Tag Archive | "Music"

‘This Isn’t Goodbye’: Gilda, the Cumbia Saint


7th September 1996 was a rainy day. But it was a Saturday, and Hugo Alejandro Pastorini and his friends were preparing for a night out when his grandmother told him that popular cumbia artist Gilda was on the TV. “We had a combi that night, you see,” he recalls. “We were going to dance. I couldn’t believe what I saw on the news. They said Gilda died in a car accident.”

An Argentine sweetheart, Gilda was coming back from a tour when a truck crashed into the bus she was travelling in, killing her, her mother, her daughter, three musicians, and the bus driver. Many clubs closed in solidarity with the loss that night; Hugo did not feel like dancing anymore anyway.

Gilda's portrait, used as a cover for her CD "Pasito a pasito con Gilda" (Photo: archive)

Gilda’s portrait, used as a cover for her CD “Pasito a pasito con Gilda” (Photo: archive)

Many stars have died prematurely, leaving their fans heartbroken. Gilda’s case, though, is somehow different. Almost 20 years after her death at the age of 34, dedicated followers continue to worship her, with some claiming they have experienced miracles caused by the artist.

Silvina Alejandra Soto was watching TV with her mother when the news of the fatal crash came up. Her mother was a fan of Gilda, and Silvina, who was training to be a singer herself, felt jealous about all the attention given to a cumbia artist they didn’t even know.

She stood up to leave the room, but suddenly sat back down. She says she could feel a pressure on her shoulders, as if somebody was pushing her down, and she was unable to stop crying. She wasn’t a big fan of Gilda, and did not even really like her songs, but says she had experienced contact with the departed before and immediately realised it was the singer’s spirit touching her. She felt she was close to passing out so she told her mother to ask Gilda to let go; only then was she finally able to stop crying. Silvina then dreamt of Gilda alive every night for the next five years, and she decided to devote herself to the singer.

As an artist herself, Silvina says she lets Gilda inspire her when she paints her portraits. It is the singer who tells her how she should be painted through her visions, they co-produce the artwork. She calls this process “channelling”. Silvina also claims that the singer’s energy remains in the photos of her, as well as in her own pieces. “You can see her eyes follow you across the room,” she says “her photograph is a window through which she remains present, keeps you company, brings you peace, and helps you as much as she can, year after year.”

It’s hard to say how many people consider themselves devotees of Gilda. Many of her fans only admire her music, or worship their idol in the privacy of their own homes. But some openly follow her as a kind of “popular saint“.

It was already like this when she was still alive, says Alejandro Margulis, author of the book ‘Gilda, la abanderada de la bailanta’. People would follow her after her shows, asking her to touch them as they believed she could cure their diseases. Being superstitious (she would write prayers against evil spirits in her diary) and Christian herself, Gilda didn’t like it when people called her a saint. She didn’t think she had any sort of superpowers, yet said she believed in the miraculous potential of her music.

After her death, the singer’s most dedicated followers sought out a place where they could express their grief and devotion freely. They gathered in two places in Argentina: the 24th gallery of the Chacarita cemetery in Buenos Aires, where the singer and her family are buried, and Gilda’s ‘sanctuary’ at Km 129 on Ruta Nacional 19, where the fatal accident took place.

Gilda's tomb in La Chacarita, decorated with flowers and letters from her fans. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Gilda’s tomb in La Chacarita, decorated with flowers and letters from her fans. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

The shrine to Gilda in Chacarita fills up at least twice a year: on the anniversaries of her birthday, 11th October, and the accident, 7th September. Some devotees come more frequently, and travel from afar. Hugo lives in Entre Ríos, the province where Gilda’s accident took place. His colleagues cover him at work from time to time when he wants to visit Chacarita. “As a matter of fact, they are pretty tired of doing it,” he admits. “They think I should be more serious about my life.” To avoid trouble at work he tends to visit the roadside sanctuary more often, as it’s not that far from where he lives.

Hugo claims he has been blessed with Gilda’s miracles more than once, and attributes them to helping him make important decisions. He recalls the time when he had no idea what to do with his life and Gilda “appeared on his wall”. That day he realised he wanted to quit his previous job and find a new one. He also started going out more in order to find somebody to share his days with. All of that, he says, was guided by Gilda, and that’s the reason he wants to keep visiting her tomb, in spite of the logistical challenges.

Hugo says he also witnessed a miracle at the scene of her death, when a flag with Gilda’s face painted on it started to cry. Other people saw it too, though some of them think it was a trick, a cheap prank. But Hugo knows it was for real. He owns a photograph of Gilda, and says he chats with her every morning, as if she were his flatmate.

Hugo Alejandro Pastorini with a hand-painted flag of Gilda/Maxi Bianchi taking a selfie with his idol's tomb. "I always say hello to Gilda when I come here, then I take a photo and send it to other fans", says the teenager. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Hugo Alejandro Pastorini with a hand-painted flag of Gilda/Maxi Bianchi taking a selfie with his idol’s tomb. “I always say hello to Gilda when I come here, then I take a photo and send it to other fans”, says the teenager. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Other followers also claim to feel the presence of Gilda under their roof. “Wherever you look, there is a picture of her,” explains Maxi. “I had to hide most of the things in the boxes though. They were taking up so much space, and I have a baby brother now.”

At 15, Maxi is one of the youngest devotees of Gilda, born a few years after her death. He calls himself Maxi Bianchi (Gilda’s actual name was Miriam Alejandra Bianchi), though this is not his family name. “My parents used to have to bring me here,” he says, “but now I can travel on my own.” It takes him more than an hour to get to Chacarita from his home in La Matanza. “I can’t really feel her here,” he says, about the cemetery. “But I still come every Saturday.”

Maxi started listening to Gilda’s music about five years ago, after he heard a special radio programme on the anniversary of her death. He would confuse her with other cumbia singers, yet he liked her music so he started looking for more information about her. He then noticed that her presence was surrounding him – his neighbours were listening to her, and he himself became obsessed with some of her songs, like ‘Paisaje’ or ‘No me arrepiento de este amor’.

During his summer holidays he decided to visit the sanctuary, where he was given a vignette with Gilda’s photograph. About a month later his pregnant mother suffered from internal bleeding and the family thought she would lose the baby. Maxi decided to ask Gilda for help. “I promised her I would visit her in Chacarita if everything went fine,” he says. The next day his mother was able to return home, and although she needed to rest, she was feeling good. Just as he had promised, Maxi went to Chacarita, where he got in touch with other fans. He started coming every Saturday. “I let them know when I come,” Maxi says “otherwise I have to spend the whole day here alone.” When asked about his peers, Maxi say they admire her as an artist, but are not as devoted to Gilda as he is. His parents don’t join him at Chacarita either. “There is just something about her energy,” he says. “She makes me feel positive. I definitely am a believer.”

Maxi holding his first vignette of Gilda in front of the Chacarita cemetery. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Maxi holding his first vignette of Gilda in front of the Chacarita cemetery. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

Despite their apparent devotion, none of the Gilda fans spoken to to considers their faith in the cumbiera as idolatry. “I’m Catholic, and I actually think it’s God speaking through Gilda,” says Maxi. According to the teenager, you can consider anyone who has proven miracles to be a saint. “It could be Gilda, it could be my grandfather…” he says. “I don’t want to be mixing things. But if you ask for a favour, and it becomes true, I think this person is a saint.”

Silvina also sees a profound connection between her admiration for Gilda and religion. She doesn’t think Gilda is a pagan saint, but an angel, who not only helped her with her art through her visualisations (“She gives me visions I didn’t have before”), but also brought her closer to God. “In my dreams Gilda would tell me many times that the miracles are God’s blessings, not hers. She prays to God for my health on my behalf, and then miracles happen,” Silvina explains. “Gilda also helped me understand the Bible, not through the religion, but through my heart. She made me see the value of Christ’s sacrifice.” Silvina makes it clear that she doesn’t consider herself a fan of Gilda, although she knows many who are. “She’s a kind of an older sister to me, maybe a teacher. She’s strict, but loving, and she makes you feel it.”

But there is also a darker side to the Gilda legend. Humberto Grillo, the guard of the gallery where Gilda’s tomb is placed, explains that some people would get upset about her followers gathering at her grave. Two of them were especially unhappy about it, claiming the devotees were too loud. They both died on the 7th September, same date as Gilda. Now they are buried in the same building as her, forever hearing Gilda receive visits from her followers.

“It’s like they had been trying to take ‘Gil’ down you see,” explains Maxi, “and she ended up taking them down herself.” Isn’t that a cruel thing to do? “It’s weird, right?” says Maxi. “But she used to say her character was pretty complicated. She would say things right into your face. They probably really pissed her off.”

Claudio Milano admits that not all of Gilda’s followers respect the place. They write things for Gilda on other tombs, forgetting she isn’t there alone. He and some others come and clean the place for everybody.

Unlike many of the fans at Chacarita, Claudio actually got to see Gilda sing live, a thing that Maxi can only see in documentaries. He says that when she was singing in clubs, she would really devote herself to her fans, giving them advice. “But she wouldn’t make you feel weird,” he admits “she was just a normal person.” After the shows she would take photos and talk to the people. Claudio started following her shows (“I would ask her where she would be singing next”) and formed her fanclub. He became involved in a conflict with a president of another fanclub of Gilda. “We were young and stupid”, he says “we wanted to be important, and more important than the other. We forgot it was all about Gilda and that she is the only one that matters.”

Claudio even got to know her family, after becoming a father for the first time as an unemployed teenager. Gilda’s brother agreed to be his lawyer and he won the custody over his oldest daughter, something that had seemed to be impossible. This was after Gilda’s death, and for Claudio, it could have been a miracle. He named one of his daughters Gilda, and says his kids are all fans of Gilda’s music.

Part of Gilda’s appeal, according to both Maxi and Claudio, is that she herself didn’t have an easy life. They say she was close to the people because she herself was one of the people. She had to drop out of school after her father’s death and started her own family at a young age. According to Claudio, you can understand her music regardless of where you are from or who you are.

Another fan, Alejandro Margulis says that Gilda first became popular among the poor, before her fame spread to middle and upper classes. She’s also an idol for the LGBT community in Argentina. Even high-level politicians are believed to be fans.

“I have given President Cristina tonnes of photos of Gilda,” Claudio says. “She’s also a fanatic.”

“And so’s Mauricio Macri,” adds Maxi. The latter uses Gilda’s songs in his political campaigns.

A tribute mural to Gilda on the walls of La Chacarita. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

A tribute mural to Gilda on the walls of La Chacarita. (Photo: Michalina Kowol)

There’s an urban legend about one of Gilda’s songs, ‘No es mi despedida’ (This isn’t goodbye). Many claim she knew she was going to die when she recorded the song. Maxi is not so sure. “I don’t know…” he says. “She was so special. Maybe she really knew something was going to happen.”

Claudio is is more sceptical – “That’s just marketing” – as he believes she sang the song for her Bolivian friend, hoping to see her again soon.

But they both agree though that Gilda is still present and that you can feel it through her music – or her miracles. “You go for it,” Claudio says. “Ask her for something. You’ll see she will help you too.”

Posted in Music, SocietyComments (0)

La Salsera: The Home of Salsa in the City of Tango


In the middle of the tango capital of the world, a different rhythm proliferates the dance floor at 961 Yatay, in Almagro.

Opened in 1988, La Salsera today is a place for anyone to learn the rhythms of salsa and bachata, regardless of their dance experience or country of origin.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

“La Salsera began as a place where foreign students came from all over Latin America – Venezuela, Colombia etc. – when they came to study in Argentina,” explains Jorge Romero, co-founder and president of La Salsera. “It was a place for the students to meet and listen to salsa. Because Argentines didn’t used to be very into it.”

I meet Romero at La Salsera in his third-floor office, which doubles as a recording studio. The space is littered with a mix of past and present in Latin music: conga drums, a Peruvian percussion cajón, acoustic and electric guitars, wide-screened computers, and fancy electronic recording equipment.

La Salsera’s story was closely tied to the economic environment of Argentina. In 1988, when it opened, Argentina was a cheaper option for students from abroad. But this changed after President Carlos Menem introduced the Convertibility Plan in 1991, tying the Argentine peso to the dollar. “Things changed,” recalls Romero. “It was more expensive to come here to study, but Argentines began to be able to travel, to go to Miami, Puerto Rico, to Cuba, and to discover salsa.”

And so the clientele of La Salsera became a mix of foreigners and Argentines familiar with Latin rhythms.

Twenty-seven years later, La Salsera offers classes every day of the week, and now includes the slower, sensual bachata, as well as Carribean zouk, and Brazilian kizomba. From Wednesdays to Saturdays, the night continues after classes, allowing dancers to stay until the early hours of the morning practicing what they have learned.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Advanced class at La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

The vibe in La Salsera is different from any boliche I’ve been to, including any other salsa club in Buenos Aires. Those who come to the classes range in age from 18 to 80, and include seasoned pros, timid beginners, and every ability in between. But apart from differences in culture, age, and ability of those who attend, they have one thing in common: the desire to dance.

From the moment you walk through the unassuming metal door, the lights, smiles, and pure joy on the faces of those spinning on the dance floor is infatuating. “Some begin with a desire to dance for therapy, make friends, do a little exercise,” says Romero, but soon, “they start getting into it and it becomes a necessity for them to come.”

The teachers’ enthusiasm for sharing their expertise is obvious, and three different levels of classes allow for dancers to find the perfect amount of challenge. Both intermediate and advanced classes add choreography throughout the month. At the same time, those who have never danced in their life can be found counting to eight and practicing the basic steps in the beginner class on the second floor.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

Advanced class at La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon)

La Salsera’s reach extends beyond its own dance floor. The club collaborates in bringing international acts to Buenos Aires, including salsa star Celia Cruz, a friend of Romero’s, who came to the city 1994. Other legends in the genre who have come to Argentina through collaborations with La Salsera include El Canario, Gilberto Santa Rosa, and Oscar de Leon.

Among other projects, Romero’s musical group, Colonizados, mixes tango and [Cuban] son, creating the new genre of ‘Tangoson’. They will be opening for the legendary Buena Vista Social Club when they perform in the Gran Rex theatre at the end of May.

Plans for the future include “creating a degree with an official title of Latin American arts that has to do with music, dance, painting, literature, everything.” Together with the Buenos Aires Education Ministry, Romero is in the process of defining requirements for the degree and hopes to begin the programme next year.

La Salsera fills up quickly, especially on these beautiful clear autumn nights. However, says Romero, “there’s always room for one more,” so come dance and fall in love with the rhythms for yourself.

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon

La Salsera (Photo: Katie McCutcheon

For more information on La Salsera and their classes, check out their website and Facebook page. To learn more about Colonizados and to listen to their music, visit their page.

Posted in Music, TOP STORY, Underground BAComments (0)

Out Now: ‘Un Nuevo Amanecer’ by Los Mersey Mustards


The recent release of Córdoba band Los Mersey Mustards’ third album, ‘Un Nuevo Amanecer’ (‘A New Dawn’), is an accomplished reminder of this band’s talent for honest, uncomplicated rock ’n’ roll with great vocal harmonies and sensual, searching melodies.

'Un Nuevo Amanecer' album cover

‘Un Nuevo Amanecer’ album cover

By turns easy-going and tightly composed, their new LP is firmly based in the ‘mersey beat’ sound of early 1960s British rock (their name is no coincidence), while there are also vocal influences from the Teddy Boy sound of 1960s bands such as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Lyrically, the songs narrate familiar stories of lost love and despair (‘Lo mejor de mí’) alongside declarations of love’s indescribable depths (‘La Palabra’), but all with a concision and genuine voice that sounds out and prevents any track from falling into the pitfalls of the same, processed pop music thoughts. Like the chorus of Inocente melodía’ states plainly: “No quiero ser lector del pop, / ni tengo suscripción mensual” (“I don’t want to be a reader of pop / nor do I have a monthly subscription”)

The album packs a great early punch, with some of its best songs upfront. The decidedly Beatles-esque opener ‘2000 años sin aprender’ makes a strong start before the stripped-back guitar and vocal composition of ‘Nunca nada fue verdad’ shows off the musicality between lead singer Leonardo Cabo and guitarists Luis Mostaza and Carlos Sada.

Up next are arguably two of the best tracks on the record: the sad but beautiful ‘Manantial’ and the melodic and lively ‘La palabra’, whose distorted guitar bridges give a healthy dose of rock ‘n’ roll bite. For a song that sings about the difficulty of expressing what kind of love its protagonists have, it also is a lyrical treat. The fifth track on the record is the optimistically affirming ‘Yo soñaré despierto’, crowned by Cabo’s powerful voice in the chorus lines: “Yo soñaré despierto. / Porque yo volveré, volveré a ser fuerte” (“I’ll be dreaming awake / Because I’m going to be strong again”)

Other highlights are the haunting bolero ‘Lo mejor de mi’, the irresistibly catchy offbeat Yo me fui, yo perdí’, pop sounding ‘Amanecidos del dolor’, and the sunny —though lyrically cold— ‘Un nuevo resplandor’.

To mark the album’s release, the band performed at Córdoba’s Studio Theater on Saturday 25th April, performing a selection of their new songs. Not masking the influence The Beatles has always had over their music, the band’s choice of playlist before they took to the stage was entirely made up of songs from the Fab Four. As ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ played to a slightly smoky room, the band were getting ready. It was an unfussy performance that did the job, as the quintet rolled through their setlist without fanfare. They don’t often perform live, so it was a special occasion.

Getting to speak with bassist Andrés Bertona and drummer Taufí Flores after the show afforded an opportunity to get to know the spirit that exists between this lovely group of gents, now almost veterans of the Córdoba music scene. It also revealed two very clear things about them. The first is that they all love The Beatles, but none more so than their creative driving force Luis Mostaza, who is a passionate fan of the Mersey quartet and collector of their memorabilia. The second is their clearly prolific song-writing talents, having written over 300 songs by the time legendary Argentine rock musician Litto Nebbia came into their lives in 2009 and offered to produce their first album ‘Paraíso’ something he has subsequently done for their other two releases.

Los Mersey Mustards performed at Córdoba's Studio Theater on 25th April (photo: Nicolás Merlo)

Los Mersey Mustards performed at Córdoba’s Studio Theater on 25th April (photo: Nicolás Merlo)

Before Nebbia came along, the band used to pass songs they had written around their friends and those who were interested. This all changed when they sent the musician and producer a demo with three tracks: he liked them all. The next day, he offered to record them. So the story goes, it was also Nebbia who gave the band their name, picking up on the clear mersey sound of Mostaza’s songs and anchoring the British connection by translating ‘Mostaza’ to ‘Mustard’. But bassist Andrés Bertona simply suggests it was because they liked the way the name comes across.

Most importantly for the band is that they record everything at their home studio in Córdoba (although this recent release was subsequently mixed at Nuevo Mundo Studio in Buenos Aires). This process, says Tuafí Flores, allows them to take their time and add a homemade vintage and rough sound to their music.

This is certainly an album to have in your collection. It may be guilty of sounding slightly the same at points throughout its long 18-track listing, but if you let it carry you along on its melodious ride, you won’t be disappointed. Don’t directly compare it to a Beatles album because you will be doing justice to neither side. Rather, see it as a respectful homage to the music of that era with more besides coming from the band’s own account.

Posted in Music, The ArtsComments (0)

Introducing Chaski Pum: An Electro-Cumbia Pioneer


Whether blissfully misplacing dance-steps in an Argentine boliche, or praying for your life in a speeding taxi, anybody who has spent time in Latin America will have undoubtably stumbled upon one of the region’s fundamental musical genres: cumbia. As one of Latin America’s more traditional, and popular, brands of music, over the years cumbia has been combined with various different musical odysseys and trends of the day, to create a growing list of offspring genres.

One particularly contemporary example of this is electro-cumbia: the union of traditional cumbia music with electronic beats. And one of the chief protagonists of this progressive new musical genre is Argentina’s very own Chaski Pum. We tracked him down down at one of Palermo’s trendy art-houses, Casa Dasein, to bear witness to one of his high energy performances, and to learn a little more about this intriguing new genre.

Chaski Pum ready to perform.

Chaski Pum ready to perform (photo: Sam Pothecary)

Paying homage to his Bolivian Incan roots, Chaski Pum appeared onstage wearing his increasingly unmistakable poncho and sombrero ensemble, and set the night off with a bang with his trademark song ‘Alto Guiso’. The show was a delightful merger of Chaski’s unrelenting enthusiasm and quirky dances with his innovative sounds, which made for a brilliantly entertaining performance, and a crowd left wanting more.

Chaski Pum, the artist, is the hard-earned product of Wilka Rojas Caro’s many years learning and experimenting with music. As he explains: “I’ve been playing music since I was ten years old. I studied piano, guitar, and I’ve played in all different kinds of bands. First I was playing tango, and then I played with electronica and funk groups in Mexico.” For Wilka, music wasn’t just a choice, but something he inherited. “I’ve always had music all around me, as my dad is a musician. He’s from Bolivia, and plays traditional Bolivian folk music on the charango, a sort of small guitar, from Bolivia.”

Wilka has travelled across various parts of Latin America to learn about the different musical styles of the region, but was particularly influenced by cumbia music during the year that he spent in Mexico.

The origins of cumbia can be traced back to Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region as a musical and cultural fusion of native Colombians and African slaves. The music was originally played during courtship dances among the African populations in the region, and was later mixed with various instruments, to create the cumbia that can be heard today. It has since spread across the entirety of Latin America, becoming more popular than salsa in many parts of the continent.

Chaski Pum performing his mix of cumbia with electronic beats (photo: Sam Pothecary)

Chaski Pum performing his mix of cumbia with electronic beats (photo: Sam Pothecary)

Electro-cumbia is a relatively new style of cumbia that fuses traditional cumbia beats with  more modern sounds generated through electronic musical instruments. It is not a particularly well-known genre yet, but is gaining popularity throughout Latin America, and especially Argentina. According to Wilka, “electro-cumbia is not so prominent here in Argentina, but it has grown a lot over the last six or so years. People here in Argentina seem to be reacting well to it, and I’m sure that it’s going to keep getting bigger.

“There are not so many Argentine musicians playing electro-cumbia yet, but one particularly important Argentine musician is Chancha Via Circuito. I really like his style, and he is helping to grow electro-cumbia here in Argentina.”

Along with Chancha Via Circuito, Chaski Pum is pioneering electro-cumbia in Argentina. His music has evolved into its own unique sound, which combines elements of the Latin American highlands with synthesizers and electronic sounds, all under the traditional rhythms of cumbia. And, as Wilka explains, his songs each have their own stories: “I like to have messages in my music. But messages through the stories of each song. Stories of common people, real stories, and sometimes sad stories. I don’t like to talk to much about politics, or money, or women around swimming pools, but I like to make music that common people can relate to, and that people can dance to.”

While 2013 was somewhat of a breakthrough year for Chaski Pum, he promises that there will be much more to come in the new year. “I’m going to be busy next year [2014], for sure. There is going to be lots of new material, and many more shows, I’m just waiting to have the dates confirmed.” So if you fancy experiencing a modernised twist to traditional Latin American music, be sure to look out for one of Chaski Pum’s shows in the New Year.

For a taste of Chaski’s original sounds, have a listen here on his Soundcloud page https://soundcloud.com/chaskipum

Posted in MusicComments (1)

Suculentón: Improvised Genius


The latest BA Underground Christmas Market 2013, festive spirit and all, was a roaring success and if you managed to pull yourself away form the delicious and colourful food, you may have stumbled upon the amazing selection of bands. German sausage in one hand, homemade beer in the other, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than to listen to a 15-person percussion band improvising their way through a jaunty set.

Suculentón play at the December Underground Market (photo: Celina Andreassi)

Suculentón play at the December Underground Market (photo: Celina Andreassi)

Suculentón take their inspiration from all different walks of music. This latin funk band improvises all of its music, providing for a performance so dynamic it feels as though you are watching them slowly compose a song right then and there.

The band’s harmonies blend together flawlessly under the instruction of a conductor, a role that rotates between the various members of the band, leading to something new in terms of rhythm and instrument strength.

The band actually started as a percussion workshop about two years ago. People with musical backgrounds and experience in various instruments started joining the workshop, which was open initially to anyone that wanted to learn a percussion instrument.

Some of the members of the workshop began to play together at all hours of the day and night for fun. As Nicolas Stoliar, one of the members of this unique band, says: “that’s how we became the group we are today. Those that joined later on were people that use harmonic instruments. The onda was really good from the start between all of us so we decided that we should all continue playing together.”

As he puts it, having group members from different backgrounds means that the band as a whole does not have any one particular musical influence. They all mesh together the various styles and rhythms that have inspired them to take up their instruments from the start, though, in general, Latin rhythms are the most recognisable in the improvised music they make together.

“The best thing about being in the band is playing all together and seeing each other once a week. It has always been, and still is a great pleasure for me, in particular. I know the other band members feel the same. What we do is not something that is very often seen in the musical scene today, so the originality of what we do is what ties is all together. We all love the uniqueness of the band,” says Stoliar.

The occasional conductor leads the improvisation (photo courtesy of Suculentón on Facebook)

The occasional conductor leads the improvisation (photo courtesy of Suculentón on Facebook)

Closing the Underground Market, the band was a huge hit with the many visitors – it is a sound that makes it hard to resist dancing. With their eyes always on the conductor of the moment, the instruments grow softer and louder with each gesture, creating a truly unique musical experience. A quasi-Balkan band seems to emerge when the brass take centre stage, while the loud beats from the drums lend an African flavour to their songs when they soar over the rest.

As for their big plans for the future, Stoliar jokes: “opening the World Cup in Brazil!” The band remains true to its roots and its motivations, continuing to make the best possible musical fusion they can. “We want to keep improving and growing as a group so that people enjoy what we do and want to see us more,” he adds.

Their music and unity as a group is contagious and if the visitors at the Underground Market were anything to go by, everyone in Argentina will be enjoying their music sooner rather than later!

To find out more about the band and where their next gig will be, visit their Facebook page. For a taste of their music right now, find their improvised genius on Soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/suculenton.

Posted in MusicComments (0)

Afrobeat Finds its Groove in Argentina with Guanabana


If you were among the lucky in attendance at the Indy’s Underground Market last Saturday, you may remember the high-energy performance of Guanabana Afrobeat. The band is a quasi-orchestra of local talent that combines a diverse range of musical styles under the umbrella of afrobeat, a relatively unknown genre they are helping to bring to the porteño public one performance at a time.

Guanabana Afrobeat performing at the BA Underground Market (photo: Marc Rogers)

Guanabana Afrobeat performing at the BA Underground Market (photo: Marc Rogers)

The 12-person group consists of drummers, saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists, guitarists, a keyboardist, and more, and it makes up a part of a movement of bands and musicians that are introducing Argentina to Afrobeat. Despite a number of established Afrobeat-influenced acts that have come out of Argentina, including Morbo y Mambo and La Antropofonica, Afrobeat as a genre remains relatively unknown amongst Argentines.

“When we say we play Afrobeat, people don’t know what that is,” guitarist Cristian Lacroix tells me. “They hear ‘Afro’ and think that maybe it has something to do with drums, but in general it is something completely new for them.”

While several Guanabana band members come from a ska background, the band’s current sound brings together other influences from across the musical spectrum.

“I began playing music centred around African percussion along with the funk I had been playing, which was further influenced by Latin American music – from Cuba, Peru, Argentina, and more specifically, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian music,” says Lacroix.

When some people hear Guanabana’s music for their first time, they may recognise what seem like Peruvian, Cuban or Puerto Rican influences, an example of the role African beats and sounds have had in the development of Latin musical traditions. Guanabana’s songs build off this synchronism with African sounds and further incorporate the elements of jazz and funk that make Afrobeat what it is.

The chief influence on Lacroix and his bandmates is Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician and activist who first coined the term Afrobeat in the 1970s. Kuti took elements of North American Jazz, such as the emphasis on the saxophone, and combined them with aspects of Ghana’s Highlife genre and his native Nigeria’s Yoruba music, a drumming-intensive style from West Africa prevalent in Afro-Caribbean music.

Kuti’s legacy – that of a musician as well as of a radical, political figure – contributes much to Guanabana’s identity as a band. In addition to their own material, the band covers Kuti classics, including the nearly 13-minute-long ‘Mister Follow Follow’, a warning against blindly following corrupt leaders.

For members of Guanabana, Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat as Bob Marley is to Reggae, only “much more radical” – Kuti was a socialist, Pan-African activist who, at one point, even attempted a presidential candidacy. His influence on the genre is obvious: Buenos Aires’ first Afrobeat festival, on 15th December, bills itself as a tribute to Fela Kuti and even has a name that reflects his influence, the Festival Latinomericano de Afrobeat (FELA).

At a recent meet, conversation topics between Guanabana members ranged from discussions on the technical features of Kuti songs or about his efforts to use music as a force to “decolonise” Nigerian minds in the face of an oppressive government.

Fela Kuti in concert (photo via Wikipedia)

Fela Kuti in concert (photo via Wikipedia)

With a reputation to never play a song the same way twice, Kuti had a knack for improvisation, a freedom Afrobeat gets from its jazz roots. Guanabana also likes to set aside parts of their performance to highlight its talent, such as an improvised trumpet or bass solo.

Kuti was also famous for his long compositions; sometimes a song would take 15 minutes to get to the first verse. The members of Guanabana appreciate this form of music making, valuing the love they have for performing over the need for a commercially packaged four minute tune.

However, much as they draw from Kuti, Guanabana still do things their own way. While Kuti was a trained orchestra director and directed his band throughout a performance, Guanabana finds it unnecessary to have a director or leader. In their weekly rehearsals – no small feat for a band with 12 people – the group talks amongst one another and plans how a song will play out in front of an audience.

It is this kind of collaboration, highlighted by a lack of ego and unadulterated love for performing, that makes Guanabana Afrobeat such an exciting band to keep an eye on.

Guanabana Afrobeat will be playing this Sunday 15th December at 4pm at the Afrobeat Festival, Parque Saavedra, Corner of Garcia del Rio and Pinto, Saavedra.

They will be playing again on Wednesday 18th December at 5.00pm at the Festival Against Monstanto, Plaza Congreso, Microcentro. They will also be playing at an end of year celebration on Saturday 28th December at 11.00pm, Dorrego y Alcorta, Palermo.

Listen to more of Guanabana’s songs here.

Posted in MusicComments (0)

Los Monos de la China


When I went to check out Los Monos de la China, a three-part porteño band, I was blown away by the energy of their music – folky guitar and flawless harmonies sung over the top of the irresistible beat of the powerful Peruvian box drum. These boys are the height of cool, but there were no moody faces or hipster poses to be seen; the trio seemed to be loving the atmosphere every bit as much as the crowd.

Los Monos de la China (photo via official Facebook page)

Los Monos de la China (photo via official Facebook page)

The band – Nico and Erno (guitar and vocals) and Seba (vocals and Peruvian box drum) – started playing together seriously about a year ago. Before that, Nico and Erno, who are long-time friends, would get together to jam. “At first, we played songs from bands that we really dug, as an acoustic duo, trying to make them sounds as natural as possible,” says Nico. “Then Sebastian joined us and his Peruvian box drum and powerful voice seemed to complete our sound. Since then we have been describing ourselves ‘an acoustic power trio’,” he laughs.

If their name sounds a little familiar, I also wondered whether they had been inspired by Arctic Monkeys. “There is a connection, yes,” says Nico. “We were playing a few songs from the Arctic Monkeys and we just stated referring to our band as ‘Monkey’. Then, for some reason, this turned into Los Monos de la China (The Chinese Monkeys) and we liked it because we wanted a name that was catchy and kind of absurd.”

The band cite a wide range of musical influences, including The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Coldplay and Audioslave. They also admire and pay tribute to a range of Argentine and Latino artists such as Luis Alberto Spinetta, Gustavo Cerati, Charly Garcia and Jorge Drexler, and all these eclectic influences shine through the live performances.

Although a large part of the band’s current repertoire is covers, they have also been writing their own material. “At first, we played whatever we listened to and loved but, little-by-little, we started to get to know our sound and picked the covers that suited us best,” explains Nico. “But you get tired of playing covers after a while though, and want to explore your own sound. A few months ago we started writing our own songs and have incorporated some of them into our set.”

The boys plan to record their first album when they get back from a mini-tour of Argentina later this summer. “So far we have about six finished songs and we’re working on a lot of ideas,” says Nico. “We are very excited about our first album.”

The recent Los Monos de la China gig had a feel-good vibe from start to finish. “We usually begin slow and smooth to get the audience warmed up and, as the concert progresses we build up the energy until at the end everyone is dancing. We love that,” says Nico.

Aside from their new original songs, Los Monos de la China also make sure to put their own unique stamp on the covers. Their killer version of Mumford and Sons ‘Little Lion Man’ was arguably better than the original, and watching Seba, the charismatic drummer, sing his heart out to Bruno Mars’ ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ while banging passionately on his box drum was a real highlight of the show. By the end of a Los Monos de la China gig you will undoubtedly find yourself on your feet dancing and clapping and making a mental note to check out where they are playing next.

Los Monos de la China are playing on Saturday 19th October at 22.30 at the Hostel El Sol. (Marcelo T. de Alvear 1590 on the second floor, Recoleta and you can keep up with them and check out their latest gigs on their Facebook page.

Posted in MusicComments (0)

Five Minutes With… John Digweed


John Digweed

John Digweed

After selling out his show in Buenos Aires on Saturday, world famous British artist John Digweed is the man of the moment. DJ, producer, and owner of a record label, Digweed has been one of the original pioneers of progressive house throughout the ’90s and 2000s. With strong ties to Argentine music, he’s played in South America more than any other international DJ of his standing.

His visit last weekend was the second this year, and as well as his set at Mandarine Park in Buenos Aires, he also played in Rosario. The excuse for his latest visit to Argentina was the release of his album Versus, out on 7th October. However, Digweeed hardly needs an excuse to play in the country.

“The crowds are the best to play to in the world,” he says when asked why he keeps coming back to Argentina. His fans would probably say the same about him, as they still rave about his set on Saturday. During his six-hour gig, Digweed rewarded his followers, who braved the rain and cold to dance the night away, with a setlist of old favourites and new tunes.

Despite his busy schedule, The Indy managed to catch up with Digweed, just before he left Buenos Aires for his upcoming gigs in Santiago de Chile (26th) and Bogotá and Cali in Colombia (27-28th).

You’ve been instrumental in popularising electronic dance music in Argentina and Latin America. How does your success here compare to your success elsewhere in the world?

I think I have tried to spread my success across Europe, North America and Asia as much as I can. The reaction I get in South America is pretty special, I have to say.

Are you into or affiliated with Argentine dance music at all?

I have been a big fan of Argentine music for a long time with DJ/ Producers such as Hernán [Cattaneo], Martín Garcia, Elio Riso, Deep Mariano, and Luxor T.

What’ve been the main inspirations and influences behind the album you’ve got coming out in October? Why did you choose the collaborators that you did?

I have really great relationships with all the producers, so it was seeing if they could find time to work on this project alongside what else they were doing, that’s why it took about 12 months to piece it all together.

What music did you grow up on?

A mixture of Joy Division, New Order, The cure, Soul Funk, Early hip hop, and electro.

Tell us about an album that changed your life.

Pink Floyd’s The Wall was an album that I played again and again and again; I loved the idea that the whole album told a story.

Over the years you’ve shaped the direction of dance music. Where do you see dance music going now?

I think there is a good mix of cool house and techno out there which is working really well.

How do you find new talent to develop with your label, Bedrock?

A combination of tracks sent to me by producers and being given tracks at clubs and also by colleagues.

In all the years you have been in this game, you have seen many come and go. What is the one thing that helped get you to the next level and keep you so relevant despite the many evolutions, shifts, and trends within this industry?

I have always played my music from the heart and tried to be consistent with every gig I do, I always want to play better and better and try and improve all the time.

If you had to describe your current sound in three words, what would they be?

Forward-thinking electronic house music.

If you had to choose one artist to compose the soundtrack to a biopic about you, who would it be?

Vangelis makes the most amazing soundtracks.

Where do fans love you most?

Argentina for sure.

Check out John Digweed’s work on his Soundcloud and pre-order his album here.

Available to pre- order Vinyl / Limited Edition Box set / iTunes here.

Lead image by Messcupcakes via flickr.

Posted in Music, TOP STORYComments (0)

On Now: Yo, Sandro


Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the start of his career, a traveling exhibition on the life and times of Sandro is currently on at the Centro Cultural Borges.

The ‘Elvis’ of Argentina, singer and movie icon Sandro was born Roberto Julio Sánchez, and is considered the father of rock in Argentina.  He is also known as Sandro de América, and ‘El Gitano‘ (“the gypsy”).

Yo, Sandor: Un Mundo de Sensaciones (photo: Alejandro Belverdere/Télam/dsl)

Yo, Sandor: Un Mundo de Sensaciones (photo: Alejandro Belverdere/Télam/dsl)


 
A legend in Argentina, Sandro is credited with not only helping popularise rock in Latin America, but to bring Latin America to the rest of the world by cracking into the international music scene. He was the first Latin American artist to sing at Madison Square Garden, in 1970.
 
He has recorded dozens of albums and starred in at least 13 films since beginning his career in the 1960s. Sandro began his career imitating Elvis Presley, but evolved into a ballad singer and sold 22 million records worldwide, gathering numerous gold and platinum albums. He won a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement award in 2005.
 
For the first time ever, Sandro’s widow gave access the singer’s most intimate possessions, providing records, original costumes used during performances, awards and distinctions, handwritten notes, his guitars and keyboards, unreleased photographs, his personal footage, even his recipes.
 
The exhibit occupies two rooms of the second floor of the Centro Cultural Borges.
 
The room on the right is filled with photographs that lead you through the star’s childhood and eventual rise to fame, intermixed heavily with quotes from the singer himself. The quotes are what stand out the most in this exhibit; they are everywhere, as though the singer is telling his story himself.

As you walk through listening to the singer croon heartfelt ballads, you discover his thoughts, from his childhood when he “was 13 years old and set up a sketch dressed as Elvis”, to advice given to him by his father – “no matter what you do, do it well” – to his career starting out with his band, “Los Fuegos,” where they “played dances for 25 minutes and had to clear out to let the next band in.” Finally, Sandro reveals his patriotic side when he talks about his famous performance at Madison Square Garden: “The moment I got onto the stage, I only thought about my country. I knew it was true that many countries were watching, but more than ever before, I remember that I am Argentine and this was the mark by which the public recognises me, everywhere. “
 
Walking through a 70’s-esque door of silky strings, you enter a room filled with the performer’s various costumes, posed in action movements. A shiny white jacket with wings, a bright white full suit with long tassels hanging from the arms – you can see how he embraced the opulence of the rock era, and brought it to Argentina. 
 
The final room of this side features a re-creation of Sandro’s study in his giant mansion as well as home videos touring the large rooms, multitude of cars, and pools, providing a glimpse in to the grandiose lifestyle of the rock star that matched the persona he presented to the world.
 

Yo, Sandro (photo: Alejandro Belvedere/Télam/aa)

Yo, Sandro (photo: Alejandro Belvedere/Télam/aa)

If the first part of the exhibit is a journey through the personal life of the singer himself, the second is a tribute to his legend and his fans. Wall-length photographs of the singer in his prime scatter the walls with a series of keyboards and records on one side and a wall of guitars in glass cases on the other. This room seems to exemplify the way Sandro appeared to his fans: extravagant, god-like, timeless.
 
Familiar tunes such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” are playing as you enter the room. It may take you a second to register that songs are Spanish. Sandro was famous for his cover of popular songs in Spanish.  With the familiarity of these songs, an English-speaking foreigner can get a sense of the feelings of nostalgia that Sandro’s originals spark in Argentine nationals.

At the end of this room you can see the love of the fans expressed literally, a screen flips through old fan letters written, and the high walls are covered with colourful notes written by fans who visit the museum, from “Viva el Rock” to “Dear Sandro, you will forever be in my heart.”
 
Across from the fan graffiti the wall reads, “And to think, I only wanted to imitate Elvis.”
 
The prevalence of middle-aged Argentine ladies in the exhibit speaks to Sandro’s time and appeal, but his legend reaches a broad sector of society – a young man with his toddler son browses the collection, as well as a young couple. As Sandro said “I have fans that are 15 years old, and 70. They believe in me, on top of that they love me. For this I say simply: Thank you for so much love. ”
 
For long time fans, this exhibit provides a previously unseen look into the private life and personal dreams and aspirations of the singer. For those less familiar with the star, it offers a comprehensive introduction.

‘Yo, Sandro’ runs at the Centro Cultural Borges until 6th October; entry $60. For more information (in Spanish), click here.

Posted in ArtComments (0)

Elena Roger: Argentina’s International Artist in her Habitat


Elena Roger (photo courtesy of Varas & Otero)

Elena Roger (photo courtesy of Varas & Otero)

Not many years ago, it was necessary to explain to Argentines who singer/actress Elena Roger was, even though she had played leading roles in musicals such as ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Mina… che cosa sei?’ and ‘Jazz Swing Tap’.

However, her real breakthrough, on a global scale, came when she left Buenos Aires in 2006. She then spent some good years abroad – first in London’s West End, then in New York’s Broadway- playing Edith Piaf and Evita Perón, winning a Laurence Olivier Award and, basically, becoming a big star on the top international stages of the musical world. However, Elena never forgot her origins and has come back to Argentina several times in order to be an artist – not a diva – in her home country.

Her latest tour, Tiempo Mariposa, which reaches its climax in Buenos Aires this weekend, is part of that desire to reconnect with her country, with its people. She even called some good old friends to play along this domestic tour: Javier López del Carril (guitar), Gaby Goldman (piano), Christine Brebes (violin), Osvaldo Tabilo (drums and percussion) and Andrés Dulcet (double bass and electric bass).

“We met while doing the musical ‘Mina, che cosa sei?’, some ten years ago. We are like family! At Mina… we were all taking giving our first steps, we were not well-known. Now, they are all excellent musicians with amazing careers. It is fantastic to be on stage with them again,” says Elena.

Tiempo Mariposa, she adds, is the perfect opportunity to see her, the ‘international artist’, in her habitat. She does not consider herself any kind of ambassador though. “I can’t make such a powerful statement. I am just an artist who, by definition, enjoys being on stage – I do know that comes with certain powers and responsibilities, and I am have very clear in my mind about which things I want to do and convey with my profession”.

During this exclusive interview for The Argentina Independent, Elena proves this to be true.

How do you feel right now, coming to the end of your national tour?

It is the end of this tour indeed, but only the beginning of the project. We will take a break, of course, because I will soon give to birth! However, we had a great time and the response was really good, so we plan to record an album soon and then tour again. I am very excited for what will come next.

How did you come up with the name “Tiempo Mariposa”?

When I came back from Broadway – after playing Evita in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical – I wanted to create a concert that would allow me to tour around Argentina. Also at that time, I watched a documentary about the Monarch butterfly, which is very strong and particular. This butterfly migrates from Canada to Mexico, spanning the life of three to four generations. Since I was going to be pregnant on the road, we all thought it was a nice idea to think that, while traveling, life was going to be reproduced.

Is the name also related to the environmental aspect of the show?

Absolutely. We always try to use as many LED lights as possible, all the set designs are made from recycled garbage, my own dress is basically nylon stockings and natural silk; even my shoes were made out of remaining fabrics by an artisan shoemaker. Tiempo Mariposa really is a whole concept, a kind of vogaye. Even the songs are focused on themes such as freedom, dreams, happiness.

Elena Roger in concert (photo courtesy of Varas y Otero)

Elena Roger in concert (photo courtesy of Varas y Otero)

It seems as if you were trying to sing to your baby about the world he will soon live in…

Well, the world I would like my baby to encounter is not the one we have right now. But surely Tiempo Mariposa is about the world I want to contribute to build, and the one I hope he (or she) also helps to create. However, I have always been concerned about our planet, this is not something that just came up because I am pregnant.

Why did you have this urge to tour around Argentina now?

Because it is so beautiful! Sometimes people ask me: “How come you are now playing for only a hundred people in a small town?”. I always reply I did not become an artist to be a millionaire or only to perform at glamorous international stages. My vocation is to express myself wherever, in front of whoever feels touched by my art. Furthermore, after being on Broadway, I really felt the need to come back to my home country, to be in touch with my own people.

In which way is the bond with the audience at Tiempo Mariposa different from other performances you have done in the past?

When I perform, no matter what I do (sing, act, dance or all of them combined), I always feel a special connection with the universe. Being on stage is what I enjoy the most. Particularly in the case of a concert, what I love is the possibility to connect with people being myself. No character, no fourth wall gets in the middle: it is me, Elena, singing for an audience.

You come across as a very pensive artist: you seem to reflect a lot upon your purpose, your mission…

When actress Cecilia Rosseto saw me at the musical comedy ‘Mina, che cosa sei?’ many years ago, she told me: “You are doing great. Now you just have to think about what you want to say.” She meant of course what I wanted to say as a whole artist, not in one particular performance or role. I have always remembered her words. Every artist can have an influence on people. In my case, I feel I have to be coherent with my discourse. If I want a better world for my son, I have to contribute to that goal as an artist as well.

There is also one other message I fight for: I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I don’t see why I should define myself as only a singer, a dancer or an actress. Nobody, and especially not an artist, should limit oneself like that. We are here to experiment, explore, to break boundaries.

What guides you to choose a project?

I need a challenge. I want to learn something with of each experience. I need an interesting story, a significative message for the audience to remember.

If you were a critic, why would you give Elena Roger a bad review?

… For a thousand reasons! [Laughs] I always think I should have started rehearsals earlier…

If you were the audience, why would you give Elena Roger a standing ovation?

That’s a difficult one! [Pause] I would give myself a standing ovation because I know how to identify my desires, and this has allowed me to accomplish them.

Elena Roger will be performing Tiempo Mariposa on Saturday 10th August, at 9pm at Teatro Coliseo de Buenos Aires, Marcelo T. de Alvear 1125, Retiro. Tickets from $150, available at www.ticketek.com.ar.
For more information click here (in Spanish)

Posted in Music, Theatre, TOP STORYComments (0)

Follow us on Twitter
Visit us on Facebook
View us on YouTube

As a possible ‪Grexit‬ looms in the old continent, we revisit Marc Rogers' article comparing Greece's current situation to Argentina's own 2001-2 crisis.

    Directory Pick

Magdalena's Party in Palermo

Magdalena’s Party has daily 2 x 1 Happy Hour specials til midnight, and the "best onda".
Sign up to The Indy newsletter