“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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Student of the Month ~ Rick Kutten

by Lanny Udell

Portrait of Student of the Month Rick KuttenDancing tango since: Rick is new to the tango world having started just three months ago (at this writing). His journey to tango started with solo dance, also known as self-expression dance. He had never done any partner dancing until a friend said, “let’s try East Coast Swing.”

Back story: Rick and his friend signed up for East Coast Swing at Dance Arts. “It took me three months to learn how to do a triple step,” he laughs. “I felt like I had two left feet.” Then they decided to check out Jasmine Worrell’s Swing class at Alma del Tango. Rick fell in love with Jasmine’s way of teaching, and he’s been dancing with her for 3 ½ years.

While working with Jasmine, Rick says, he struggled. “Then something magical happened. My partner and I found each other…on the dance floor and in the music. It was amazing! Intoxicating! Ecstatic! Ephemeral! Now I know why I am dancing. Because there are moments of magical, mystical union…of what? Love? Life? The universe?” (In tango the phenomenon is known as tango bliss.)

When did tango enter the picture? Last summer Rick heard that Eduardo Saucedo was coming to Alma del Tango for his annual August residency, and he decided to stick his toe into the tango waters. With tango, he jokes, “I discovered I had two right feet!” After Eduardo left, Rick found that everything he’d learned had evaporated, so he started over with Debbie and John.

Why tango: “I’m a drama queen,” says the tanguero, “and tango has a lot of drama. It’s a good fit for me to have a style where my drama, feeling, creativity and musicality have a place for expression.”

Rick recalls that when he was learning swing, his critical ego was so strong. “I wish I could have enjoyed being a beginner, but I did not.” Now, with tango, he is taking his time to enjoy the process. “I know I will be a good tango dancer, in time.”

About Debbie & John: “They offer a warm and welcoming field for beginners,” says Rick. He finds them patient and generous with their time. “Their love for tango clearly comes through. I know it’s challenging to help beginners get their mojo going. It’s a unique challenge and they do it well.”

Anything else: Rick attends Level 1 and 2 classes and will soon start going to the Friday night class and practica. He describes himself as a “strong and generous” lead. I want my lead to be obvious…I want my follower to ‘get’ my lead.”

Tango dancer Rick Kutten at Alma del Tango

Rick takes a break during the cortina. (Is that his next partner behind him?)

Last word: Rick sees tango as a long-term relationship. He’s “super-excited about the open expanse of possibilities tango offers.”

 

 

Read full story · Comments are closed

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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Students of the Month ~ Gayle Delaney and Kevin Kreitzman

Tango dancers Gayle Delaney & Kevin Kreitzman by Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since: Newly divorced and thrilled to be single again, Gayle went to a speakeasy party in 1994. “A couple got up on the stage and did something magical,” she says. It was Argentine Tango. The couple was Al and Barbara Garvey, legendary Bay Area tango dancers. That was the beginning of her love affair with tango.

Kevin started dancing tango a year ago. “I was not a dancer,” he says. “Gayle brought out the dancer in me.”

Why tango: Gayle had done ballroom and Latin dancing, and she was a competitive ice skater during her teen/college years. When she saw the Garveys dance, she says, “they were in such harmony with each other, I knew I wanted to do it.”

Back story: With a man she met salsa dancing, Gayle signed up for tango classes through Mt. Tam Adult Education. About the same time, she met John Campbell who was in her Psychology of Dreams practice (a pioneer in the field of dream psychology, people come to her to understand their lives better through dreams). She recommended that he take a beginner class of Argentine Tango. “It’s a wonderful way to meet people,” she told  him. He took her advice and we know where that led!

Gayle gave up tango in 2004 to begin harness training to help her learn jumps for skating. It required that she be out early in the morning, so late night milongas didn’t work for her. But, last year she was drawn back to tango and Alma del Tango

“Tango is so much better now,” says Gayle. “A mere 20 years ago, women weren’t taught…they were just expected to follow. But, thankfully, that’s changed.”

About Debbie & John:  “They are the best teachers I’ve ever had,” says Gayle.  “They break it down, talk to the leader and follower, not like in the old days.

I feel like Rip Van Winkle, I woke up in a paradise of tango!”

Kevin adds, “I appreciate John and Debbie because they break things down and explain. You can see what you’re doing wrong. I’ve got a few bad habits I keep repeating. I’m hoping that more and more things will become second nature.”

Anything else: We’re sorry to say, Gayle and Kevin have left Marin to make their home in Florida. But they haven’t left tango. They are determined to continue dancing. Gayle’s vision is to have milonga house parties. “We will create our own tango world.”

Last word: Buen Viaje, Gayle and Kevin! We hope you’ll come back to visit and dance with us again.

Kevin Kreitzman holds his partner's beautiful tango shoe.

Kevin contemplates drinking from Gayle’s new Madame Pivot shoe. Rome, July 2019

Read full story · Comments are closed

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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Student of the Month ~ Edith Kaplan

Tango dancer Edith Kaplanby Lanny Udell

Editor’s note: Edith was our Student of the Month in December 2013.  She performed in several Alma del Tango student productions, and then took a hiatus when she left the Bay Area. We’re delighted to have her back on the dance floor.

Going off the grid

Edith left the Bay Area in 2015 to live off the grid on an organic farm in Oregon. While there, she meditated and volunteered at an organic bakery where she learned to prepare vegan gluten free foods. “I really enjoyed it,” she says.

She hadn’t danced for quite some time, but during the last year-and-a-half of her stay in Oregon she felt the call and put on her dancing shoes again.

After returning to the Bay Area in June 2019, Edith headed straight to Alma del Tango!

What’s different

“What is new for me is connecting more with the music than ever before. I think my private classes with John have sparked that feeling. They are shaping me on that, stepping on the beat at the correct moment.”

Edith feels that her dancing has improved from where she was five years ago. “What I imagined then is now physical,” she says. “I don’t compete with myself any longer. I feel free and relaxed.”

Edith is a jewel! She comes to lessons with “beginners mind,” hungry for growth. Her joy lights the room. I welcome, too, her frustrations, because I know she will persevere. She takes a moment, stands tall and with a determined smile she says, “I’m ready now! Lets try it again!” Then comes the “I did it! I didn’t think I could ever get it!” For me, this is the joy of teaching.” – John Campbell

She attends classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and she is “courageously trying to learn to lead, but it’s really in the baby steps,” Edith says.

Edith the artist

A talented graphic designer, Edith has designed most of the posters and marketing pieces for Alma del Tango student and professional productions.

Collage of postcards designed by Edith Kaplan

Examples of Edith’s design work for Alma del Tango productions.

“I like to design for art projects, whether it’s dance, writing or mixed media,” she explains. “It’s different from being an entrepreneur. When the dance is done, it’s done. So the artwork is something tangible that remains.”

I love ‘partnering’ with Edith creatively. As Alma del Tango’s graphic designer she is able to take the movement ideas swirling around in my head for a project and transform them into something beautiful I can hold in my hands. It not only helps my projects become a reality but spreads the word about what is happening at ADT. We are so happy she is back.” -Debbie Goodwin

You can see all of Edith’s posters on display in the studio.

Tango around the world

A world traveler, Edith finds tango wherever she goes. She’s danced in Istanbul, Vienna and London. “Istanbul was best, there were milongas every night –- sometimes 3 or 4 a night! And the leaders were amazing – and also tall,” she says with a smile.  “It was intimidating how good they were.”

In Vienna she danced in beautiful open air milongas, in front of palaces, like the one pictured here. What’s next for the dancer/designer? We’re hoping she’ll stick around for a while.

Student of the Month Edith Kaplan in Istanbul

Tango under the stars at Karlsplatz in Vienna

Alma del Tango student Edith Kaplan in Istanbul

Edith in Istanbul

Read full story · Comments are closed

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.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Navigation & Etiquette Guidelines for Milongas

(These great suggestions taken from Clay Nelson’s Burning Tango Festival)
 
1. Always move forward in line of dance.
2. Stay in your lane.
3. Move up and fill gap in front of you.
4. Use cabeceo and accept refusals.
5. Dance small figures.
6. Eyes up and avoid collisions.
7. Seek permission to enter the floor.
8. No teaching, criticizing or loud talking.
9. Clear the floor during the cortina.
10. Apologize regardless of who’s at fault.
11. Center is for beginners–good dancers stay in outside lanes.
12. Dress appropriately and have good hygiene. 
Read full story · Comments are closed

Paquita Bernardo… “La Flor de Villa Crespo”

Paquita Bernardo, first professional woman bandoneonistaBy Terence Clarke, author, journalist and Alma del Tango board member

These days, women who play the bandoneón abound in Buenos Aires and around the world. This was not so in the 1920s. But one who did so was Paquita Bernardo. By some accounts she was indeed the very first professional bandoneonista.

The daughter of Spanish immigrants to Argentina, she was famous for playing tango with verve and true porteño style while often wearing a man’s suit and tie.

In 1915, as a teenager, Paquita entered the music conservatory of a woman named Catalina Torres in Buenos Aires, as a pianist. There she met a young bandoneonista named José Servidio, who so impressed her with his ability and the instrument’s sonorous soulfulness, that she switched to the bandoneón. She never looked back. (Servidio, incidentally, went on to a distinguished career as a tango musician on the Buenos Aires scene.)

Problem – she was a girl

Initially the trouble for Paquita was that she was a girl, which could have made her professional advancement an impossibility. (For an interesting novel about just such a situation in turn-of-the-20th-century Buenos Aires, see The Gods of Tango by Carolina De Robertis.)

At the time, women appearing on stage in tango boliches and clubs were thought to be of questionable morals. Playing bandoneón requires the instrumentalist to open and shut the legs, which was deemed entirely inappropriate for women. Paquita persisted, however, and persuaded her father to allow her to pursue her study of the instrument. He acceded to her request, and Paquita, whose talent was so obvious, went on to play with various bands on the Buenos Aires club scene throughout her teen-age years.

A meteoric rise…and fall

In 1921, Paquita founded her own band, Orquesta Paquita, with her brother Arturo on drums and a very young pianist named Osvaldo Pugliese. They got a steady gig at the Bar Dominguez on Corrientes Street, and soon the traffic on Corrientes had to be diverted because of the sizable crowd waiting outside the club to see Paquita and her mates. To be sure, it was not just the novelty of seeing a woman playing the bandoneón that brought them to the club. By now Paquita was a master on the instrument and a star. In 1923, she appeared at a Grand Fiesta of Tango in the Coliseo Theater, a major Buenos Aires venue. It was a monumental event in which hundreds of noted musicians played, and Paquita was the only woman on the bill.   

Her fame rose meteorically. She played constantly through the next few years at most of the principal tango venues in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, clubs and ballrooms alike. She also became a regular in appearances on the newly established radio stations in both capitals.

Such constant appearances can take a toll on performers, and Paquita was no exception. In the fall of 1925, she contracted a difficult cold that turned quickly into pneumonia with other complications. It is thought that the treatment she received was not up to the seriousness of her affliction, and she died on April 14 of that year. She was just short of her twenty-fifth birthday.

Sadly, there are no recordings of Paquita’s playing. She also had talent, though, as a composer of tango, and none other than Carlos Gardel recorded two of her pieces: La enmascarada (“The Masked Woman”) and Soñando (“Dreaming”).

Terence Clarke’s novel about the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, The Splendid City, was published in March.

Read full story · Comments are closed

Students of the Month ~ Shana Rassner-Gann & Conrad Gann

Students of the Month Shana & Conradby Lanny Udell

Dancing tango since:  Shana and Conrad started their tango adventure a year and a half ago.  She had been a modern dancer for 20 years and has a graduate degree in dance movement therapy and also in psychology. Both enjoy Contact Improvisation, a form of contemporary dance with two people.

Why tango:  Conrad says he had a vision of traveling around the world dancing tango. He and Shana had the desire to travel but not just as tourists. They thought that a couple of privates with John would be all they’d need. Ha! (The three of us had a good laugh over that.)

“We discovered we have a lifetime of learning ahead of us,” says Shana.

They started taking classes in the East Bay, then found Alma del Tango online. “We were slow learners, we were scared to go to class,” says Shana. So they started taking privates with John. After a year, they worked up the courage to go to the Level 2/3 class on Friday night.

Favorite part: Conrad jokingly says it’s the food. Getting serious, he says: “When we figure things out it’s very rewarding.” Shana likes tango because it’s an alternative way to connect.  “It’s so delicious to come together and share. We’re on the same level–we’re bad together.”

About Debbie & John: “We think they’re great, we love watching them dance,” the couple agrees. “John is really smart in the way he teaches,” says Conrad. “He boils it down in a constructive way to think about it that works for me.” Shana adds, “I feel like we found a teacher not just in dance but in life. He teaches with heart. He understood right away that we want to create a beautiful connection. Debbie is very warm and welcoming, and a beautiful dancer.” They find the Friday night mini tandas with Debbie and John very helpful.

What surprised them: “Tango is difficult, I never suspected it would be so complex,” says Shana.  “It will be something I’m working on for the rest of my life. I’m also surprised it’s grabbed both of our joint inspiration.”  

Next step – being comfortable at milongas in San Anselmo, then maybe the Boulder Tango Festival…and dancing tango in Paris!

 

Read full story · Comments are closed