CULTURE

Gotan Project updates traditional tango sound with modern touches

Gotan Project released their debut album «La Revancha Del Tango» (Revenge of Tango) in 2001, a title which proved prophetic. Coming from the multiethnic trio comprising Frenchman Philippe Cohen Solal, Argentinean Eduardo Makaroff and Christoph H. Mueller from Switzerland, the album helped take tango out of the closet and into clubs around the world. Gotan Project’s blend of the traditional Argentinean style, which dates back to the early 20th century, with electronica produced a fresh-sounding and innovative result. The band’s first album has not only sold over a million copies, but has gone down as a modern classic. Gotan Project, who released a follow-up, «Lunatico,» last April, will perform in Greece next week. For «Lunatico,» named after a racehorse that belonged to Carlos Gardel, the legendary tango artist of the 1930s, Gotan Project’s list of guests include the popular American Tex-Mex act Calexico. The album remains mostly true to its predecessor’s concept, with a slight variation. For «Lunatico,» the trio dig deeper into tango’s tradition and focus harder on the style’s roots. «But that’s not all,» noted Solal in an interview with Kathimerini. «We explored Argentinean folk music. It’s a rich, multicolored tradition. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, no matter how many lives we lived, we would never cover the field. Calexico guided us through Argentinean folk music, which is something like the equivalent of country music for American cowboys,» said Solal. The main objective for «Lunatico,» according to Solal, was to avoid a repeat of «La Revancha Del Tango.» Gotan Project began recording the album at a legendary studio in Buenos Aires – described by Solal as «the equivalent of London’s Abbey Road» – before completing their sessions in Paris. «It was an amazing experience. We felt the energy of all the great musicians who passed through this studio, like Astor Piazzola,» remarked Solal on the band’s Buenos Aires sessions. «Then we returned to Paris to finalize the album’s sound.» Besides Calexico, guests on «Lunatico» include the well-known pianist Gustavo Beytelmann and bandoneonist Nini Flores, both Argentinean, and Spanish singer Cristina Villalonga. «It was necessary to work with a singer trained in Latin music. Her singing voice is truly wonderful, passionate, and dark,» said Solal on Villalonga. «You know, the interpretation of tango is related to the way one talks. It requires a specific feeling that isn’t taught and can’t be delivered by a pop singer,» he added. The debut album managed to draw a considerable number of fans, but it also ignited the ire of tango purists who condemned «La Revancha Del Tango» as sacrilegious. «There were some reactions. But they were isolated. Generally, we got very good responses and I should tell you that the album led to the creation of an entire Argentinean scene of young musicians inspired by us – artists who were previously cautious about merging tango with other types of music,» said Solal. «Of course, I understand them. The truth is that one can work more liberally when fiddling with tradition, no matter what this is, when one is kind of detached,» the Frenchman added. Solal described tango’s fusion with modernity as an inevitable musical development. «Even if it weren’t for us, this would have happened. It’s the same as in jazz, where most artists were playing mostly standards for ages, until a spark for something new came along,» contended Solal. «Quite simply, free thinking is needed. And, fortunately, all three of us agree; we share the same philosophy and perception for music. I’d once read an interview with Rick Rubin [significant producer whose collaborations include Neil Diamond and the late Johnny Cash] who said that most of his ideas jumped out of a state somewhere between sleep and consciousness. What he meant was that complete control of the senses isn’t needed for art. He’s absolutely right,» added Solal. Gotan Project’s upcoming visit to Greece, where the trio has established a loyal following, is not the band’s first. «When we had major technical problems before a [Greek] show a few years ago, the people had to be patient for quite some time. They showed great understanding. Nobody complained. It’s very interesting to compare crowd reactions from country to country,» recalled Solal. «I remember a concert of ours in South Korea. The audience squealed throughout the entire show. A few days later, in Japan, they listened with great respect. There was no reaction. You Greeks lie somewhere in between – warm without going to extremes.» Gotan Project have put together a 10-member band for their current tour, whose shows include lighting effects and video projections. «Our performances aren’t just music. It’s a trip, as should be the case for modern-day concerts,» said Solal. «A trip of feelings.» Gotan Project: February 13, Athens (Athinon Arena); February 14, Thessaloniki (Principal Club). Tickets on sale at Metropolis music stores; Ticket House (42 Panepistimiou St, Athens); and online at www.ticketshop.gr.