Socialist Worker

Astor Piazzolla and why you should give Tango a chance

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1880

I thought now was as good a time as any to take a look at tango music and, in particular, the work of Astor Piazzolla.

Hold it – I know what you are thinking – but please don't turn this page over. Why not give tango and Astor a chance?

Throw out all your preconceptions and take a look at your CD collection.

You may not have heard of Astor, but there lurking in some dark corner you may find the passion and beauty of his music in the most unusual of records.

Dozens of classical orchestras have played alongside Astor.

Jazz giant Gerry Mulligan and vibraphone supremo Gary Burton have both recorded albums with the maestro.

Grace Jones and the queen of pop Madonna have all covered his songs.

I know that was years ago, but today a new generation of DJs and dance mixers have tuned in to tango.

For starters there is Giles Peterson, 4hero and Mathew Herbert. But it is the atmospheric sound of The Gotan Project that has got loads of people – myself included-into the music of Astor.

Astor Piazzolla was born in 1921 in Argentina – the home of the tango.

Tango is unique amongst Latin American music – it has few West African influences and the music contains no drums.

Played in brothels and dark suburban nightclubs, it was more than just music-it was dance, poetry, it was the passionate expression of the poor.

If it is about anything it is about sex – not the sanitised sex of today's pop music, but real low-down dirty sex, the kind that is sung about in the blues of Bessie Smith and the funk of Lynn Collins.

From the age of 12, Astor played the bandoneon – an enormous concertina that provides the tango with its signature sound.

The bandoneon is a relative of the accordion and was originally invented as an inexpensive substitute for the church organ.

In his youth he was both mesmerised and embarrassed by the coarseness of the music.

It was only after his classical music tutor persuaded him to take his bandoneon playing seriously that he threw all his energies into developing the tango.

Like Bartok, Chopin and Duke Ellington before him, Piazzolla took what was essentially a folk form and raised it to new musical heights. He took tango into the concert halls and onto the world stage.

He united two traditions – the precision and complexity of classical music and the intimacy and passion of the nightclub.

Astor's musical genius was not respected by the establishment.

He spent much of his life in exile, despising the military dictatorships. Before he died in 1992 he said, 'I wish for my music to be heard in the year 2020.' His dream may now come true.

Classic Astor albums like La Camorra, Tango: Zero Hour and Love Tanguedia are available from all decent record shops.

And now a wonderful new album, Astor Piazzolla Remixed, opens up his music to a younger audience.

It combines the beautiful bandoneon playing of the maestro with modern dance beats of remixers like Koop, 4hero and 2 Banks of 4.

Precisely because tango music is devoid of drums it makes it a perfect vehicle for remixers to superimpose beats and drum patterns.

Today tango has gone full circle from nightclub to concert hall and now back to the nightclubs and bars of Europe and Buenos Aires. Isn't it time you got tangoed?


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Sat 6 Dec 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1880
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