Rodolfo Mederos, famous for his innovative contributions to the tango genre, said that making music is like “working with ghosts.” Music is just sound waves organized into patterns, a fleeting, airy kind of beauty somewhere between a thought and a feeling. Despite all its internal life – and it really does seem to live- it is as immaterial as a sigh.
Elegant, jarring, wrought from a daring if toxic kind of human heartache, tango seems particularly ghostly. Perhaps this is because it was born in a place that no longer exists: the Buenos Aires of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with its inner-city meat and tanning factories, European migrants and single story houses. Or perhaps it’s those african beats veiled underneath it all, a ghostly reminder of the black slave population that once inhabited the city. Or, maybe it has something to do with that tango trope of the impossibility of “return”, (there are no end of tangos that finish with the words “…que nunca volverá …that will never return…”), of going back to a time and place where you were happy or in love – which, as we all know, is impossible.
What is for certain is that, though ghostly, tango is more alive than ever, and not just as a three-course meal + show in Puerto Madero. The evidence? This Wednesday, ninety living, breathing musicians, the vast majority of them under forty, all ardently devoted to playing the genre, will perform classics from the genre at the famous ND theatre.
La Academia Tango Club is a “community” of traditional orchestras, or “orquestas típica” led by virtuoso bandoneonist Rodolfo Roballos. It was born in 2013 when Roballos, who is the protege of world famous bandoneonist and ccomposer Rodolfo Mederos, founded the first orchestra. It has since blossomed into something truly exciting – six tango orchestras and counting, all made up of young people who study the art and perform it together. This Wednesday, in what Roballos describes as a “historic” moment, all six orchestras will perform together for over 800 people at the ND theatre.
The Tango Academy is a school where relative newbies play alongside polished professionals. Students practice at least once a week and perform regularly at concert halls throughout the city. The orchestra aspires to the highest standards of professionalism.
The project in part came about because Roballos lamented the disappearance of the orquesta típica, a term used to refer to musical collectives that play tango and feature a violin section, a double-bass, a piano, perhaps some guitars, and tango’s signature instrument, the bandoneon (invented in Germany in the 1840s as a kind of accordion). Fifty years ago, every barrio had a traditional orchestra. They were communal, grassroots and participative, hothouse spaces of learning and creation. The Academy is an attempt, in part, to revive this tradition.
It’s an intriguing project. In a world where entire orchestras can be arranged by a savvy sixteen year old on Garageband, how to fathom the real deal — a horde of devotees, draped in black and armed with a treasured array of physical instruments, occupying the same stage?
Well, the first obvious point is that it’s about more than mere sound waves. This is Argentina, after all, and if you have more than thirty people in the same room, then you know some kind of social or political movement is brewing. The tango club aims to revindicate the space that tango used to occupy in Argentina before Rock Nacional and foreign pop supplanted it. It’s about creating Argentine music that speaks to the world in its own language, as opposed to parroting something else.
The other thing to note is that its absolute focus on musical craftsmanship. There’s the usual tools of any apprenticeship – good old fashioned technique, repetition, practice, theory and master classes – as well as the musical magic sparked from a collective jam of likeminded grafters. The orquesta is for music junkies, for those who value diversity in the sonic landscape. The performances are tight and impressive, and the music rich, expressive and transportive.
Numbers truly make a difference to the sound. In the orchestra each set of instruments add a distinct layer to the overall powerful and often eerie sound bites that translate Argentine heritage to a modern audience. The instruments are grouped into distinct sections, the string section traditionally standing as the largest family support the attentive and abrupt bandejon toots with the piano laying the melodic foundations in the building of a truly unique composition. A marvel to behold.
It’s become a bona fide phenomenon. This year, the orquesta went on tour in Tierra del Fuego. After playing at the ND theatre, they’ll be heading to Montevideo. They added a guitar orchestra this year and next year will begin auditions for a seventh orchestra. And there’s a trip to Europe in the cards as well.
As any good Argentine might say: aguante el tango!
Wednesday 7th December, 8:30pm
Teatro ND, Paraguay 918
Tickets can be purchased online at Plateanet.com