Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Bajofondismo

Bajofondo is a little bit complex thing to explain. It started as a collective experimenting with electronic tango fusion. Over the time it has developed into a band and acted as an umbrella for a number solo projects by the members of the collective. And add to the mix tons of collaborators, remixers and featured vocalists on all the albums.

After Gotan Project the electronic tango has exploded into something of a trend in Argentina. The tango electrónico outfits range from excellent to downright awful, but Bajofondo Tango Club is easily one of the best and most devoted groups around. Their take on electronic tango is faster and more dance-oriented than the dubby sound of Gotan Project. The group hates to be labeled as tango electronica, though, as their music is a much more complex mix of different styles and influences. "We are not tango composers, we don't make tango. It would be very pretentious to say that we are making the new tango. That would have to come from a musician who has devoted his life to tango, and that's not my case", points out Luciano Supervielle from the collective in an interview by Hernán Siseles.

Bajofondo is now building up fame outside the Argentina - they have toured both Europe and North America - but here in Buenos Aires they are huge. This was evident at their gigs in Teatro Gran Rex, on December 14th and 15th, that celebrated the publication of Bajofondo's second album, Mar Dulce. Bajofondo gave a huge show, clearly loved by the audience and clearly having great time on the stage. The audience, dancing on the balconies of the theatre, just didn't let them go, but applauded them to do an encore time after time.

Bajofondo's self-titled debut album Bajofondo Tango Club won tons of awards, including a Latin Grammy, and sold triple platinum. Album, as all of the Bajofondo-records, was produced by Gustavo Santaolalla, and his top-notch production has become something of a trademark for the group. Santaolalla has also made a career producing film soundtracks, his filmography including flicks like Brokeback Mountain.

Bajofondo Tango Club: Montserrat (zShare)

After Tango Club, Luciano Supervielle - a french-born pioneer of hip-hop in Uruguay hailing from Montevideo - released his solo album Supervielle and the group also put out Bajofondo Remixed, a collection of remixes from Tango Club and Supervielle-albums. These records picked prestigious Premio Gardel-awards as the best electronic album and the best instrumental pop album. And as an example of the usual variety of guest stars, Perfume is sung by gorgeous Adriana Varela and Miles de Pasajeros features Daniel Melingo with the Uruguayan rap-duo Contra Las Cuerdas.

Supervielle: Perfume (feat. Adriana Varela) (zShare)

Supervielle: Miles de Pasajeros (Omar remix feat. Daniel Melingo & Contra Las Cuerdas) (zShare)

For their second album, released the last fall, Bajofondo dropped the Tango Club from their name, to emphasize that their music had become something more varied than the name Tango Club would imply. Speaking of names, mar dulce means sweet sea. It refers to the fact that Rio de la Plata, the sea between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, is not actually a sea but a river delta, thus sometimes sweet, sometimes salty.

Perhaps a proof of the group winning the respect it earns are the guest performers on the album. While I prefer their Argentinian collegues, it tells something that album features songs with Nelly Furtado and Elvis Costello. The record also boasts the last performance of now sadly departed "Black Pearl of Tango", Uruguayan legend Lágrima Ríos. The single Pa'Bailar is a wonderful, silly piece of absolutely shameless tango-pop and El Andén features Spanish female rapper Mala Rodríguez, more of whom later.

Bajofondo: Pa'Bailar (zShare)

Bajofondo: El Andén (feat. Mala Rodríguez) (zShare)

The show at Gran Rex started with Javier Casalla performing a song from his solo album, standing on the stairs of the darkened theatre, alone in a dramatic spotlight, with his Stroh violin. It is a rare instrument with a unique sound that uses a metal horn - like one on a gramophone - to amplify the sound, instead of the wooden box of a traditional violin. Casalla's excellent solo album actually ventures into direction of experimental classical music and was released in Europe by Deutche Grammophon. Following song CABJ has Daniel Melingo, the Tom Waits of the contemporary tango, on vocals.

Song also has a very amusing subject: CABJ stands for Club Atlético Boca Juniors. It's the legendary football team of Diego Maradona and a passion for millions of South Americans, especially those of working class background. It's also a huge lifestyle business - CABJ must be one of the greatest brands created in South America. The club's colors of the Swedish flag evoke unquestioning loyalty: the old cliché goes that Boca Juniors is not just a football club to support, it's a way of life. And CABJ has definitely taken an advantage of this, extending the brand into everything, from pizzaboxes (you can construct your own Bombonera-stadium from two boxes) to rather bizarre dimensions - the latest Boca-branded innovation is a a graveyard where fans can get buried next to their heroes.

That said, of course I'm a Boca-fan. And by the way, according to a legend, they actually are the colors of the Swedish flag: when pondering on colors for their new football club, the frustrated founding fathers eventually decided to pick the colors of the first ship to drift to the port at La Boca, a working-class port barrio, and of course the ship had to be Swedish.

Javier Casalla: CABJ (feat. Daniel Melingo) (zShare)

And to conclude, an example of Bajofondo's musical variety is following song by the award-winning Puerto Rican hip-hop and reggaeton group Calle 13, produced by Bajofondo, with a sublime tango touch to it. It's a song that the whole South America has been bumping loud and on repeat. So, when after a few familiar beats Calle 13 marched on the stage at Gran Rex, it was one of those wonderful "pleasant surprise-moments" of a superb gig.

Calle 13: Tango del Pecado (feat. Bajofondo Tango Club & Panasuyo) (zShare)

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