Bajofondo’s Nuevo Tango

(Originally published on MOLI 7/29/8)

Tango is fucked-up dance music. Especially if you’re used to the obvious 4/4 of rock ‘n’ roll, its beats are subtle and syncopated – more stepped around than on. My husband and I took tango lessons in a South Beach bar a few years ago, and they were hard. The rhythms are felt, not pronounced, and the steps complicated. You have to count, but to be good, you have to count subconsciously, so that the moves flow rather than stutter. This is why tango is so fraught and taut: It’s serious, sometimes nerve-wracking movement. The jitterbug it ain’t.

Techno is dance music for fucked-up people. Its beats are mind-numbingly obvious, its movements freeform yet robotic. Techno is all about the symphonic voyage of a track – it’s music for tripping as much as stepping.

Tango and techno would seem to be worlds apart, but in fact, a number of artists have managed to merge the two to compelling effect. The New York-based group of multinationals who call themselves Brazilian Girls find common club ground in multiple beats, including dub, trance, tango, and techno. More to the point, a few years ago Gotan Project and Bajofondo Tango Club both released albums that launched a new wave of tango, one that mixed Buenos Aires’s historic music with modern-day Balearic beats.

After a several-year wait, Bajofondo released Mar Dulce, its second album, July 14. As the Argentinean-Uruguayan group expands its rhythmic repertoire, it has dropped the last two parts of its name. But tango remains the inspiration and heartbeat on such tracks as “Pa Bailar” (which features Mexican alt goddess Julieta Venegas on one of the album versions).

Bajo’s main man is acclaimed producer Gustavo Santaolalla, the music genius who has helmed CDs for groups including Molotov, Juanes, and the Kronos Quartet. He is probably best known for his Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning soundtracks for films, including Babel, Amores Perros, Brokeback Mountain, and The Motorcycle Diaries. But tango is this Argentinean’s passion. His filmic tribute to it, Café de los Maestros, is scheduled to be released later this year. It could do for tango what Buena Vista Social Club did for Cuban son.

Because of his immense industry cred, not to mention how damn good Bajofondo’s music is, Santaolalla was able to land an impressive posse of guest vocalists on Mar Dulce. Elvis Costello shows off his increasing immersion in Latin music on the torch song “Fairly Right,” Soda Stereo’s Gustavo Cerati spans the Argentinean decades on “El Mareo,” and Nelly Furtado croons “Boldozas Majados.”

Fusion tango bridges not just genres but generations; I think my ballroom-dancing mom would love Dulce, but it’s also cool enough for South Beach. It’s the ultimate party music: smart, sophisticated, yet not at all above having a good time on the dancefloor. In fact, heightening the art of cutting the rug is what it’s all about.

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Filed under Populism, Recommended listening

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