sang in many, many bar rooms. I sang in sheds.”Her musical eclecticism was not to be denied.

But María knew even then that there was one sort of music that was meant for her.

“I clearly realized that my destiny was in tango.”

Maria Volonté’s home is still Buenos Aires, where she lives with her second husband, American writer, musician, and photographer Kevin Carrel Footer. But they concertize together extensively in North America and Europe, visiting the San Francisco Bay Area once or twice a year. You can see them together in a recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert Video

On her website, you’ll see some other fine videos of María at work. You’ll get a sense of the breadth of material with which she works, and you’ll see especially what a true tanguera María Volonté really is. Her recordings are available on Apple iTunes.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published in 2020.

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Cacho Castaña ~ Superstar of Argentine popular music and film

Portrait of Cacho Castana, Argenine singer and film starby Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

A porteño named Humberto Vicente Castagna died on October 15, at the age of seventy-seven. Better known as Cacho Castaña, he was a superstar of Argentine popular music and film. During his long career he recorded five hundred of his own songs (among others) on forty-four albums, and appeared in thirteen films; for two of them he wrote the musical scores.

His beginnings were of the humblest. In 1958, at the age of sixteen, Cacho was working in his father’s shoe repair shop in Buenos Aires. But he had musical aspirations and had been studying piano. He auditioned one day for the tango orquesta tipica of Oscar Espósito, who hired the boy. With his father’s blessing, Cacho left shoe repair behind, and began what was to be a glorious career in show business.

A tanguero at heart

Tango was just one of the styles of music that Cacho pursued, as can be seen in any of the videos that were made of his full concerts. There is often a kind of Hollywood schmaltziness in his work: over-arranged and over-orquestrated. But I believe Cacho was a tanguero at heart, and it is in his tangos that the real depth of his talent can be seen. If you can find a copy of his album Espalda con espalda (“Shoulder to Shoulder”), in which he sings only tangos, and which won the prestigious 2005 Gardel Prize, you’ll find his true soulfulness.

His recording Garganta con arena (“Throat Filled With Sand”) is one of the most famous tunes Cacho ever wrote. It is a tribute to his friend and mentor Robert Goyeneche. In it, Cacho sings this:

“Cantor de un tango algo insolente
Hiciste que a la gente le duela tu dolor.
Cantor de un tango equilibrista
Más que cantor, artista con vicios de cantor.”

“Singer of a tango somehow insolent,
You made the people feel your pain.
Singer of a tango on a tightrope,
More than a singer: a real artist
with all the vices a singer may have.”

With these lines, Cacho Castaña could have been writing about himself and his own gravel-filled, deep-feeling voice. It would have been a fitting tribute to his tanguero heart.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published next year.

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Rubén Juárez: The Voice. The Instrument.

By Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

It is almost unheard of that a fine bandoneon player will sing, or that a passion-driven singer will play the bandoneon. The incomparable Rubén Juárez was celebrated for doing both.Ruben Juarez, sings and plays bandoneon

Starting out as a sometime rock and folk singer, Juaréz became a friend of Julio Sosa, a major star on the Buenos Aires tango scene who died in 1964, only thirty-eight years old, in an automobile accident. Juárez went on to devote himself exclusively to tango.

Argentine writer and poet Héctor Negro wrote about him in the magazine Los Grandes del Tango:

When he appeared on the great tango stage, there was something of a celebration on the part of old and new devotees alike, writers from various generations and different perspectives…commentators, musicians, and regular people in general. It was one of those rare cases in which someone young and new was accepted without resistance of any kind, almost unanimously recognized as a figure with a very promising future.

There was no doubt about his singing: his interpretive force, his presence, and his personality were overwhelming. He played with new themes and demonstrated that he could light up the classics as well. He was truly a figure of popular song and the stage.”

Star of stage, screen and television

Juárez made many recordings and had full careers on television and in film as well. My personal favorite recording of his is almost not tanguero, although the song itself is Malena, one of the most famous tangos ever written. At first it sounds almost like a blues tune. But as soon as his bandoneon enters in, it begins a gradual change to something more tango, and the conclusion is entirely, clearly and vibrantly tanguero.

Juárez was known for his stage appearances, and you can see an excerpt from one of them in a 2008 performance of the tango Pasional. Here Juárez showcases his rough, insistent voice (rougher and more insistent as he got older), and accompanies himself on bandoneon. I love this performance because Juárez is alone  for almost the entire song, without any other instrumental accompaniment than his bandoneon. Yet his singing is filled with anger and sadness, and he uses repeated chords, extensively, to emphasize the troubled betrayal of love about which he is singing.

“No sabras, nunca sabras
lo que es morir mil veces de ansiedad.
No podrás nunca entender
lo que es amar y enloquecer.”

(“You won’t know, will never know,
what it is to die a thousand times from worry.
You’ll never understand
What it is to love and go mad.”)

My love, Beatrice Bowles, and I had the good fortune to see Juárez in concert the year before he died, at Torquato Tasso, a small club devoted to contemporary tango that still is in operation. It is well worth a visit the next time you’re in Buenos Aires.

Rubén Juárez died in Buenos Aires in 2010. For a fine late recording of his, I recommend El Album Blanco, which is available on Apple iTunes.

Terence Clarke’s new novel, When Clara Was Twelve, will be published in March, 2020.

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Adriana Varela – From rock star to tango singer

Tango singer Adriana VarelaBy Terence Clarke,  author,  journalist and Alma del Tango board member

Adriana Varela may not be for everyone. Her voice is not pretty. It seldom floats and will not ease you into dreamland. But I became a fan of her voice the moment I first heard it. I feel that, if you want to hear how Buenos Aires can sound when portrayed in song, you should go to Adriana Varela and listen closely.

Varela has been a best-selling recording artist of tango since the early 1990s. Starting out as a rock singer, she paid little attention to the at-that-time accepted notion, of traditional tangos of the 1930s through 50s being those most worth listening to. So…large string and bandoneón sections playing lyrical, even romantic, versions of tangos ad nauseum. They’re all very pretty, but we dance to them over and over at the milongas, no matter where the particular milonga may be held…in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, London, Istanbul, or wherever.

The voice of Buenos Aires

Varela’s voice, however, is pure porteño, which is to say, Buenos Aires!…rough, direct, and filled with irony, often humorous, often angry. When you walk down almost any street in that city, you hear this voice and that language. It is recognizable to anyone who has enough Spanish to understand what is being said, and especially how it is being said. There is no other accent in the Spanish language quite like it.

Early in her singing career, Varela made the acquaintance of the great Roberto Goyeneche. By now internationally famous, his voice was anything but soft and pleasing. When you hear it, you know that this man, too, knows the streets of Buenos Aires’s massive urban landscape and the difficulties it can present.

The circumstances of their first meeting have become famous. Varela was singing in a Buenos Aires club one evening, and she spotted Goyeneche sitting at the bar. It was known that he did not care for female tango singers, and he spent her entire set silently nursing the whiskey before him, his back turned to the stage. At the end of her set, beset by nerves, Varela stepped down from the bandstand and approached the great man. When Goyeneche realized that the young woman was trying to get his attention, he turned to her and, without provocation, said, “Che piba, (Hey, girl) you’ve got it!” From then on, they were fast friends.

For an example of Varela’s work, watch her studio performance of Mano a Mano (“Hand in Hand.”) It’s a tough-minded tango, one of Carlos Gardel’s greatest. The lyrics tell of the crazy love the speaker has for a very high-spirited young woman he knows, although one with questionable morals. She is sought after by the worst of the local two-bit gangsters…and she often gives into them. But the speaker loves her no matter what. As the singer puts it in the last verse:

“Y mañana, cuando seas descolado mueble viejo

y no tengas esperanzas en el pobre corazón,

si precisás una ayuda, si te hace falta un consejo,

acordate de este amigo que ha de jugarse el pellejo

p’ayudarte en lo que pueda cuando llegue la occasion.”

Sadly, I can’t translate the lyrics to include the rhymes they contain, which are terrific. But here’s the essence of what they say:

“And tomorrow, when you’re broken down, an old piece of furniture,

and there is no hope in your poor heart,

if you need a hand, if you need some advice,

remember this friend here who would risk his skin

to help you any way he can, whenever you need it.”

 

The Spanish translation of Terence Clarke’s latest novel, The Splendid City, is currently seeking publication in South America.

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