Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaollala is best known for his soundtracks (Brokeback Mountain, Babel, Motorcycle Diaries), but his side project, Bajofondo Tango Club, now called just Bajofondo goes back to before he became a big soundtrack composer. I first heard his music with on Ronroco, on which he plays solo charango, the Argentine folkloric instrument made from an armadillo shell. It is a gorgeous album, one of those albums you can enjoy from start to finish.
I spoke with Gustavo the other day about Bajofondo’s new album Presente. Although it will propel bodies on the dance floors around the world, it’s not meant for tango aficionados, nor will it invite the complicated step, the “war between legs” that individuates tango as one of the most sensual, passionate and complex dance styles in the world. But there is a tango element in it; you hear the frequent cry of the bandoneón, the serpentine and very complex accordion-like instrument that is the axe par excellence of tango.
Behind Bajofondo lies the huge shadow of a tango giant, Astor Piazzolla, who reinvented the tango and saved it from extinction. Tango had its golden age in the 1930s, when it swept Paris and London, to the 1950s, when it was a moribund regional music in Buenos Aires. Piazzolla, back from Paris and with a huge green light from renowned and legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger (among her students were Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, and Philip Glass) to take the tango to places it had never been before.
Interesting historical note: The Vatican issued a papal bull condemning the tango as lascivious, just like it did for the waltz a few decades before. (http://blogs.kcrw.com/rhythmplanet/the-vatican-vs-rhythm-and-specifically-tango/)
On this week’s Rhythm Planet program, we hear both Santaollala and Piazzolla talking about tango; the former from a recent interview, Piazzolla from a 1985 Morning Becomes Eclectic interview I did, culled from the MBE archives). Both artists have extended the boundaries of a great musical artform, and because of them the world celebrates the fascinating musical idiom.
Rhythm Planet Playlist: 5/2/13
- Bajofondo | Caminante | Presente | Masterworks
- Astor Piazzolla | Milonga Loca | Love Tanguedia | Milan
- Astor Piazzolla | Interview from 1985 MBE Archives – Not allowed to change the tango
- Astor Piazzolla | Milonga del Angel | Tango Zero Hour | Nonesuch
- Astor Piazzolla | Libertango | The Rough Guide to Astor Piazzolla | Rough Guides
- Bajofondo | Codigo de Barra | Presente | Masterworks
- Gustavo Santaollala | Live Interview 5/2/13 – Astor Piazzolla & tango
- Bajofondo | Milongon | Presente | Masterworks
- Astor Piazzolla | Interview from 1985 MBE Archives – Nadia Boulanger, his teacher
- Gustavo Santaollala | Live Interview 5/2/13 – The bandoneón
- Bajofondo | Patras | Presente | Masterworks
- Gustavo Santaollala | Live Interview 5/2/13 – Piazzolla, Bajofondo & Tango
- Grace Jones | I’ve Seen that Face Before | Nightclubbing | Island
- Astor Piazzolla | Adios Nonino | The Rough Guide to Astor Piazzolla | Rough Guides